The Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season is set to get underway and for the Lake Superior State Lakers, it will be one in which they will look to upperclassmen to lead the way.
The Laker hockey team will be looking to its senior class to be a major part in any success the team has this season.
“A lot of our success will be driven by our senior class,” Whitten said in speaking as part of the WCHA’s media day. “We have seven seniors and a very strong leadership group. We like this class a lot. These are all guys that have played very significant roles and minutes for our program, not only last year, but over their previous few years in college hockey.”
Whitten also said that as a group, the senior class has reminded the coaching staff of the group from two seasons ago in which the program looked to be on an upswing.
“We think this group reminds us a lot of our 2018-19 team,” Whitten said. “There are a lot of similar qualities in terms of roles they played and the type of leadership they bring. We’ve got big expectations, not only for that class, but for our team.”
The group of seniors includes goaltender Mareks Mitens, who Whitten said in a summer interview with SooToday would be a major piece to the team.
“(Mitens) had a tremendous finish to the (2019-20) season,” Whitten said. “We think he’ll have a chance to be one of the top goaltenders in the conference and in the country. We’ve got a lot of experience back there.”
Whitten also said that the Lakers trio in goal of Mitens, sophomore Seth Eisele, and freshman Ethan Langenegger “is probably the best three-deep we’ve gone in my time here.”
Whitten is also looking to a group of veteran defencemen as an important part of the team this season. Early on in the season, the group will be expected to carry the load as the team finds its way offensively.
“Most great teams, they’re built from the back-end out essentially,” Whitten said. “We’re very solid from the back-end out and that’s a good place to start. We think we can be very good defensively, as we were in the second half (last season). We didn’t start out great defensively, but we finished very strong and that’s got to be where we start. That will really get us going and get us up to speed as we look to establish some chemistry up front.”
The loss of high-scoring forward Max Humitz leaves a hole offensively, but Whitten says the team will look to the returning group of forwards to take a step up front.
Whitten said the team will look to the likes of senior centres Hampus Eriksson and Alex Ambrosio to help replace some of the offensive production lost due to the graduation of Humitz.
Whitten also looked to a pair of sophomore centres as keys as well.
“One of the things I like is that we played two freshmen centres last year almost all year long,” Whitten said. “Louis Boudon and Dustin Manz almost from day one early in the season were some of our top centres. And that’s a tough position to break into as a young guy. Now, we return four centremen, so we’re very experienced down the middle.”
With the regular season set to begin next weekend, WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said earlier this week that players will be tested a minimum of three times a week as the season gets underway.
Robertson said the daily changes have been a challenge since the COVID-19 pandemic forced college hockey to shut down in the spring.
“Every day is something different and something new,” Robertson said. “You have to be ready to meet those challenges. That has been the most unique part of working through the last several months. I do believe that the collaboration level we’ve had from our board of directors, our administrators, and our coaches have been first rate. That’s the reason we have a return to competition document and that’s the reason we have a robust schedule.”
Robertson said during media day that travel to Alaska to face the two schools based in the state was still “a work in progress.”
“We made a commitment that in this shortened season that our teams are going to make the trips to Alaska and we hope that’s successful,” Robertson added. “We’re looking at all the readings that we can in the state and what’s going on in each of the states that our teams compete in, not just Alaska. This pandemic has changed some of the restrictions and we may have to pivot, adapt, and be flexible moving forward.”
On Friday, the league announced that Alaska Anchorage has opted out of the 2020-21 WCHA season.
The school has announced that all of its indoor winter sports were suspending competition for this season.
As part of the WCHA Return to Competition plan, schools have until Nov. 17 to notify the league if they intend to opt out of league play for the 2020-21 season.
The Lakers are set to begin action on Nov. 21 in the opening game of a two-game series against Michigan Tech at Taffy Abel Arena.