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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lakers Set to Defend Cappo Cup

SAULT STE. MARIE - There are so many reasons to love the four-game Lake Superior State v. Northern Michigan hockey series: the Upper Peninsula rivalry, the proximity of the teams, the winning tradition of both programs, the match-up between Sault Ste. Marie cousins Steven and Ray Kaunisto, and the fact that NMU is one of only two schools that the Lakers compete against in every Division I and II sport on a regular basis.

The Lakers (2-7-1 overall, 0-4-0 Central Collegiate Hockey Association) and Wildcats (3-9-0 overall, 2-8-0 CCHA) play at 7:35 p.m. Friday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette and at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie. Note Saturday’s late starting time, which was established to accommodate Squirt AA teams playing in a local tournament. Both games will be broadcast live on Rock 101 FM and simulcast on Video streaming of both games is available on the B2 Network for $6 per game.

The Lakers and Wildcats are battling for the Father Louis Cappo Cup, which LSSU won last year for the first time since 1999-00, and trying to get on the winning track in the CCHA. Both teams have had a challenging first-half schedule, but the Wildcats have won two of their last three games, beating Western Michigan 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 10 and edging Bowling Green, 3-2, on Nov. 17. Their victory over WMU was a confidence builder, as they scored the game-tying goal with one second remaining in regulation and the game-winner with four seconds left in overtime. Sault Ste. Marie native Ray Kaunisto tallied the game-winner against BGSU.

This weekend’s games are sandwiched between last week’s LSSU home series against No. 1 Michigan and next week’s home series against defending national champion Michigan State. The Wildcats, Wolverines and Spartans are all part of the Lakers’ CCHA cluster this season. The last time LSSU was in this cluster was in 2002-03, and the Lakers finished 2-10-0 and were outscored 43-18 in those 12 games. Expectations are much higher in 2007-08 as the Lakers are coming off of back-to-back winning seasons.

LSSU was outstanding in the first period of both games against U-M, leading 1-0 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday after the opening 20 minutes. But Michigan dominated the second and third periods by a combined score of 10-0. The second period was particularly frustrating for the Lakers, who gave up two goals in a 2:07 span early in the middle period on Friday. The following night, they gave up three goals in a 2:48 span during the opening five minutes of the second period. The young Lakers are learning the hard way that they can’t afford any lapses against the nation’s top teams.

LSSU’s top scorers are senior Dan Eves (2-6--8) and sophomore Nathan Perkovich (7-0--7). NMU is led by junior Nick Sirota (10-6--16), who is currently the CCHA’s No. 2 scorer and leads the league in short-handed goals with three.

Both rosters include only three seniors and are dominated by underclassmen. LSSU dressed seven freshmen on Saturday against U-M, while NMU dressed eight including a redshirt freshman on Saturday against BGSU. Top-scoring freshmen include LSSU’s Chad Nehring (2-3—5) and NMU’s Jared Brown (3-4—7).

LSSU freshman goaltender Brian Mahoney-Wilson (1-3-0) has a 2.68 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. NMU’s most-utilized goaltender is sophomore Brian Stewart (2-6-0) with a 4.08 GAA and .843 save percentage, while freshman Reid Ellingson (1-2-0) has a 3.74 GAA and .882 save percentage.

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