Lake Superior State Hockey: The Road to 1,000 Wins

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – With last night’s 4-1 win over No. 13/12 Bemidji State in the WCHA Semifinals, the No. 17 Lake Superior State University men’s hockey program became the 27th Division I program to reach 1,000 all-time wins. In the storied history of LSSU hockey, the program has combined for a 1,000-864-174 all-time record in 55 total seasons of competition. 

Since the program’s inception in 1966, Lake Superior State reached 1,000 wins in 2,037 games, totaling a .533 win percentage en route to the milestone victory.  The Lakers have become one of only four NCAA Division I programs to record 1,000 victories that began since 1946 (Bemidji State, Denver, Bowling Green). 

The path to 1,000 wins for the Lakers was filled with memorable moments and great achievements, including the program’s five national titles and tremendous individual performances, leading to numerous All-Americans, Hobey Baker Finalists, Olympians and future NHL stars. 

Lake Superior State’s hockey roots trace back to Ron Mason guiding the Lakers through their first seven seasons (1966-73) as the program’s first head coach. Mason led the Lakers to a 15-5-0 record in the inaugural season of Laker hockey and the team posted a 7-1 win in the program’s opening game against the VFW Chippewas. Just five seasons later, the Lakers 7-1 victory against Bemidji State on Jan. 22, 1972 would stand as the 100th win in program history.  By the close of his seventh season behind the bench, Mason had accumulated 130 wins while also securing the program’s first national championship as the Lakers won the NAIA Championship in 1971-72. The winning standard set by Mason would resonate for years to come. 

The program’s success would carry through the next era as Rick Comley took over the head coaching position in 1973. In his first year, the LSSU hockey program would earn a second NAIA Championship, as the Lakers posted a 4-1 win over Bemidji State in the title game. The championship win would stand as the program’s 151st win all-time. Comley finished his time at LSSU with 59 wins in just three seasons. 

In addition, Comley led the team through the transition from the NAIA to the NCAA as the team joined the CCHA during the 1973-74 season. The team’s arrival into the CCHA would begin a new chapter of Laker hockey, one that would eventually solidify Lake Superior State as a college hockey powerhouse.

The Lakers would win 96 games during the combined tenures of Rick Yeo (1976-80) and Bill Selman (1981-83). Lake Superior would surpass the 200-win mark during the 1977-78 season.

When Frank Anzalone became the head coach of the Lakers midway through the 1982-83 season, it marked the beginning of a historic stretch of hockey in Sault Ste. Marie. The Lakers would quickly become a consistent 20-win program and were soon regulars at the NCAA Tournament. 

The Lakers would once again become a premier program under Anzalone’s watch as the team won its first Championship at the NCAA level, qualified for four NCAA tournaments, won a CCHA regular season title, and were finalists in the CCHA postseason tournament four times. 

During Anzalone’s first full season with the Lakers, the program reached 300 all-time victories. In his second full season at LSSU, Anzalone led the team to a then-program best 27 wins and an appearance in the NCAA Quarterfinals. After three consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins, Anzalone and the Lakers broke the 30-win plateau during the 1987-88 season when the eventual NCAA National Champions posted an overall record of 33-7-6.

Including the team’s 400th win during the 1987-88 Championship season,  Anzalone was at the helm of the Laker program for 191 wins in 321 games during his eight-season tenure. 

The wins would continue following Anzalone’s departure from Lake Superior as the winning tradition remained at the core of the program in the years to come. 

After serving as an assistant coach on Anzalone’s staff, Jeff Jackson was promoted to head coach for the start of the 1990-91 season. Jackson built upon the foundation put in place by his predecessor and would lead the Lakers to greatness during his six seasons as head coach in Sault Ste. Marie. Jackson’s six years included six straight NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Frozen Four, adding two more National Championships to the program’s name (1992 & 1994). Jackson’s teams would earn two CCHA Regular Season Championship Titles and were CCHA Postseason Champions in four of his six seasons. Included in Jackson’s 182 wins with the Lakers was the program’s 500th win all-time as Lake Superior defeated Illinois-Chicago by a final score of 3-1 in a CCHA game on Feb. 1, 1991. 

When Jackson departed Lake Superior State prior to the 1996-97 season, the LSSU program was well on its way towards 700 program wins as Scott Borek took over the head coaching role. Borek would lead the Lakers to 76 wins in his 185 games, including 17 wins in CCHA play during the 1999-00 season. 

Since the start of the millennium, the Lakers have accumulated 289 wins. 

The start of the 2001-02 season marked the return of Anzalone to Sault Ste. Marie for his second stint behind the Laker bench. However, the Lake Superior State hockey program was not able to return to the championship level that Anzalone once led the team to. But, by the conclusion of four seasons, Anzalone would add 32 more wins to his resume and remains the all-time winningest coach in Laker hockey history with 223 victories. 

As the decade continued, the Lakers would welcome Jim Roque as the ninth head coach of the LSSU hockey program in 2005, and added 136 wins in his nine seasons with the Lakers. During Roque’s tenure at Lake Superior State, the program would reach both the 800 and 900-win milestones. 

Current head coach Damon Whitten was brought on by the Lake Superior State athletic department prior to the 2014-15 season, with the program sitting at 902 all-time victories. Whitten has worked diligently to restore the team’s winning culture and honor the tradition of the previous Laker teams. 

During the 2018-19 season, Whitten coached the Lakers to 23 wins, the most by the program since the 1995-96 season. One of the most memorable wins of Whitten’s tenure at LSSU came during the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 31, 2018 as the Lakers recorded a 6-3 win over Michigan Tech to earn the program’s first ever GLI Title.  Now in his seventh season behind the Laker bench, Whitten has totaled 98 wins, including the team’s semifinal win over No. 13/12 Bemidji State last night. 

The team’s 1000th win ended in a final score of 4-1, with the Lakers securing a spot in the WCHA Championship game with the victory. The Lakers advanced to the Championship game for the first time since Lake Superior State joined the WCHA at the start of the 2013-14 season. Lake Superior State had four different goal scorers in the game as Brandon PuricelliHampus Eriksson and Lukas Kaelble each recorded a goal while freshman defenseman Jacob Bengtsson would notch the game winning goal for the Lakers. Lake Superior State netminder Mareks Mitens continued his stellar season for the Lakers, stopping 26 of the 27 shots he faced in the game. 

The Lakers will take on the Northern Michigan Wildcats in the WCHA Championship game tonight at 8:07 p.m. With a victory, the Lakers would win a conference championship for the first time since the 1994-95 (CCHA Champions). The winner of the championship game will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, as the Lakers look to enter the national tournament stage for the first time since the 1995-96 season. 

The 16-team field for the National Tournament will be unveiled on Sunday, March 21 during the NCAA Selection Show. The show will air at 7:00 p.m. EST on ESPNU. 

Fans can watch tonight’s game on FloHockey, the WCHA’s streaming partner, or tune in to the radio broadcast on 99.5 Yes FM, the official radio station of Laker hockey. 

For more information, visit lssulakers.com.

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Season-by-Season Records

Milestone Victories:

  • 1st win: 7-1 vs. VFW Chippewas (1996-67 season)
  • 100th win: 7-1 vs. Bemidji State (Jan. 22, 1972)
  • 500th win: 3-1 vs. Illinois-Chicago (Feb. 1, 1991)
  • 1,000th win: 4-1 vs. Bemidji State (March 19, 2021)
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This story was prepared by the staff at EUP News or contributed from an outside source.

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