Laker Hockey Wins WCHA Championship, Advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the First Time in 25 Years (with celebration photos)

MANKATO, Minn. – With a 6-3 victory, the No. 17 Lake Superior State hockey team won the 2021 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Postseason Tournament to earn the program’s first ever WCHA Championship and secure an automatic bid into the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey National Tournament. The Lakers earned the Jeff Sauer Championship Trophy as the program won a conference championship for the first time since the 1994-95 season and have advanced to the national tournament for the first time since the 1995-96 season. 

The Lakers defeated the Northern Michigan Wildcats by a final score of 6-3 on Saturday, March 20 at the Mayo Clinic Health Systems Event Center in Mankato, Minn. Ashton Calder led the team with a hat trick while Dustin ManzBrandon Puricelli, and Jacob Nordqvist each tallied a goal in Laker victory. Goaltender Mareks Mitens backstopped the team with a 25 save effort in the championship win. 

Within the first two minutes of the game, the Lakers took a 1-0 lead when Dustin Manz scored his second goal of the season. Jacob Nordqvist connected a pass to Brandon Puricelli in the offensive zone. Puricelli would cut in on the net with the puck but was stopped by Wildcats goaltender Rico DiMatteo. With lots of traffic in front, Manz would drive to the net and put the puck between DiMatteo and the post to give the Lakers the early advantage on the scoreboard. 

The Lakers doubled their lead at 12:02 of the second period when Brandon Puricelli scored his second goal of the weekend to give the Lakers a 2-0 lead. The Laker line of Manz, Puricelli and Jeffers would combine for its second goal of the game. Jeffers carried the puck into the offensive zone and connected a pass to Puricelli, who held up at the top of the circle. Puricelli would leave the puck for Manz, and the eventual goal scorer would drive to the net. Manz sent a pass across the ice to Puricelli, who tipped the pass for a redirection past DiMatteo to put the Lakers ahead by two goals. 

When the Lakers have scored the game’s first goal, the team holds a 13-0-1 record this season and LSSU has posted a 10-0-1 record when leading after one period.

At 10:50 of the third period, Jacob Nordqvist extended the Lakers lead to three goals. Arvid Henrikson recorded his first point of the season when he found Miroslav Mucha open in the neutral zone to lead off the play that led to the goal. Mucha would skate along the boards before finding Nordqvist open at the top of the opposite face-off circle. Mucha’s pass set up Nordqvist, as the junior defenseman joined the play off the bench. Nordqvist’s wrist shot beat DiMatteo for a 3-0 lead.

Ashton Calder netted his first goal of the game at 13:30 of the second period to put the Lakers up, 4-0. Calder gained the offensive zone after receiving a pass from Lukas Kaelble, and would tap a quick pass to his linemate, Louis Boudon. Boudon would send a cross ice pass to Veillette, who was stationed at the doorstep. After fanning on his first pass attempt, Veillette slid a perfect pass through the crease to Calder, who was able to tap the puck past the goal line to take a four-goal lead over the Wildcats. The goal, which stood as the eventual game winner, would become Calder’s fifth game winning goal of the season.

Northern Michigan would get on the board in the closing seconds of the second period as Andre Ghantous scored a power play goal to cut the Lakers lead to 4-1 at the end of forty minutes of play in the Championship game. 

The Wildcats would add a second goal in the opening minutes of the third period as AJ Vanderbeck scored to make it a 4-2 contest with just over 17 minutes left in the game. 

At 11:04 of the third period, Calder regained the Lakers three goal lead when he scored a shorthanded goal. Calder won an offensive zone face-off cleanly, with the puck going back to Laker captain Lukas Kaelble. Kaelble wrapped the puck along the boards to kill off power play time and Veillette would pressure the Wildcat skater along the end boards to gain possession of the puck behind the goal. Veillette’s steal of the puck along the end boards would lead him to send a quick pass to Calder, who was wide open in the slot. Calder snapped off a quick shot, beating DiMatteo for a 5-2 lead.

Northern Michigan’s David Keefer made it a 5-3 at the 15:52 mark of the third period as the Wildcats tried to rally in the final minutes of the game. 

But, Calder would seal the victory for the Lakers and notch his second hat trick of the season when he tallied an empty net goal at 17:24 of the third period to make it a 6-3 score in the Lakers favor. The Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. native’s goal would clinch the Lakers Championship Title as well as the program’s first berth in the NCAA Tournament in 25 years.

The Lakers next opponent will be unveiled tomorrow night Sunday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m. EST in the NCAA Selection Show, airing on ESPNU. The 16-team field for the National Tournament will be set during the show including the four regional brackets and which teams will be placed in each location. The Lakers will watch to find out who they are playing and at which of the four predetermined regional locations (Loveland, Colo.; Fargo, N.D.; Albany, N.Y.; Bridgeport, Conn.). 

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