SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Lake Superior State University Hockey Head Coach Damon Whitten has agreed to a multiyear contract extension. Whitten has agreed to terms on a six-year contract, solidifying the program through the 2027-28 season.
Whitten, who was named the 10th head coach in program history in April of 2014, has been dedicated to returning the program to prominence, leading the team to six Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) playoff appearances, including the program’s first WCHA Championship in 2021. In addition, Whitten guided the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 25 years during the 2020-21 season as well as the first Great Lakes Invitational championship in program history. In his seven seasons at Lake Superior State, Whitten has led the program to a 99-133-27 overall record.
“I am excited to have Damon Whitten continue as the head coach of our Laker hockey program,” said LSSU President Dr. Rodney S. Hanley. “This is a well-deserved extension as Damon has led us back to national prominence, and I am confident that he will remain committed to Lake Superior State’s proud hockey tradition, not to mention our student-athletes’ academic achievements. I’d like to congratulate Damon and his family for this accomplishment, and look forward to the upcoming seasons of Laker hockey!”
Whitten and his staff have been at the forefront of two of the most successful Laker hockey seasons in the last 25 years (2018-19 and 2020-21). The 2018-19 season marked Whitten’s highest single-season win total behind the bench as the team compiled a 23-13-2 overall record and a 16-10-2 mark in WCHA competition. The 23 wins were the highest single season win total for the program since the 1995-96 season and the first time the team surpassed 20 wins in a season since the 2006-07 season. On an individual level, Whitten coached forward Diego Cuglietta, who finished the season as the national leader in goals scored with 25. The Lakers hosted a WCHA playoff series for the first time in team history and captured the program’s WCHA playoff series win for the first time as the Lakers defeated the Bemidji State Beavers in the quarterfinals.
“My family would like to express our sincere appreciation to President Dr. Hanley, Director of Athletics Dr. Paitson, and the leadership team at LSSU for their trust and belief in our staff,” said Whitten. “I would also like to acknowledge our alumni, donors, students, and fans, and our Laker hockey team, both past and present, who have supported me and my family during the past seven years. As a family, we are excited to continue growing our lives in the Sault while competing for championships with Laker hockey. Above all, we cannot wait to see and hear you all back at Taffy! Go Lakers!”
During the most recent season, Whitten guided the Lakers to a historic season as the team finished the regular season second in the WCHA standings, won the program’s first WCHA Championship, advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years, posted the program’s 1,000th all-time win, and ended the season with the program’s highest win percentage in 25 years. The Lakers season came to a close in the NCAA Tournament as the team fell to the eventual national champion, UMass, in the opening round of the East Regional. Among the many strong individual performances during the 2020-21 season was Whitten’s starting goaltender, Mareks Mitens, who finished as a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, which is awarded to the top goaltender in Division I hockey.
On an individual level, Whitten has led a number of Lakers to conference and national recognition. Thirteen Lakers have received All Conference honors, including one All-WCHA First Team (Diego Cuglietta, 2019), five All-WCHA Second Team (Mitch Hults, 2017; Max Humitz, 2020; Ashton Calder, 2021; Will Riedell, 2021; Mareks Mitens, 2021), four All-WCHA Third Team (Gordon Defiel, 2016; Max Humitz, 2019; Anthony Nellis, 2019; Pete Veillette, 2021) and three All-WCHA Rookie Team (Max Humitz, 2017; Ashton Calder, 2019; Louis Boudon, 2020).
“I am thrilled to have Damon continue his role as head coach of the Lakers,” said Dr. Paitson. “Damon has blossomed into a leader and evolved as a coach, becoming better with each passing season. His vision for Laker hockey has come to life as a result of his dedication to the program’s culture and his ability to find innovative ways to advance our program, including through international recruiting and surrounding himself with a skilled staff. I congratulate Damon and his family and look forward to his guidance of Lake Superior State hockey in the years to come.”
In addition to the success on the ice, Whitten has instilled the importance of academics to his student-athletes. The hockey team has excelled in the classroom, consistently posting team GPAs in the 3.4 range. Whitten’s student-athletes have had a strong presence on the WCHA’s academic teams. In 2020-21, nine Lakers earned WCHA Scholar Athlete status while 16 members of the team received WCHA All-Academic accolades.
In addition to his coaching accomplishments, Whitten has established himself as a dedicated and involved member of the LSSU campus community as well as the greater Sault Ste. Marie region. Whitten has been committed to creating relationships with alumni, fans, and current Lake State students in order to continue the proud tradition of Laker hockey. One of Whitten’s biggest initiatives has been the implementation of Laker Legion, a student-fan organization that aims to spread Laker pride from the stands of the Taffy Abel Arena to the campus and community. Whitten was heavily involved in advocating, planning, and promoting the Lakers regular season game that took place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., at GFL Memorial Gardens in Feb. 2020.
In 2017, the Laker hockey team was awarded Community Partner of the Year by the United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula for their involvement in outreach events throughout the Sault Ste. Marie community. Whitten and the Lakers have remained active in the community through initiatives like Pink in the Rink/Check.Slash.Survive, the United Way’s Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive, and the United Way’s annual Light the Lamp game.