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Lakers off to WCHA final

Coming off their highest regular season finish in over 20 years, the Lake Superior State hockey team has a chance to earn a spot to compete for a national championship with a win on Saturday night
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The Lake Superior State Lakers are going to play for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association title.

After a sweep of the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers last weekend at Taffy Abel Arena in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, the Lakers beat the Bemidji State Beavers 4-1 Friday night to advance to the league final.

“Whoever tuned in saw who we are and who we’ve been all season long,” Lakers coach Damon Whitten said.

Lake State opened the scoring in the first period when sophomore forward Brandon Puricelli took a feed from fellow sophomore forward Dustin Manz on the right wing and slid a backhand past senior Bemidji State goaltender Zach Driscoll at 13:28.

“Our season started so well because we scored first in our first six our eight games and we all know how important that is,” Whitten said. “We didn’t talk a lot about it as a team in terms of needing the first goal, but just the way we want to start hockey games.

“That line (Puricelli, Manz, and junior Jack Jeffers) has been a little bit frustrated and they’ve just broken out in the last couple of weeks,” Whitten added. “We done a lot with that line, pulling out clips from previous games early in the year when they were scoring and contributing (offensively). Dustin made a really good play on the wall to set up Puricelli. They’ve been really good. This time of year, you need contributions from throughout your lineup and it was good to get that from them tonight."

Freshman defenceman Jacob Bengtsson extended the lead in the second period when he took a feed from senior Hampus Eriksson and beat Driscoll from the left point through traffic glove side with 4:29 to go in the second period.

The Lakers would go up 3-0 with 1:46 to go in the middle period when Bemidji State turned the puck over behind their own net to senior forward Yuki Miura, who quickly hit Eriksson in the slot.

Eriksson one-timed the pass past Driscoll to send the game into the third with the Lakers up by three.

Just over four minutes into the third, senior defenceman Lukas Kaelble made it 4-0, beating Driscoll with a one-timer from the left faceoff circle high short (stick) side.

Bemidji State for on the board with four minutes to go as senior Ethan Somoza beat Lakers senior goaltender Mareks Mitens in tight on a rebound with the Beavers on the power play. The goal came after Mitens made the initial stop on a shot by junior Owen Sillinger from the right circle.

Aside from the late power play goal, the Lakers killed off three of four Bemidji power plays in the contest.

The kills included a pair in the second period with the Lakers clinging to a one-goal lead prior to the goal by Bengtsson.

Whitten credited his seniors for being instrumental on the penalty kill.

“We start pretty much every kill with Hampus Eriksson and Yuki Miura, they’re two guys that are really important to our program,” Whitten said. “Lukas Kaelble and Will Riedell on the back end, more seniors.”

“We’re really worked with this group to develop them as leaders and take ownership of this team,” Whitten added. “They work with (assistant coach) Zack Cisek, who oversees it. Zack’s done a great job with those guys, but that’s a big piece of it is having senior guys in those situations leading that.”

“Obviously you want to convert on a power play, so it gives you a little bit of momentum,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. “It gets you back in the game. You feel good about yourself. There’s also different situations in the game where you need to answer back five-on-five. We just didn’t answer back and that’s on us.

Offensively for the Lakers, Eriksson finished the night with a goal and two assists.

Mitens made 26 saves, including 12 in the third period.

Driscoll made 17 saves for Bemidji State.

The Lakers move on to the WCHA final on Saturday night against the Northern Michigan University Wildcats.

The Wildcats beat the Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks 5-1 Friday afternoon to advance.

Senior forward Joseph Nardi paced Northern Michigan with a goal and two assists as the Wildcats upset the top-seeded Mavericks in the early semi-final.

Sophomore Andre Ghantous chipped in with a pair of goals while sophomores Alex Frye and A.J. Vanderbeck added a goal and an assist each for Northern Michigan.

Senior Brandon Shultz assisted on a pair of goals for Northern Michigan.

Freshman goaltender Rico DiMatteo stopped 28 shots for Northern Michigan.

At the other end junior goaltender Dryden McKay got the start, making 10 saves before being pulled after the fourth NMU goal. Senior Ryan Edquist made five saves the rest of the way for the Mavericks.

Senior forward Reggie Lutz had the lone goal for Minnesota State.

All games in are being played at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center as Minnesota State earned the right to host the games as the top seed in the league coming out of the regular season.