April 2, 2008
Lakers won first NCAA hockey championship
20 years ago today
By Scott Nason
SAULT STE. MARIE - April 2, 1988, the beginning
of a decade long reign of Laker hockey.
For almost 10 years, Lake Superior State University
dominated the college hockey landscape. The assault on Central Collegiate
Hockey Association titles and NCAA championships had been building
the previous few years.
However, the Lakers were officially introduced
to the rest of the college hockey world 20 years ago today when
junior forward Mark Vermette put the puck through a maze of players,
into the back of the St. Lawrence net - at 4:46 of the first overtime
- sending LSSU to the first of three Division I NCAA hockey championships,
when they defeated the Saints 4-3 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
That goal sent the thousands of Laker fans in
attendance, the campus of LSSU, the city of Sault Ste. Marie and
fans and alumni across the country into an unprecedented frenzy.
National newspapers and media outlets were scrambling to find out
where this tiny school that just claimed the NCAA hockey title was
located. CNN's John Fricke infamously announced there was celebration
tonight in Marquette, Michigan. After this game - and ever since
- there is no doubt, in the college hockey world, where the home
of Laker hockey is. The national championship had a profound affect
on many LSSU players and staff who recently commented on their experiences.
“It was surreal, like a dream,” said
Lake Superior State head coach Jim Roque, who was a first-year assistant
coach, graduating from then Lake Superior State College the year
before, after a four-year playing career. “It was my first
year coaching, after playing the previous four years. The guys made
it easy for me and it was a lot of fun. That year was exhilarating
and you felt like you could do it forever. It made me want to stay
Bill Crawford, 27-year Laker radio announcer and
current LSSU Vice President of University Relations and Marketing:
“We came out of nowhere, no one had any
respect for us and it was amazing,” “What happened?
We're a Division II school in Michigan and we're the national champions.
It put us on the map. People said Lake Superior State and Sault
Ste. Marie and it became synonymous. It was a big deal.”
Doug Laprade, 1988 freshman forward, and current
Sault High hockey head coach:
“Watching the frozen four and NCAA basketball
‘March Madness' you look at the kids in it trying to do something
we already did, you didn't realize at the time what an accomplishment
it was. As you get older you realize how infrequent it really is.
I can't believe it has been 20 years.”
Pete Stauber, 1988 sophomore forward, and current
Patrol Lieutenant in Minnesota:
“When we got fitted for our championship
rings, I found out my father's ring size and requested my ring to
fit his finger. I gave my father the championship ring for Christmas
the following year and he wears it proudly at many hockey functions.
But for a few seconds that Christmas morning, I have never worn
the championship ring and will not until my father passes. I told
him I'll have plenty of time later on.”
Tim Harris, 1988 freshman forward, who currently
works in management for the Lear Corporation:
“The goal I scored in the St. Lawrence game
will always be special, but I will never forget Verm's (Vermette's)
OT goal, that was complete pandemonium when he scored. I will also
always remember how poised we were going down 2-0 against Maine.
There was never any panic on the bench or on the ice. We just knew
we were going to win.”
LSSU was down 2-0 early in the national semifinal
to highly ranked Maine, before storming back for a 6-3 victory.
“The entire year from September right until
the end of spring term was a dream come true,” Harris said.
“I mean going to the Joe, winning the NCAA, visiting the White
House and just enjoying the season as it unfolded, priceless.”
When asked what is his fondest memory from the
1987-88 season freshman forward Ed Fuss said, “being part
of a team that was very talented, dedicated and hard working.”
Fuss was a walk-on that season and is currently
a Director of Renovations for Pecora Brothers. He is thankful of
the support he had from the team.
“The upperclassmen accepted me as a walk-on,”
he said. “I believe everyone on that team took on a role and
was helpful in the team's success that year. The entire roster,
the coaches, the managers, the fans, etc. It was a secret recipe
for a championship team. One that you could not replicate if you
Before and during their run to the title in the
1987-88 season, the Laker hockey program was a relative unknown
nationally. They made their first NCAA playoff appearance during
1984-85 season and made two recent trips to Joe Louis Arena for
the CCHA Championships.
However, they were coming off a disappointing
loss to Ohio State in the opening round of the 1987 CCHA Playoffs
in Sault Ste. Marie and were fielding a young and inexperienced
lineup coming into the ‘87-88 season with 15 new faces on
After going 3-0-1 in their first four games during
the regular season the Lakers faced an early test at long-time nemesis
“Early in the year we swept BG (Bowling
Green), the first game in overtime and the second game 7-3,”
said Roque. “We felt we had the makings of a good hockey team.
It was a huge weekend for us and we built lots of confidence.”
The Lakers had a goaltending battle brewing with
two solid netminders competing for the No. 1 spot. Help in making
that decision may have come from an unlikely source according to
“Hoffort was a back-up to start the year
and Mike Greenlay was the main guy,” said Crawford. “Hoffort
had trouble seeing, he wore glasses, and they got him contact lenses
10 games into the season. All of the sudden he became the starter.
It improved his vision and improved his game.”
The Lakers stormed through the first half of the
season with little or no trouble. However, in the middle of January
they lost to Ferris State, 4-2, in Big Rapids. On the bus ride home,
the Lakers had only begun their night and were in for a surprise
when they got home, which according to Pete Stauber, became one
of his fondest memories.
“Just after exiting the freeway, coach Anzalone
stood up and said when we arrive at the rink we'll have 10 minutes
to get our hockey stuff back on and he was going to ‘condition'
us,” said Stauber. “We all got dressed and lined up
on the boards. Coach Anzalone had us all do about five or six ‘over
and backs' and then he'd yell a name out and whichever player was
named was allowed to leave the ice.
“Coach Anzalone did this for an hour or
so. He told us that he had evaluated our play and those players
who had played pretty good were allowed off the ice immediately,”
Stauber continued. “Myself and Mike de Carle were the only
ones left on the ice. Mike and I did a few ‘over and backs'
alone, and finally coach tells us we're done. I was so tired and
mad but had enough energy to say to Coach A., ‘Is that all
you got?'. I knew after I made that comment I was either on my way
back to Duluth or continue to be part of the team. I'm glad I was
still able to be part of the team.”
The Lakers finished the 1987-88 season with a
33-7-6 record, 22-4-6 record in the CCHA, finishing first. Forward
Mark Vermette was named CCHA Player of the Year, tallying 45 goals.
He was also named to the All-CCHA First Team.
“Vermette scored two goals his freshman
year and something like six his sophomore year and then scored 45,”
said Crawford. “Just think about that. These days, if someone
scores 30 goals they're a superstar. He had a tremendous year.”
Frank Anzalone was named CCHA Coach of the Year
and Spencer Penrose national Coach of the Year. Goaltender Bruce
Hoffort was also named to the All-CCHA First Team. Mike de Carle
and Kord Cernich were named to the second team. Terry Hossack took
an honorable mention. Anthony Palumbo and Pete Stauber were named
to the CCHA All-Academic Team as honorable mentions.
In the CCHA playoffs the Lakers defeated Ohio
State 6-2, 4-1, in the first round to advance to the Joe. In the
CCHA semifinals-after being down 4-1 in the third period - the Lakers
rallied to send the game to OT where they defeated Western Michigan,
5-4. They met Bowling Green in the CCHA championship game where
they fell, 5-3. It was their last defeat of the season. Karl Johnston
and Brett Barnett were named to the CCHA All-Tournament Team.
The NCAA Championships expanded to twelve teams
that season and the Lakers received the No. 2 seed in the West and
a first-round bye. They hosted little-known Merrimack College in
the quarterfinals at the Norris Center. The Lakers fell in the first
game 4-3, and stormed back the next night defeating Merrimack 5-0,
winning the total goal series 8-4. The victory sent LSSU to the
final four in Lake Placid, N.Y. Other teams joining the Lakers were
highly-touted Maine, Minnesota and little known St. Lawrence University.
The Lakers defeated Maine 6-3 in the semifinal, creating the unlikely
match up of Lake Superior State and St. Lawrence in the final.
The game was televised on ESPN and many people
watched the Lakers - for the first time - on national TV, turned
down the sound and listened to the radio broadcast of Crawford and
longtime Laker athletic director Bud Cooper. After claiming the
championship, the Lakers arrived by bus late the next day to a large
crowd greeting them in the Norris Center parking lot. The next day,
there was a parade down Ashmun Street in downtown Sault Ste. Marie,
followed by a reception at the Norris Center.
Bruce Hoffort was named MVP of the national championship,
making 49 saves in the title game. Mark Vermette was named to the
AHCA/TITAN All-American First Team, Hockey News/Bauer National Player
of the Year/and finished second in the Hobey Baker balloting, losing
out to Minnesota goalie Robb Stauber, brother of LSSU's Pete Stauber.
The 27 players that made up the 1987-88 Laker
national championship team remain a tight-knitted group to this
day and plans are in the works for a reunion this summer in Gaylord.
“Everyone on that team got along that year,”
Laprade said “There wasn't one person on that team who didn't
fit in,” he said. “You need to have talent, hard work,
a good coaching staff and what we had, character, to win. That year
defined my character and taught me what hard work was.”
Commented Stauber: “Laker hockey was a great
time in my life. Those four years flew by and my closest friends
are those I meet while at Lake Superior. The greatest thing I took
away from LSSU was my diploma. Coach Anzalone made sure we were
aware we were student-athletes. School always came first.”
On what he took from his Lake State experience,
Fuss said: “You can accomplish anything when you put your
heart and mind into it.”
“I think something that is special to me
but didn't become apparent until years later is the bond I have
with those guys,” said Harris. “We all got together
in Chicago for the absolute horrific passing of Tim Breslin and
we rallied around one another.”
Tim Breslin lost his battle with cancer and passed
away in 2005.
“That told you how close we all still are
even though we don't see each other on a daily basis,” Harris
said. “We all seemed to pick up like university was the year
before and it's still that way today. These are friendships that
will stay with us forever.
“It taught me how to handle adversity,”
said Harris. “It taught me how to turn a negative into a positive.
When you work hard good things happen. I was fortunate to play 10
years pro after Lake State and this great program helped enable
me to do that.”
Harris wanted to take the time to speak to the
fans directly: “I would like to take this time to thank all
the individuals and fans that were indirectly involved with the
team and all the great years after that,” he said. “There
are too many to list but you all should know who you are. Without
all your support over the years these memories and championships
earned may never have come to fruition. Thank you and go Lakers.”
Longtime fans of the Lakers, residents of the
Eastern Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior State University students
and players that have donned the anchor on their jersey for the
past 20 years would be the first to thank the players and coaches
that built the program into a national powerhouse and officially
put Lake Superior State University and Sault Ste. Marie on the map,
20 years ago today.