Icers face off against Lakers

Erica Gambaccini and Erica Gambaccini

With only two teams left to play until the first round of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament, the Falcon hockey team will take their final road trip of the 2002-03 regular season as they travel to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. to take on Lake Superior State tonight and tomorrow.

“This is an interesting weekend in a lot of ways,” head coach Scott Paluch said. “We’re playing a team that we’re close to in the standings. We want to make sure that we do the things necessary to stay ahead of them in the standings.”

The Lakers (5-23-4 overall, 2-21-1 in the CCHA) currently sit in the bottom spot in the CCHA standings, while the Falcons (7-20-3 overall, 4-17-3 in the CCHA) are in the spot in front of them.

“They are six points behind us in the standings so we need these points to stay where we are at and see where our bid is for playoffs,” Mike Falk said.

As the standings are right now the Falcons will play Michigan in the first round of the CCHA Tournament.

However, the playoffs are still a few weeks away and before the Falcons can get ready for them they have to prepare for the Lakers.

“They have a lot of young players, so we should fair well,” Falk said. “We’re also trying to pick up some momentum going into the playoffs, so this should help us for that.”

In order to create some momentum and get ready for the playoffs the Falcons have been working on a new forecheck and on strengthening their defense.

“We’re focusing on our defensive zone and trying to clean that up a lot because it seems like, with the new forecheck they put in, that we’re getting a lot of pressure on teams and creating offensive chances for us, but our defense is always lacking. We’re not getting back in time and we’re missing our men on our backcheck,” Falk said.

Defense is one area in which the Lakers excel as their entire play revolves around their defense.

“One of the unique things about this weekend, really for most of the year, and especially for our last six or seven opponents, we’ve needed to prepare for teams that really put an emphasis on offense,” Paluch said. “The majority are teams dominated by skills, offensively and defensively, but this weekend we play a team that really puts a premium on defense. They try to slow the game down. They try to do a good job of getting in all of your players faces and making it a real tough team to play against.”

In order to get by the Lakers defense, Paluch said that the Falcons need to step up on offense.

“We want to continue to do the things we have been doing to create some offense,” Paluch said. “We’ll see a game where we’ll need to fight through a lot of close checking down low, continue to cycle the puck and try to create offense more in a half-court type set up, more we will be able to go the full length of the ice, because it will be a lot more clogged up than it has been in the last couple of games.”

However, even if the Falcons do create offense, they are still going to have to get the puck past the Lakers’ goaltender, Matt Violin.

Violin recorded 60 saves against Alaska Fairbanks on Friday, Jan. 17, to set a new single-game school record. He also set a school record that weekend for the most saves in a series with 88. “Matt Violin continues to make a lot of saves,” Paluch said. “He’s the type of goalie that moves extremely well and really finds a way to make saves. He’s had a terrific year.”

Violin had 47 saves on Friday for his fourth game with 40-plus saves on the season.

There are several things the Falcons are going to have to do to get the puck past Violin.

“We need to continue to throw a lot of pucks at him,” Paluch said. “We need to put an emphasis on our ability to get the puck and a lot of players to the net for traffic and rebounds. It’s been a real good formula for us lately and given us a lot of scoring chances.”