Laker hockey seeded No. 1 in national tournament

Freshman Dylan Dault shoots a pass during this weekends games against Northern Michigan University. The Lakers were victorious in both games.

Nicole Lamson

Freshman Dylan Dault shoots a pass during this weekend’s games against Northern Michigan University. The Lakers were victorious in both games.

Greg Monahan

For the fifth-straight season, the Grand Valley State University men’s hockey team is headed to nationals, with arguably its best shot ever to capture the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Championship.

The ACHA released its final regional rankings Friday, and for the first time in program history GVSU (19-10-1) finished the season with a No. 1 ranking in the Central region.

After playing their way into nationals by winning the regional tournament last year, the Lakers get to skip regionals this year after receiving an automatic bid to the national championships in San Jose, Calif. on March 15. GVSU now gets three weeks off and will enter the tournament with a No. 1 seed, which gives it an easier schedule than those of years past.

“Having that No. 1 seed for the first time ever in my career is something we have to take advantage of,” said fifth-year senior Grant Lyon. “When we go down there we have to be ready from the first drop of the puck and stay focused, and if we play how we know how to play and take care of our business, there’s not doubt in my mind we’ll come back with the National Championship.”

Though they had already clinched the No. 1 spot in the region, the Lakers still had two games to play this weekend. The team closed out the regular season with two drubbings of Northern Michigan University, winning Friday’s game 6-0 before a 12-0 onslaught on Saturday’s Senior Night.

Senior defenseman Jake Ochsner, who started playing with the team in 2007, said it was hard to believe he had played his last game at Georgetown Ice Arena.

“There was definitely a sense of nostalgia; it kind of went by quick,” he said. “Seems like just yesterday that I was a freshman coming in here with a lot of these guys, and now it’s already over along with school, and it’s sad to see it go.”

The games were never close. The Lakers scored at least two goals in each of the weekend’s six periods, and senior goalies Josh Lavigne and Lyon recorded their first and second shutouts of the season, respectively.

Senior forward Jeff Anonick said when playing an inferior opponent, the team simply tries to make sure they avoid getting anyone injured or suspended.

“It’s almost not about getting better, it’s about not getting worse,” said Anonick, who had two goals and an assist on the weekend. “Trying not to make bad habits and instead playing our game. We just wanted to keep things going, make sure we stay healthy and not lose anyone to a team like that, because it’s just not worth it.”

With three weeks off before nationals, the Lakers will get plenty of practice time to work on several facets of their game, including the always-struggling power play which has been nonexistent for the majority of the season.

The team does not yet know who it will first face off against, but with years of national tournament experience for a majority of the players, the Lakers will know how to handle themselves when they travel to California in mid-March.

“We’re very confident and we’ve been playing well,” Ochsner said. “But at the same time you need to respect your opponents and come ready to play no matter who you’re playing. We have to put our best games together, and every game on the ice, it’s a hard go. It’s 5 games in 5 days; it takes a toll, and we have to be ready for every team.”

GVSU will fly to San Jose on March 12, three days before the tournament starts. The Lakers’ first game will be on March 15, and the tournament will end with the National Championship round on March 19.

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