The Lawrence University hockey team came tantalizingly close to a huge breakthrough last season. It was like the difference between a puck clanging off the pipe or finding the back of the net.

The Vikings’ season ended with a 2-1 loss to 2011 national runner-up Adrian College in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association Harris Cup semifinals despite dominating the Bulldogs. Lawrence begins the 2012-13 season on Oct. 27 when it hosts the Wisconsin Rampage in an exhibition game, and the Vikings are setting a very high standard.

“We are looking to continue to be a tough team to play against every night – a team that never quits,” Lawrence coach Mike Szkodzinski said. “We will work hard away from the puck and be responsible defensively if we hope to contend for an MCHA title.”

Lawrence, which was picked to finish third in the MCHA in the preseason coaches’ poll, finished 13-11-4 a season ago. The Vikings lost the most successful group of seniors in the program’s history, including All-MCHA selections Matt Hughes at forward and Jameson Raymond on defense, to graduation.

“We lost some great players, but more importantly, great humans to graduation last year and they will be difficult to replace,” Szkodzinski said. “We will need to find young men in this group who can step into more significant roles both on and off the ice. Strong leadership is the key to any successful team.”

Senior forward and captain Brad Scurfield led the team in scoring last season with 27 points and had a team-best 19 assists. The Vikings also have senior forward Phil Bushbacher back after he scored 13 goals and handed out 12 assists for 25 points last season.

“We feel like we added some depth and scoring this year,” Szkodzinski said. “However, we will need our returners to play a major role in our scoring.  Brad Scurfield and Phil Bushbacher worked extremely hard this summer and we expect them both to have a strong senior campaign. We also expect an up-tick in scoring from other returning players as they seem to be in great physical shape heading into the season.”

The Vikings return other experienced forwards, including Gustav Lindgren, Patrick Coyne, Paul Zuke and Huck Saunders. Lawrence also has newcomers Logan Lemirande, Rudi Pino, Matt Moore, Renato Engler and Brandon Boelter.

“The incoming freshmen have potential to make an impact from day one,” Szkodzinski said. “We will have to see how quickly they can adjust to the demanding schedule and pace of the college game.”

While the Vikings should be better on offense, Lawrence has a big hole to fill on defense with Raymond’s graduation. The good news is former all-conference selection William Thoren is back, along with junior Kevin Killian and sophomore Erik Soderlund.

“We fully expect William Thoren, Erik Soderlund and Kevin Killian to be the core of our blue line and help eat up the minutes that Raymond consumed over the past four years,” Szkodzinski said.

The last line of defense was occupied almost exclusively last season by rookie Peter Emery. All he did was set a Lawrence season record with a .924 save percentage while picking up 12 wins and a pair of shutouts. Lawrence also is deep with senior Michael Baldino and sophomore Anton Olsson.

“Peter Emery had a very good first season,” Szkodzinski said. “He gave a chance to win just about every night.  He will be challenged by Anton Olsson and Mike Baldino, both of whom have had a strong preseason.” 

Walk this way

The Mount Mary College volleyball team was late in arriving for its match at Alexander Gymnasium on Tuesday, and that’s because the Blue Angels’ bus driver led them astray.

The driver mistakenly dropped the team off at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center, which is on the north bank of the Fox River. Alexander Gym is a half-mile away on the south side of the river.

Once the Blue Angels realized the mistake, the coaches called the driver but couldn’t reach him. The team then walked to Alexander Gym, and the match started 15 minutes late.

Lawrence rolled to a 3-0 win over Mount Mary in a match that lasted just 56 minutes. 

Topping  two grand

Junior setter Diane McLeod passed the 2,000-assist plateau in the Lawrence volleyball team’s win at Beloit last Friday. McLeod now has 2,057 assists for her career and ranks second on the career list behind Georgia Seals (3,100).

Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.