The Lawrence University hockey season is like a road test in a driver’s education class.
You’ve got some young guys with their hands on the wheel, you know there will be wrong turns and poor decisions, but in the end, you know they’re getting it.
With nine freshmen on the roster playing a huge role, Lawrence head coach Mike Szkodzinski has chosen to let the young guys drive this team, and the Vikings appear to have turned in the right direction.
“Going into this year, we knew we were going to have to rely on some young guys, and the only way to get them experience was to let them play through their mistakes,” Szkodzinski said. “We stuck to our guns and allowed them to grow. They still have a lot of growing to do, but they have certainly adapted well to this point.”
Lawrence has received 53 percent of its total points from the freshmen, and the rookies played a huge role in last weekend’s pair of ties against seventh-ranked Adrian College. The ties moved Lawrence to 5-8-2 on the season, and the Vikings are in fifth place in the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association with a 4-4-2 record. Lawrence also is second in the Northern Division, just two points behind Marian University with two games left against the Sabres this season.
“There certainly have been some bumps in the road,” said Szkodzinski. “Young men are bound to make mistakes at times. This year, more than in the past few seasons, we have had to do a lot of teaching away from the rink. We have made sure our guys know what is expected to be a part of our program, how to prepare for practices and games, how to act on campus and how important it is to be active in their education. They have bought in to this point.”
Rookie forward Logan Lemirande leads the team with 19 points on four goals and 15 assists. He ranks fourth in the MCHA at 1.46 points per game and is second at 1.15 assists per game. Freshman forward Rudi Pino, also a golf standout for the Vikings, and freshman defenseman Brandon Boelter are tied for third on the team with 17 points. Pino has six goals and 11 assists, and Boelter has five goals and 12 assists.
Boelter is first in the conference in scoring by defensemen at 1.13 points per game, and Lemirande ranks second in the league in freshman scoring at 1.46 points per game. Pino and Boelter are tied for third in the same category.
Freshman forwards Matt Moore, Renato Engler and Ryan Rumble are also seeing significant action.
“(Assistant) coach (Kalle) Larsson did a tremendous job evaluating the talent at the junior level last year,” Szkodzinski said. “This allowed us to bring in some very talented young men. We certainly had hoped they would be able to fill the roles that they have filled, but it is never a guarantee that freshmen can make the jump to not only college hockey, but college life in general. We are happy with their progress.”
While Boelter has proven to be a high-scoring defenseman, freshman Steve Hughes has also proven to be a gritty defender. Hughes, the younger brother of former Lawrence star Matt Hughes, has a goal and two assists for three points.
The recent addition of freshman goaltender Fabian Sivnert, a transfer from Bemidji State, has given the defense a boost as well. Sivnert is 1-1-2 while facing three teams ranked in the top seven. He has a 4.08 goals against average and .894 save percentage.
“We are always looking to bring in quality people, not just quality players,” Szkodzinski said. “Each of these young men were, at some point, captains of their junior or high school programs. We expected a mature group, and they have proven to be that so far.”
The Vikings will need some poise down the stretch to make a move for a top seeding in the MCHA playoffs.
“They are on the right track, but we still have 10 important games to go starting with MSOE on Friday night. We will assess the progress of the entire program after the season,” Szkodzinski said.
“Each game is a new experience for them. At this time of the year, each game gets more important and more intense. As long as they play in these situations, they will continue to grow, and that should mean positive things for the future of Viking hockey.”
Boelter nabs award
Boelter was been named the MCHA Freshman of the Week after helping the Vikings to a pair of ties this past weekend against seventh-ranked Adrian.
A first-year defenseman, Boelter had a goal and two assists on the weekend. Boelter had an assist in last Friday’s 5-5 overtime tie. He scored on the power play in the first period on Saturday, and then assisted on the game-tying goal in the 4-4 overtime tie.
Boelter’s key assist came on Saturday with the Vikings trailing by a goal with less than four minutes left. His blast from the left point was tipped into the net by Brad Scurfield to tie the game and force the overtime.
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.