By Michael David/LSSU Beat Writer
Lake Superior State University announced yesterday that they will not be renewing head coach Jim Roque's contract for next season. They also stated on their official website that a national search for his successor will start immediately.
The Lakers were 16-19-1 this season, and was one of only two teams left out of the WCHA Playoffs. Roque's career record at Lake State was 136-165-1 over nine seasons. He took the helm of the Lakers in 2005, and led them to their first winning season in six years, and a year later to the team's first CCHA semifinal appearance in 11 years. Over the years Roque's team have had the habit of a strong start, only to falter later in the season. The Lakers spent many weeks this season ranked in the top 20 before the Christmas break, and their late season slide.
Roque is a former Laker himself, donning the anchor from 1983-87, and was part of the first squad to make the NCAA tournament in 1985. As an assistant coach at Lake State, he served under Frank Anzalone during their 1988 National Championship season, and Jeff Jackson during the 1992 National Championship season. He also coached under Mark Morris at Clarkson, where the Golden Knights qualified for the NCAA tournament four times.
"I appreciate how much Jim Roque loves Laker Hockey, and we thank him for what he has devoted to our program," stated LSSU Athletic Director Kris Dunbar. "I wish him the best, but at this time we are choosing to move in a different direction with our leadership."
Finding a new head coach won't be an easy task for Dunbar, either. LSSU is the smallest state college in Michigan, and finances will always be at the head of any discussion. Laker fans probably won't see an NHL caliber behind the bench at Taffy Abel Arena any time soon. To get the program back on a winning track, however, they will need to find a way to generate some funds. The first thing the Lakers will need, is a president who will back the hockey program 100%, and realize that a successful team on the ice may help to increase the enrollment. I admit, I'm not too familiar with new president Thomas Pleger, but he'll need to be on board if the Lakers are to see any success like they did in in the late '80's and early '90's.
The school will also need to reach out to their alumni. Back in the day, many former Lakers went on play hockey professionally, many in the NHL. Of all these players, only Doug Weight has given back, in the form of an endowment scholarship. There's really no reason for them not to pitch in, and help their alma mater regain some respect in the college hockey world. Even recently, three players off last year's squad left early to sign pro contracts. It will be critical to the program for them to give a little back to the school that helped get them to that level.
With the Laker rich hockey history, there are plenty of names out there with ties to the school, but unfortunately I doubt Doug Weight, Paul Jerrard, or Ron Rolston will be an option. It will be interesting to see where the search will take this program. Will Dunbar go with another Laker alumnus, or a young coach looking to make a name for himself?
One name the cold winds are blowing around the Soo is Rich Metro, who was an assistant under Roque from 2008-12. A Sault Ste. Marie native who played over at Northern Michigan, Metro left to become head coach and general manager of Villard de Lans in France. You really can't have a coaching job come along in the area without Joey Shawhan's name thrown in the hat, either. He's a Laker alumni, former assistant, and was very successful as head coach of the Soo Indians of the NAHL. Tim Christian has been an assistant for the Lakers for 12 seasons, and may be able to make a case for himself also. He's done a solid job of recruiting, as noted by the players leaving to sign pro contract. Just this week Kevin Czuczman left early to sign with the New York Islanders and goalie Kevin Kapalka signed with the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL). Christian has to take some credit for recruiting those types of players.
Whoever Pleger and Dunbar hire to captain the Lakers, fans and alumni can only hope they he can right the ship, and not into deadly waters. It's been exactly 20 years since the Lakers hoisted a National Championship trophy. While we really don't expect the program to be as dominant as it was during those glory years, being a competitive team in the WCHA is really not too much to ask for.