ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. – The Waldorf College hockey team fell in a 5-1 loss to Michigan State University in the opening round of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division II Central Regional on Saturday.
"We played well for stretches, but lacked consistency," Waldorf coach Brett Shelanski said. "At times, we carried the play and we were able to create chances but we struggled to finish and Michigan State was able to bury their chances."
The Spartans (17-11) entered the showdown ranked No. 5 in the final ACHA Division II Central Region poll. They scored the only goal of the opening period and owned a three-goal advantage after two periods. Michigan State tacked on two more goals in the third period.
Lane Sanderson scored for the No. 10 Warriors (23-9-3) in the final period.
Saturday marked Waldorf's second straight regional tournament appearance and was just the third year of postseason eligibility for the Warriors.
The loss ended the careers of Daniel Pletta and Sanderson.
"Daniel and Lane have meant a lot to this program," Shelanski said.
Pletta, a senior forward from West Concord, Minn., has been with Waldorf's program since its inception four seasons ago. With 14 goals and five assists this year, Pletta finishes his career as the school's all-time leading scorer with 112 total points. He scored 60 goals and provided 52 assists in 104 career games.
"Beyond that, he brought an enthusiasm and a sense of humor to the rink every day that will be missed," Shelanski said.
Sanderson, a sophomore, will graduate with an associate's degree this spring. The forward from Consul, Saskatchewan was a second-team all-conference selection by the Northern Collegiate Hockey League (NCHL) with nine goals, 14 assists and 23 points this season.
"Lane has been a very productive player for us in his two seasons," Shelanski said. "He represented our program with class and integrity every step of the way and has been a phenomenal student as well."
The postseason exit wasn't what the Warriors had in mind. With the national tournament being the ultimate goal, Waldorf's players remain hungry for more success following the loss to the Spartans.
"Hopefully it motivates our guys to continue to work and work even harder beginning with this spring in the weight room and this summer both on and off the ice to get beyond this point next year," Shelanski said.
The Warriors return an accomplished squad next year, including Dalton Kaake, the team's top scorer from this season. Kaake ended the year with 23 goals, 22 assists and 45 points while earning first-team all-conference honors from the NCHL.
Ronald Paulson, the NCHL Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, shined as a freshman for Waldorf. Paulson, a first-team all-conference selection, recorded 786 saves, a .942 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average (GAA).
Kaake, the NCHL Tournament's Most Valuable Player, helped the Warriors capture the NCHL Tournament title with a 3-1 win over Robert Morris University (18-15) on Feb. 15 at Albert Lea, Minn. He was named to the all-tournament team along with senior Christian Weber, sophomores Nicholas Carroll, Kaake, Bartel and Savelyev.
Junior Jess Engquist and sophomore Alex Fleming tied for third on the team with nine goals this season. Weber scored eight goals, sophomore Spencer Johnson turned in seven goals while Loucks, Taylor and Savelyev finished with six goals apiece.
Ninety of Waldorf's 119 goals from the 2014-15 campaign came from players who will be expected to make an impact once again next season. It's a positive sign for the Warriors moving forward.
"The outlook for this team is very promising," Shelanski said. "We lose two players that played this weekend and while they will be missed, the majority of this roster is underclassmen who were major contributors this season. If they continue to put in the work, this team has a bright future."