Mark Vermette was one of the key contributors to putting the Lake Superior State University Lakers men’s hockey program on the map in 1988.
He was the first player in school history to be named an All-American, was the runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award that goes to the best players in NCAA Division I hockey and would score the winning goal in overtime against the St. Lawrence Saints to give the Lakers their first Frozen Four title.
Thirty-five years later, the 56-year-old Vermette was honoured for his time at the Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., school on Oct. 14 as he was enshrined into LSSU’s athletics hall of fame.
“It has been some time since I was back on campus and it was just wonderful,” Vermette said.
“It was so welcoming. Everyone there embraced my family and I got to see so many close friends and special people. It was truly an amazing weekend and something I’ll always remember and cherish.”
Vermette, who was born in Cochenour, found out he was being inducted into the hall of fame in August when he received a call from his former teammate and Thunder Bay product Doug Laprade.
“I was a bit taken aback to be honest,” Vermette said. “I really hadn’t thought about this being a possibility and it was really humbling.”
Most of Vermette’s weekend was spent catching up with old friends and teammates.
He was in attendance for the Lakers’ games against the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves and spoke to the team along with fellow alumni Anthony Palumbo, Kord Cernich and Doug Weight.
“We got to share some of our experiences with them and share the importance of playing hockey and wearing that jersey,” Vermette said.
“Those college years are really the best years of your life. You’ll go to the wall for your teammates when you are on the ice, but they’re going to be your friends for life afterwards.”
Palumbo later inducted his old teammate into the hall of fame and Vermette joined Weight for a ceremonial faceoff.
“There’s definitely been some changes to the rink since I was there last, especially with the dressing rooms and the weight room facilities,” Vermette said.
“I told the guys when I got the tour that the facilities were a lot nicer than what I had when I was playing in Quebec (with the NHL’s Nordiques).”
Vermette’s career with the Lakers nearly didn’t happen.
As he was finishing up his time with the under-18 Notre Dame Hounds program in the 1984-85 season, he was leaning towards attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth, especially after being taken around town by Bulldogs star forwards Brett Hull and Bill Watson.
“When I stepped foot at Lake State for the first time, my changed pretty quickly,” Vermette said.
“A lot of it had to do with how I was recruited by the entire community. I met some of the players and the coaching staff at first, then before I knew it, I was meeting the whole athletic department, the president of the school and the professors.
“It was a very genuine process and I wasn’t just a number to them. I was a person and they wanted me to be a part of the program.”
Vermette recorded 116 points in 114 games over three seasons with the Lakers and his 45 goals in 1987-88 remains the single-season high for the program.
His final marker of the campaign would set the stage for an impressive run for LSSU, as they won three national titles in a seven-year span.
“I always joke that the title-winning goal was a breakaway top shelf, but everyone knows it was a mad scramble and that puck just had eyes on it,” Vermette said.
“It’s pretty interesting to me that the last person that it went through was Jamie Baker and we ended up playing together in Quebec. We’d end up re-enacting the play jokingly from time to time, and if you know ‘Bakes’, he’s got a pretty awesome sense of humour about it.
“One of the things I really didn’t realize at that time though was just how much of a positive impact that championship had on the program and the Twin Saults for that matter. That’s pretty humbling.”