McKenna '05 a MVP candidate as he advances to Calder Cup Finals with Bayreuther '17 and Texas

With a 2-1 overtime win last night against the Rockford Ice Hogs, Mike McKenna and Gavin Bayreuther advanced to the Calder Cup finals with the Texas Stars, the AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars. 

This is McKenna's second straight trip to the Calder Cup finals (he backstopped the Syracuse Crunch to the finals last season, coming two wins short against the Grand Rapids Griffins) while Bayreuther is in his rookie season after joining Texas after his senior season ended. 

McKenna, in his 14th pro season, is a frontrunner for playoff MVP, with a 1.97 GAA and a .940 save percentage through 15 games. Bayreuther has also performed well, bringing his typical two-way defense to the table as a rookie, posting 6 points in 15 games while being reliable and consistent on defense. 

The Stars will face the Toronto Marlies, The Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate, in the Calder Cup finals, beginning on June 2nd. Bayreuther and McKenna will play on home ice for at least games four three and four, and if necessary, game five. 

 

Clarkson weekend

The one weekend we've all been waiting for. Each year when the schedule is released, Saints fans circle the games against Clarkson, and final, the route 11 rivalry will take center stage in the North Country this weekend. The Golden Knights will host game 1 at Cheel Arena tonight, while the Saints host game 2 tomorrow at 7 at Appleton Arena. 

Clarkson is enjoying one of its best seasons in quite a while, ranked third in the country with a mark of 13-3-1. They are young, talented, healthy, and just recently captured the Friendship Four. Led in scoring by Sheldon Rempal, four of their top five scorers are underclassmen, as is Sophomore netminder Jake Kielly, who has taken a big step forward after a rocky first year. 

St. Lawrence, meanwhile, is battling injuries, but expecting to get several important players back into the lineup. This will put less pressure on the forward corps to produce, and should help possession even out. This, coupled with the two weeks rest the healthy players have gotten, could help the Saints play spoiler this weekend. 

They'll need to get off to good starts, and make sure they drive the net and make life difficult for Kielly, but with the amount of emotion involved in these games, there's always the chance for an upset. 

Picking up a win, or two, this weekend could be huge for this team's momentum entering the second half of the season. After this series, the Saints next games will be in the Catamount Cup, so these next four games offer SLU a chance to put some big wins on the board as they start to get healthy. Then, maybe this group can really show what kind of team they are. 

Saints face tough test on first road trip of 2017-18

The Saints first road trip of the year is their longest of the year, as they make the trek out to North Dakota to take on the Fighting Hawks in non-conference play.

St. Lawrence and North Dakota haven’t played since 2013, the last time SLU made the trip out to Grand Forks. Much has changed since those two games, which the Saints and Fighting Hawks split. Both teams have new head coaches, and no players remain on either squad from the 2013 season, so unfamiliarity will play a bit of a role early on, particularly on Friday.

While no players remain from North Dakota’s team in 2013, they still have plenty of players who won a National Championship in 2016, defeating ECAC rival Quinnipiac 5-1. Last year was a down year, by North Dakota standards, simply because they missed out on the Frozen Four by virtue of a double overtime loss to BU in the regional semifinal, as always, the Fighting Hawks have re-loaded and will again be one of the elite teams in the NCHC and in college hockey.

North Dakota opened their season on the road against Alaska-Anchorage, taking a win and a tie from the Seawolves, while the Saints were swept by Big Ten opponents Michigan and Penn State at home to kick off 2017-18.

The Saints will have to be at the top of their game when they face North Dakota, but with two games under their belt against Michigan and Penn State, the Saints should be ready to come out firing early on. One of the Saints best assets is their size, with players like Alex Gilmour, Carson Gicewicz, Keenan Suthers and Bo Hanson, in addition to a number of players who play a grinding style of hockey. They’ll have to use this to their advantage and outwork North Dakota in puck battles and faceoffs in order to control the puck and prevent the Fighting Hawks skill from taking over the game.

That’s not to say the Saints don’t have speed and skill as well, but their ability to control the puck will allow their skill players to have enough opportunities to beat North Dakota’s defense and Cam Johnson. Through two games, North Dakota has only allowed two goals and their head coach, Brad Berry, is well known for his defensive acumen, so the Saints face a stout test this weekend in scoring goals.

It won’t be any easier on the defensive side of the puck for SLU. North Dakota is quick and skilled, with seven NHL draft picks on the roster, including Nashville’s 2017 second round pick, Grant Mismash. Mismash suited up last Friday, but was out of the lineup on Saturday. Barring a serious injury, he should be in the lineup this weekend, meaning five of North Dakota’s top six forwards are NHL draft picks.

The Saints and Fighting Hawks are both 1-for-9 on the power play, but North Dakota is a perfect 8-for-8 on the PK, SLU allowed two power play goals last weekend in ten shorthanded situations. A tighter PK, and less penalties, will be important in helping the Saints stay with North Dakota late in the game, and will allow for more ice time for SLU’s skill players.

The bottom line is, to beat North Dakota, SLU has to be smart with the puck, and their sticks. They took a bunch of hooking penalties last weekend, and forcing the PK to play to much is never a good strategy, and turning the puck over literally never works. SLU has the size and grit to compete with the Fighting Hawks, but only if they’re playing them at even strength. Regardless of wins, this is a good experience for the boys, and they should be two entertaining games.

Silencing the doubters

Entering the 2016-17 season, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the men’s hockey program. The team had a new head coach and a new assistant coach, lost all three of their top centers and lost several recruits in the coaching change.

At least in my mind, they silenced all the doubters. To win 17 games in the first year of Morris’ term and lock up their third straight first round bye is impressive enough, but to have done it while battling the injuries this team faced is nothing short of remarkable. Their freshman class came in and made an immediate impact, and other players took their games to the next level in an up-and-down season.

Ben Finkelstein played every game for the Saints, put up 23 points on defense and was one of the most consistent defenders the Saints had. Carson Gicewicz notched 17 points as a rookie playing big minutes for a significant portion of the schedule and Alex Gilmour had 9 points in 18 games after joining halfway through the year.

Mike Ederer found his game around the midway point of the season, finishing with 9 goals, and though the points may not have been there for stretches, his skating with the puck looked much more confident than it did at any point last year, and that’s a good sign for SLU.

Joe Sullivan was Joe Sullivan but better, putting up 27 points and generally being a pain to play against. Nolan Gluchowski set a new career high in points and Mike Marnell scored 13 goals in 15 ECAC games, becoming a legitimate scoring threat whenever the puck was on his stick.

Gavin Bayreuther lead the Saints in scoring for the second straight year, and is now displaying his goal scoring acumen in the AHL with the Texas Stars. Drew Smolcynski and Woody Hudson are both playing in the ECHL now and other seniors could be on their way to the pros.

Kyle Hayton won the Ken Dryden Award as the top goalie in the ECAC, posting a 13-8-4 record with a 1.91 GAA and a .938 save percentage and was once again one of the top goalies in the entire country.

Even with all their success, a third straight trip to Lake Placid wasn’t in the cards for the Skating Saints, as they dropped a tough three games series to Quinnipiac at home. But each and every one of the guys on that team can hold their heads high for playing a tough schedule with a depleted roster and making it as far as they did.

The seven seniors who skated, along with equipment manager Nick Bayruns, dedicated more hours to this program than we could imagine, and they’re impact is difficult to measure. They helped turn St. Lawrence back into a contender in the ECAC and represented the program with class over four years. The goals, blocked shots, and wins are just the icing on the cake.

The Saints return a strong team for next year and bring in some really strong recruits. Year two of the Mark Morris era should bring even more success than year one did, and that leaves us fans with lots to look forward to while we wait for the offseason to end. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy watching our alumni light it up in professional leagues across the world. Not a bad way to live.

Quinnipiac comes to town

Ah, the playoffs. Last year we got Clarkson at home in the quarterfinals, and this year we get Quinnipiac. If there’s any team that can get the Appleton crowd riled up the same way Clarkson does, it’s the Bobcats. This one is going to be fun.

The Bobcats missed out on a first round bye, and had to play a first round series at home against Brown, so they’ll be coming in off a nice tune-up and should be in good form.

After outscoring the Bears 10-2 in the series, Quinnipiac will have to deal with a slightly better SLU defense. Though banged up, SLU still dresses a defense that’s tied for fourteenth nationally in goals allowed per game. Led by four seniors, the Saints defense allows just 2.41 goals per game, but also plays a significant role in the offense for SLU, which has been stuck in neutral the last month or so, dropping their goals per game to 2.88.

Quinnipiac has always had an affinity for offense, and though it has been a bit harder to come by than usual in Hamden this season, the Bobcats still score an average of 3.17 goals per game. This is due in large part to their power play’s success. At first glance, their 18.5% conversion rate doesn’t jump off the page at you, but when you consider that they’ve had an absurd 216 power play opportunities, which is ten more than second-place Bowling Green, the only two teams with more than 200 chances, the stat means more. The Bobcats have scored 40 power play goals this season, which is more than a third of their total goals.

A team that depends on its power play the way Quinnipiac does is asking for trouble. What happens when you run into a team with a strong penalty kill (86.2%) and one of the best goalies in the country? You score zero goals in two games against SLU this year, and get shut out in three of the last four games against the Saints.

St. Lawrence’s best assets are the precise pieces needed to consistently beat Quinnipiac. In years past, Quinnipiac had players like Travis St. Denis, Matt Peca, or Sam Anas, who could occasionally put the whole team on their shoulders offensively. They don’t have a player like that this year, and their offense is down because of it.

Make no mistake, Quinnipiac will bring it, and they are a good team. They have depth, and get a ton of power plays. They’re never an easy team to beat, but SLU-QU games are often highly emotional, and if the Saints can keep their emotions from boiling over, they can keep the game at 5-on-5, where they are the better team.

Injuries will play a factor. Many of the key players for SLU have been injured recently, and are still working to get back to full speed. It has affected the offense without question, and the recent results show it. But the bye week was a chance for some of the banged-up guys to rest and get a little closer to their best form. And the fact that they earned the bye week is proof that this team has fight in it. They went on the road and staged a third-period comeback to guarantee the bye.

It would have been easy to throw in the towel, allowing two quick goals to hand Dartmouth the lead in the third, but key forwards in Ederer and Marnell showed up when they needed to, and got SLU the win. Smolcynski picked up two points and Bayreuther found the back of the net again.

They even battled back against Harvard. Yes, they lost, but they never really gave up, and that’s never really been an issue for this group. They got hit with injury after injury to key guys, and players just kept stepping up, playing more and playing positions they weren’t used to. Now, they have a chance to peak at the right time.

Quinnipiac is hard to beat. They’re a good team with a lot of playoff experience. They won this tournament last year, and made it to the national championship. But SLU has had their number the past two years, and with the senior class looking at one more chance to hang a banner from the rafters of Appleton, this series is a chance for the Saints to show what they’re made of.

Puck drops at 7 pm on Friday.

Also, if you’re heading to the women’s regional game against BC on Saturday, be sure to check out the alumni event prior to the game.

Regular season wraps up as Saints head to Dartmouth, Harvard in search of a first round bye

Points are at a premium in the ECAC, with just two games left, and the Saints head to Dartmouth and Harvard needing to pick a single point in order to lock up a first round bye. Four points would obviously be ideal, but given the injuries this team has faced, a week off is desperately needed, and will go a long way in helping the Saints get back to Lake Placid.

SLU will face Dartmouth on Friday, a game in which they should absolutely pick up at least a point. Dartmouth is always a threat in their own barn, especially since they have good scoring talent that can appear out of nowhere. As a team, Dartmouth doesn’t score much, but guys like Troy Crema and Corey Kalk can break the game open if they’re given too much space.

Defensively, The Big Green struggle about as much as they do offensively, allowing close to 3.5 goals per game. A SLU offense that has been stuck in neutral the last four games will get an opportunity to find it’s rhythm before taking on Harvard on Saturday.

Dartmouth’s penalty kill is nothing to write home about either, succeeding 74.6% of the time, and for the Saints, who are likely to pick up a few power plays against a Dartmouth team that doesn’t mind spending time in the box, this is an opportunity to get the man advantage working as well. After a torrid stretch in the middle of the season, where SLU scored a PPG in 8 straight games, it’s been a bit of a struggle for the Saints on the man advantage, but a weak Dartmouth PK will provide a good chance to oil the gears ahead of a marathon game against the Crimson.

Hopefully by the time SLU shows up at Bright-Landry, which will inevitably be filled by mostly SLU fans, they’ll have already locked up a first round bye, but SLU fans should still expect a competitive game between the two. Harvard is a threat for their national championship, and have more skill than any other team in the ECAC up and down their lineup, making them a nightmare for any team.

Tyler Moy has been on fire of late, and is tied with Alex Kerfoot for the team lead in points with 33. Sean Malone follows with 31, and a pair have 30, including rookie defenseman Adam Fox. Merrick Madsen is 20-5-2 with a 2.18 GAA and a .917 save percentage, and the Crimson as a team allow 2.22 goals per game. They’re well rounded, but their weakness is on the defensive side of the puck.

Their special teams are indicative of how dominant a possession team Harvard is, which is what allows them to put up such unreal offensive numbers. Most of the time spent on the PK is done so without the puck, and Harvard’s PK succeeds just 82.3% of the time. Their power play, where puck possession is a given, clicks at 25.2%.

Thus, the key to Harvard is to limit turnovers, make the smart play, and keep the puck away from them as long as possible. They’ll force their turnovers, get their shots, and probably a few goals too. But SLU can beat Harvard, if they truly make them work for every turnover they force and every shot they take. SLU is the slower team, but they’re much more physical, and if the Saints can hang tough through the first two periods, Harvard struggles the most in the third. (Struggles isn’t really the right word, since the Crimson still outscore opponents 44-28 in the third)

That’s pretty much the secret to beating Harvard, and yes, it’s much easier said than done, but for a team on a bit of a skid that might be looking to prove a point, this is exactly the kind of game SLU can steal from the Crimson. It wasn’t that long ago that SLU was atop the ECAC standings, and even if they’re out of the running for the regular season title, the more important ECAC tournament title is still up for grabs. One point this weekend earns SLU a bye, but four gives them worlds of confidence entering their week off before the playoffs begin.

Crucial ECAC Games Mark the Final Home Regular-Season Contests and Senior Night

101 goals, 333 points, 69 wins, and those totals will increase. The legacy left behind by the class of 2017 is yet to be determined, but if their season, and St. Lawrence careers, ended now, they will have lead St. Lawrence to four incredibly successful and productive years.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and while the season isn’t yet finished, Friday and Saturday will mark the final regular season games at Appleton Arena for Alex Dahl, Eric Sweetman, Ben Masella, Mike Graham, Gavin Bayreuther, Drew Smolcynski and Woody Hudson. In a fitting tribute to the success the seniors have brought St. Lawrence, the games will be of critical importance to the Saints hope of a regular season title and an auto-bid to the national tournament.

And before we continue, we should recognize the efforts of Nick Bayruns, the eighth senior on the team. He might not have scored any goals, but the team could not function without him, and he will be sorely missed next year. 

Before they can add banners to their legacy, the seniors, and the rest of the Saints, must first deal with Colgate and Cornell, who visit Appleton Arena this weekend for the final regular season games on campus this season.

Cornell, who is tied with Saints for third in the ECAC with 25 points, is one of the top teams in the ECAC. They’ve already beaten SLU once this season, and the Big Red can’t be underestimated. Mike Schafer is veteran coach who knows how to get the most out of his teams, and no game against Cornell is ever easer. Don’t expect Friday night to be an easier.

Cornell, like SLU, boasts one of the league’s best goaltenders in Mitch Gillam, and a defensive corps that is as good at keeping the puck out of their own net as the Saints are. Much like SLU, Cornell’s offense doesn’t come from a few dynamic players, but rather, from everyone on the roster. Mitch Vanderlaan paces the offense with 20 points in 25 games, but ten players are in double digits for the Big Red. That depth allows them to average 3.04 goals per game, and with a defense that only allows 2.20 GPG, Cornell is a tough team to beat, by a 1-0 score or a 4-0 score.

Because the Saints and Big Red are such similar teams, they tend to play to close outcomes, as was the case in a 3-2 Cornell win at Lynah Rink in January. Ben Finkelstein had two points for the Saints, as did Nolan Gluchowski, and for the Saints to get back on track after a two game losing streak, the defense needs to get back into the fray. Defenders have combined for two assists over the last two games, and the Saints have only managed two goals in a pair of 3-1 losses. If players like Bayreuther and Finkelstein play well and produce for the Saints, SLU should be able to grab a massive win for the ECAC and PWR standings before it’s on to Colgate.

Since dispatching SLU in overtime in the semifinals of the 2015 ECAC tournament in Lake Placid, Colgate has had trouble finding wins, finishing in the bottom four of the league last year and well on their way to another lost season. They opened a new rink this season (finally), but the wins have not come.

Charlie Finn, after posting strong rookie and sophomore campaigns, has looked overworked at some points, and outmatched at others. His stats have taken a serious hit the last two seasons since losing the ECAC championship, and the losses of Kevin Lough, Ryan Johnston and Spiro Goulakos on the blue line over the last two seasons certainly didn’t help.

Their offense was still decent last year, but with the Spink twins and Mike Borkowski no longer in the locker room, very little has gone right for the Red Raiders. Lead in scoring by rookie Bobb McMann, no one on the Raiders has 20 points for the season. They lack depth and barely scratch two goals a game overall, and fail to score twice each game in league play.

With a struggling defense and a struggling offense, it should be no surprise that Colgate is… well, struggling. They’re 8-17-5 on the season and 6-10-2 in ECAC play. The Raiders are in ninth place, one point behind Princeton, and with three tough games to finish, along with one against RPI, it’s unlikely that Class of ’65 rink will see men’s playoff hockey in its inaugural season.

SLU downed Colgate 3-0 in Hamilton, and should be able to outskate the Raiders at home as well. Colgate isn’t exactly what you would call a powerhouse on the road, with a 2-10-2 record, while the Saints are pretty strong at home, winning 10-of-13 contests at Appleton. This game should go in SLU’s favor as long as they show up to the game.

This is a big weekend for the Saints, who need to win out and get help from Harvard in order to win the ECAC. They'll be much closer to that goal if they can beat Cornell and Colgate, which will also go a long way in improving their PairWise ranking of 19th, 5 spots below where it needs to be. 14th should all but guarantee them a spot in the national tournament, and that's not undoable with games against Cornell and Harvard yet to be played. 

Senior night will mark the end of an era for St. Lawrence hockey, one that saw the program win on a consistent basis. The team will continue to do so after the 7 seniors depart Canton, but they will have left their mark on the team, a mark they still haven't finished crafting. We'll get a clearer picture of what it might look like this weekend.

Weekend preview: Playoff race heats up as the saints head to Princeton

The playoff push is on. All teams in the ECAC have played either 16 or 17 games, and five have separated themselves from the pack. The Saints and Union are tied at the top with 25 points, but Union has a game in hand, while Harvard lurks just one point behind. Cornell has 22 points and Quinnipiac is fifth with 21, but it’s a 6-point drop-off to get to 6th place Clarkson. Union will lose it’s game in hand over the Saints this weekend as they take on Harvard and Dartmouth, while SLU heads to Princeton for a lone contest against the Tigers.

This game comes at a good time for the Saints, particularly after the tough loss to Clarkson on Saturday. After this weekend, SLU has two relatively easy games left, against Colgate and Dartmouth, and two difficult, and important games, against Harvard and Cornell. Stashing two points in the bank this weekend against Princeton, along with a bit of luck, will put the Saints in a position to control their own destiny over the last two weeks of the regular season.

Away from home, the Saints have struggled this season, with a 5-6-3 record, but they’ve lost two straight games in enemy territory and the sweep at Lowell and Providence doesn’t help the stats. This is a good chance for the Saints to pick up a road win against a team that is scrappier than their ninth place position indicates.

SLU shut Princeton out when the Tigers came to Appleton, getting goals from Carson Gicewicz, Gavin Bayreuther, Jacob Pritchard, and Joe Sullivan, along with 29 saves from Kyle Hayton, but this is not the anemic Princeton offense of the past few years. Max Veronneau has 27 points in 22 games for the Tigers, and both Ryan Kuffner and David Hallisey are both at or above a point-per-game scoring pace.

Jackson Cressey has been producing as well, and Josh Teves provides solid depth scoring from the blue-line. In total, 17 skaters have recorded a goal for Princeton on the season, and all but one skater has recorded a point. Their power play is effective, at 21.2 percent, and as a team, they score roughly 3 goals per game.

In other words, Princeton’s 9-11-3 record, including a 4-9-3 ECAC mark, isn’t the fault of their offense. The defense has not progressed as well in a year where the program has seen significant improvements. Rather, Princeton continues to struggle to keep the puck out of their own net, allowing 3.57 goals per game.

Princeton’s difficulties are deeper than poor defense. The majority of their struggles have come in conference play. Outside of the ECAC, Princeton has a 5-2-0 record and markedly better statistics. In league play, they allow 3.81 goals per game while only scoring 2.56, a far worse goal margin than overall, which is buoyed by their non-conference stats.

Given that this is an ECAC game, between the first place team, a strong league team, and the ninth place team, one that has struggled mightily in conference play, the Saints certainly enter this game as the favorites. Colton Phinney is one of the most underrated goalies in the ECAC, and though his statistics don’t often show it, he has the ability to steal games.

Though not completely healthy at this point, SLU has better depth than the Tigers, and shouldn’t have much of a problem outskating Princeton. The stats don’t indicate that there is one specific way to beat Princeton (i.e. outshoot them, score first, be leading after the first period), which usually means that the opponent is generally a weak team, incapable of consistently holding leads, but also a team that can come back from deficits, even late in games.

It won’t take perfection from SLU to win this game, but too many turnovers, or a lack of focus, could leave the Saints on the losing end of this one. A smart, well-executed game is all SLU needs to tack on win number 16.

Never an Easy Game

For those who have lived it, on the ice, behind the bench, or in the stands, the St. Lawrence-Clarkson rivalry is the best there is in college hockey. No, these aren’t powerhouse schools with national championships in multiple decades. No, they aren’t mammoth-sized schools that play in NHL-esque rinks and on TV every night. They’re small schools, with a rich history of producing good players and better people, that have won a combined 11 ECAC tournament championships, 28 national tournament appearances, and 8 Frozen Fours. Small schools that pack their 3000-seat arenas, which sit buried among snow and trees in the North Country of New York, and whenever they meet, it’s the best hockey you can find.

St. Lawrence and Clarkson are the only two Division 1 hockey teams in the North Country, a region that shares a border, and a love for hockey, with Canada, and that means the winner of the season series is King in the North, so to speak. That’s a lot of pride on the line each time these teams square off, and that’s exactly what will happen Saturday night.

Mark Morris has been on both sides of the rivalry as a head coach for both Clarkson and SLU, and as an assistant with St. Lawrence. He knows of the pride, but also the emotion associated with the St. Lawrence-Clarkson rivalry.

“Games like this are very emotional. It doesn’t matter if its games for last place or first place, this rivalry dates way back.”

Way back indeed. 204 times these programs have played each other, which is plenty of time to build a fierce, competitive rivalry, a rivalry that will see it's 205th installment unfold Saturday night at Cheel Arena in Potsdam.

The Saints carry the extra confidence of winning round one of the route 11 rivalry in December by 3-1 margin. Nolan Gluchowski, Mike Ederer, and Mike Marnell provided the offense for the Saints while Kyle Hayton was up to his usual standards, stopping 34 of 35 Golden Knights shots. Now, buoyed by the return of points-leader and and source of positivity, Gavin Bayreuther, and the newly minted top team in the ECAC by way of their 4-3 victory over Union, the Saints appear primed to secure their status as the best of the North Country.

There is one thing that every player and coach from either school will tell you about a SLU-Clarkson game: “Never an easy game”. So while Clarkson sits sub-.500 at 11-12-4, six spots in the standings and 11 points below St. Lawrence, nothing about this game will be easy for the Saints. Every one of these games is a freaking slog for both teams, the physicality gets ramped up to a whole other level, the shoves after the whistle and in the corners have a little bit more force behind them, etc. etc... Never an easy game. The best part of going to Clarkson? It’s ten miles to get home, at least according to Mike “Bird” Elberty.

This Saturday will be no different, and it will require the Saints at their best. Both teams will have an extra day of rest, as neither plays on Friday, which means the energy level will be high, on the ice and in the stands. A win will require skill, speed, composure, and a high compete level. Traits which, conveniently, the team in scarlet and brown possess.

Clarkson is not devoid of talent. Their trio of dynamic rookies (Devin Brosseau, Sheldon Rempal, Haralds Egle) have combined for 52 points, while Sam Vigneault continues to be a legitimate scorer with 24 points in 27 games. The issue for Clarkson this year hasn’t been the offense, which scored more than three goals per game. It’s been the defense, and it’s a struggle that should have been foreseen.

Sure, James De Haas is a solid defender, and Kelly Summers and Terrance Amorosa continue to trend upwards, but the losses of Kevin Tansey and Paul Geiger were monumental. They played huge minutes, provided stability in all three zones and were experienced. They aren’t easily replaceable, and Tech is finding that even harder to do that they expected. Jake Kielly has also not been all he was advertised to be, with a 2.74 GAA and a.909 save percentage.

The Saints are riding high as the newly minted first place team in the ECAC, despite the grumblings of those who believe that standings should be determined by the number of games played, instead of the number of points.

The return of Bayreuther puts the Saints defense and goaltending at full health, and as the power play continues to improve, SLU needs only to avoid any more injuries and get the few players they still have out of the lineup back on the ice. Players like Carson Gicewicz, Alex Gilmour and Ben Finkelstein have taken their offensive games to another level during this spate of injuries and if that trend continues, the Saints will be in a good position on Saturday, and for the rest of the season.

 

 

Weekend preview: home at last

Last Saturday’s loss to Cornell marked the seventh and final game of the longest road trip of the season for the men. They’ll return to Appleton Arena this weekend, hosting RPI and Union. RPI has struggled this season, but Union is back in form after a few seasons outside the top-4 in the ECAC. 

Except for their surprising win over Harvard a few weeks ago, RPI has very little to be happy about this season. They sit at 4-21-3, with a 2-11-0 record in ECAC play, putting them dead last in the conference and second-to-last in the PairWise. 

Before beating the Crimson on January 13th, the Engineers had last won on November 26 against fledgling Arizona State, in just their second year of existence as a D-1 program. Their others wins have come against Brown (11th in the ECAC) and RIT.

 They aren’t scoring, except for the power play, which is actually pretty good at 19.1%. Evan Tironese, who missed most of last year and was supposed to be the difference maker for RPI this season, has played well with 22 points in 24 games, and both Riley Bourbonnais and Jacob Hayhurst are having decent seasons in terms of production, but beyond that, it’s been dismal in Troy. 

Cam Hackett’s play last season while Jason Kasdorf lead many to assume he was ready to take the reigns once Kasdorf graduated, but this season has been anything but the case. Now suspended indefinitely by the team, Hackett had posted a 2-8-0 record with a 3.89 GAA and an .892 save percentage. RPI is marginally better with Chase Perry in net. Overall, the team concedes nearly 4 goals per game while barely managing two themselves. They take plenty of penalties, and aren’t all that good at killing them. 

The key for the Saints to take this game is to score first. When their opponent gets the first goal, RPI is 2-10-0 and when trailing after the first period, the Engineers have failed to grab a single point this season, going 0-11-0. Scoring the first goal will put the Saints in the driver seat against a team that has shown it can’t play from behind. This should be an easy game for the Saints, who won the first matchup this year by a 3-1 score. 

Union is a different story. Mike Vecchione has found his form, and its lead him to the top of the list for Hobey Baker candidates. He’s carried his linemates to consideration as well, as Spencer Foo is tied with Vecchione at 41 points, but after that duo, production drops off a bit for Union. 

Sebastien Vidmar is third on the team with 26 points, followed by Brett Supinski and Jeff Taylor at 22 and 20 points respectively. Essentially, Union has two really good lines, and not a ton of depth beyond that. They still score almost four goals a game, but don’t have a great power play. In fact, its marginally better than the Saints and the Saints have the better penalty kill, giving SLU the special teams edge in a high-stakes game, the kind that can sometimes lead to more time on the PP and PK.  

Statistically the Saints also have the better defense, allowing roughly .6 fewer goals per game than the Dutchmen. They key for SLU is to limit the chances for the Vecchione line. Not completely eliminate him for the scoresheet, but limit him. If the Saints can keep him from making the explosive plays, and force him to play at their speed, he won’t be able to take over the game. 

The Saints also have to move the puck quickly from the defense to the forwards when breaking the puck out. Union is faster than the Saints, but nobody can outskate the puck when its moving quickly. Smart, fast passes will keep Union on their heels and allow the Saints to dictate possession. 

The two points on the line on Saturday could end up being the difference between first and second place in the ECAC come the end of the regular season. Right now, SLU and Union are tied at the top of the league with 21 points, but the Dutchmen have two games in hand. SLU and Union tied earlier in the season, so the winner of this game will hold the tie-breaker over the other. The Crimson are three points back, but give two games to Union as well. 

Looking at the schedules for both teams, Union has Cornell twice and Harvard once to close out the season, among other opponents, while the Saints have Cornell and Harvard once each. Even with a win Saturday, the Saints will need help, but two points against the Dutchmen will go a long way in helping the Saints take their first regular season title since 2007, the last season SLU went to the national tournament. 

Also, Ben Finkelstein was announced as the rookie of the week by ECAC hockey for his 2-goal, 3-point weekend against Colgate and Cornell. He's now third in the ECAC in scoring amongst rookie defensemen and has upped his point total to 16. His ability to move the puck will be crucial against Union. 

Weekend preview: Bring on the Big Red

The Saints haven’t played in the friendly confines of Appleton Arena for more than a month, since SLU downed Clarkson 3-0 to close out 2016. Before they can return, they first have to finish up their seven game road trip against Cornell and Colgate. They’ll head to Hamilton first before passing through Lynah Rink for a big tilt with the Big Red on their way back to the North Country. 

Friday’s game against the Red Raiders provides SLU with a chance to pick up an easy two league points. No game is guaranteed within the ECAC any more, but Colgate’s 4-12-5 mark, which includes a 2-5-2 league record, leaves little concern, even if the Saints continue to be banged up. 

Colgate is lead in scoring by Jake Kulevich, who has 13 points in 21 games from the blueline. Being led in scoring by a defense is perfectly fine, as the Saints manage quite well being led by Bayreuther. But Kulevich is not Bayreuther, and the quality of the team is not the same. 

They do have a trio of fairly effective freshmen in Jared Cockrell, Bobby McMann and John Snodgrass, all who have 11 points on the season, but their scoring depth is lackluster and they don’t have any top end offensive producers. They still manage to score at a decent rate on the power play, striking 19.1 percent of the time. In fact, almost half of their goals have come on the power play, meaning a strong PK will be important. 

But ultimately, this just is not the same Colgate team that plagued SLU in the playoffs recently. The Spinks are gone, Mike Borkowski is gone, and Darcy Murphy is gone. Their best possession players, their best leaders, their best scorers.  They don’t have the puck as much and Charlie Finn is being forced to do more in net than he’s capable of. Hence, 4-12-5, 2-5-2 in the ECAC. 

Cornell, on the other hand, is 11-4-1, and 6-2-1 in the ECAC. They sit one spot ahead of SLU in the USCHO.com poll, and though they’re sixth in the league, they have 3 games in hand over SLU. If they win all three games in hand, they would end up tied with SLU. The Saints and Big Red haven’t played each other yet this season, meaning that this game is crucially important. 

Cornell looks like a legitimately good team this year, ranked 15th in the poll and 12th in the PairWise. This could be a team SLU is jockeying for a first round bye with, and potentially an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Earning a win against them is important, and it will help SLU’s case in the PairWise and help solidify their status as a contender for the ECAC regular season and tournament titles. 

Cornell doesn’t always score a lot of goals, but since we all know the defense is what wins championships, the precise reason Quinnipiac lost to both Yale in 2013 and North Dakota in 2016, Cornell’s usually good defense is what allows them to usually be good. 

This year it’s really good, allowing under two goals per game overall and 2.11 in league play. There PK is pretty good at 88.6% and Mitch Gillam continues to be one of the better goalies in the league at 11-3-1, with a 1.99 GAA and a .924 save percentage. It’s a very typical Cornell team in every way. 

Even typical in that they have just enough scoring to be good. They score 2.94 goals per game, which is enough most nights. They don’t really get blown out, but when they lose, it’s usually low scoring and close. The Saints were “blown out” a few times in the first half, but haven’t lost by more than two goals since Wisconsin. In fact, the Saints have only lost twice since losing to the Badgers on October 28th, and have complied a 9-1-6 record since the end of their three-game losing streak. 

The boys are scoring more, even without Marnell and Bayreuther in the lineup, which is cause for optimism in the playoffs, when hopefully both are back in the Scarlet and Brown. Particularly on the power play, they look like a new team. The Saints are moving the puck more because they’re moving their feet more, and its resulted in goals. The power play is up to 14.5 percent, which is still not great, but the Saints have found the back of the net in seven straight games when on the man advantage. Since the 4-9 explosion against Brown, have scored a power play goal in 9 of 11 games, and its translating to wins. 

The Canisius trip may not have been what they had wanted, but the team has adjusted to life with injuries and looks ready to start a push. After what should be an easy game Friday, Saturday and the Big Red bring the opportunity to tack a big W onto the record in ECAC play, and probably turn the following Saturday’s home matchup with Union into a battle for first place in the ECAC.