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.