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.