In the North Country, the winters are long. It snows early, it snows late, and it’s always cold. Refuge is found in a number of ways, but hockey has found a foothold here as a winter tradition rivaled by none. Some people root for NHL teams, like the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, or Montreal Canadiens. But on Friday and Saturday nights, the place to be is right here in the NoCo.
College hockey draws the locals, and the students, out into the snow, the wind, and the cold. For the Green and Gold, or more preferably, the Scarlet and Brown, North Country hockey fans turn out in force each weekend.
You can see the health of hockey in the North Country anytime you take in a game at Appleton Arena, men’s or women’s. There are always young hockey players looking to snag a high five or fist pump from a player as they enter or exit the ice, and the crowds of young fans are always waiting after games, win or loss. It’s been this way for a long time, and some of those fans grow up to be the players. These players, with local connections, have an affinity for life in the North Country, to the benefit of the entire team.
Kalie Grant, a rookie center for the Saints, has North Country hockey royalty in her blood. Her grandfather, Bill Sloan, held the record for career shutouts at St. Lawrence until Kyle Hayton surpassed his mark of 10 earlier this season. Her uncle, Shawn Grant, played net for the Golden Knights in the late 90’s and had a knack for defeating the Saints.
She grew up a fan of both teams, but when it came time to play college hockey for Kalie, St. Lawrence was the choice, because of the hockey, and the school.
“When I came to St. Lawrence, I had known Wellsy before, which was nice, and it just felt right the right place for me academically and athletically,” Grant said. The connection with coach Wells was important, because he could relate to playing hockey close to home, as a Cantonite who donned the Scarlet and Brown. His experience helped her decide that playing close to home was the way to go.
“I initially thought I wanted to get away from home, but after I toured all the other schools and talked to Wellsy, he told me that when he came to St. Lawrence, it didn’t feel like he was right at home, and it doesn’t feel like I’m right at home.”
She isn’t exactly “right at home”. She grew up in Potsdam, 11 miles away, playing hockey for the St. Lawrence Ice Storm for most of her career, along with another player who plays for the Saints.
Allie Compeau, a sophomore goaltender, will openly admit she grew up rooting for Clarkson more than St. Lawrence. With parents who work at Clarkson, it’s understandable.
“Friday nights in particular were a huge, we’d always go to the Clarkson games,” said Compeau of the college hockey scene growing up. As a goalie, she particularly admired Stephanie Hansen, a goaltender for the Golden Knights.
“I remember my dad had her in class too, so I got to meet her,” Compeau recalled. “he would come to my house sometimes, and we’d go skate on my pond in the winter with some of the other girls, so that was huge for me.”
When her coach offered her the chance to play goalie, she took it immediately, and now, she is a D-1 goalie that local kids look up to. Getting to see the people she grew up, her friends and family, at every home game, is part of what makes being at SLU so special for her.
“It’s awesome. It just really cool because you see people you know all the time, and going to Clarkson to play is amazing because everybody knows you and you know each other, and that’s one of the parts of playing here that I love.”
Grant has noticed the same thing in her first season on campus.
“I see some former teammates, and the parents of some of the guys I used to play with, and it’s funny, because it’s people you don’t expect. But I think it’s good for me, and it’s good for the program.”
The once-young hockey fans that dotted the bleachers of Appleton and Cheel in the mid-2000’s now help maintain the popularity of hockey in the North Country. And few people know North Country hockey like Chris Wells.
A native of Canton, Wells skated for the Saints in the late 80’s and early 90’s, worked as an assistant coach under Joe Marsh, and has been in charge of the women’s program since 2008. He’s been here most of his life, and he’s been around the hockey as much as anyone. He was a walk-on at SLU, and his personality and playing style are obvious in the way his team plays. The local flavor, according to him, is important.
“Both Kalie and Allie are well connected with the history of SLU hockey and how important it is to the young girls who play now,” Wells said. “St. Lawrence has a very loyal local following and having two section X alumnae on our team really connects with the fans.”
“They both show up, say hello and work as hard as they can, smile and say goodbye.” Wells said of his local players. “They have been great additions to our team. They have been able to bring our out of town kids closer to the North Country and show them all the great things the region offers.”
The ties are strong between SLU hockey and the North Country. Young fans can watch some of the best in the game, usually for free, in a great college hockey barn, and the teams are now reaping the benefits of their legions of fans.
The local connection is also important to Grant and Compeau, who have been playing hockey together long before suiting up at Appleton Arena.
“It’s just nice to have each other, and have another local kid on the team,” Grant said on what it means to have a fellow North Country resident on the roster in Compeau. Wells’ ties to the area are helpful too.
“He can always relate to me, and he knows how it is. We make jokes about being locals sometimes.”
As locals, they grew up watching SLU during the golden days, Wells in the mid-to-late 80’s, and Grant in the early-to-mid 2000’s. Neither of these programs are strangers to success, and the local fan base has become accustomed to winning.
Luckily for them, the SLU women have been winning quite a lot this year. They win because they work hard, but have fun doing it. As Wellsy said:
“We live to compete. Period!!”