Many players have donned the scarlet and brown of St. Lawrence and stepped onto the ice at Appleton Arena. Very few however, skate out with a small red “C” or “A” on their jersey. They are tasked with representing St. Lawrence hockey and the University itself on campus, in the community, and on the road, as well as leading their teammates on the ice, in the locker room, in the weight room, and during the offseason.
For the 2017-2018 season, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of three seniors; Joe Sullivan, Ryan Lough, Nolan Gluchowski, and junior Mike Laidley. Sullivan will wear the “C”, while the others will serve as assistant captains. They skated different paths to Appleton, and have different roles on the team, but together, they’re confident they can help take St. Lawrence to the next level.
One key to succeeding in college hockey is to know that the opponents aren’t just on the ice, but on campus as well. Class is equally as important as practice, and the grind of midterms and research can wear players down. After three years of college, Ryan Lough, the “good lieutenant”, as Mark Morris described him, knows the life that player’s live week in and week out, and how to best avoid crashing when the going gets rough.
“College hockey can be grueling. It can be tough on you. You’re not just playing hockey anymore, you’re also dealing with a full course-load and other stresses in your life, so keeping guys positive is important,” said Lough, a gritty center hailing from just north of the border in Manotick, Ontario. Their grades matter, but so does the team’s record, and the losses on the ice feel just as bad. Lough knows that losses can turn to something worse if negativity festers, especially during the long week between games.
“You have to be there after a tough loss, lift up their spirits, and then get back to work. Because there are so few games, you need to learn how to get over it quickly and get back to working.”
Just as it is important to not get too low when the team hits a slump, maintaining level-headed confidence is important as well, and Nolan Gluchowski doesn’t lack in confidence, or as coach Morris describes it, swagger. For the second-year coach, Gluchowski is a unique personality among the four leaders next year, for a simple reason.
“He’s not afraid to speak his mind,” said coach Morris of the rising senior, who figures to anchor the defense for St. Lawrence next year. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win for his teammates, and he doesn’t have a problem going against the grain.”
The Wixom, MI native plays a physical brand of hockey, something important to the way St. Lawrence likes to play. It’s what makes him, and the Saints, so hard to play against. He’s never afraid to lay down big hits, and his willingness to do so is something younger players can learn from the senior.
Mike Laidley may be a year younger than the other three captains, but his resume speaks for itself. He captained his junior team, the Aurora Tigers of the OJHL, and team Canada East U-19. He knows what has made him a successful leader in the past.
“Back then I was a quiet leader, sort of leading by example, but I also knew there were times I had to stand up and saying something to the team. It’s really all about playing the right way, doing the little things, playing the way coach wants us to play.”
His coach, who only saw six games from Laidley this year, still got to know the native of Little Current, Ontario as a person, and it’s clear that Morris is impressed.
“In the short time that I saw him play this season, I realized he was another guy who thrives on hard work. He’s a quiet, determined leader, and he’s an honest and forthright person.”
After a promising rookie campaign, Laidley was close to a point-per-game production to start the season, before missing the rest to injury. He spent most of the season watching the Saints from above, but that experience taught him something about the game of hockey.
“It’s a totally different view up there in the stands, but it shows you how much the strategy is important, and how much it matters to play within your system the right way,” Laidley said of watching most of the season from the stands. “You can get exposed pretty quickly if you aren’t playing the right way, you know, playing Saints hockey.”
But what is Saints hockey? To the captains and co., there’s a certain I’ll-beat-you-by-outworking-you essential to SLU hockey, whether it’s while battling in the corners, blocking a one-timer on the penalty kill, or crashing the net looking for a rebound. It’s a characteristic of the great St. Lawrence teams of the past, and of the greater St. Lawrence community, a place that loves its hockey as much as anyone.
“I think the University is a mirror of the area they’re in. It’s a blue collar community, and when SLU has had good teams, they’ve been blue collar teams,” said Sullivan, a native of Las Vegas who broke out offensively for the Saints as a junior, posting 27 points to go along with his reliable defensive play and physicality. “They had that lunch pail mentality, and I think that’s what will make us successful.”
Sullivan works as hard as anyone on the ice, and that’s part of the reason he’s gotten to where he is. A late-commit to St. Lawrence, he knows that not all players develop young, and sometimes it can be hard to adjust to the college game as well. Players often struggle in their rookie seasons, and slumps are common for older players too.
Some kids hit their peak when they’re really young, some guys get there when they’re older,” Sullivan said on what he learned from his recruiting experience. “I guess what I’ve learned, the message that I can relay to the team is, “Take it day by day. Don’t look too far into the future, and don’t look too much at the past, just try and get better every day.”
A “born leader” according to Mike Laidley, Joe Sullivan is quick to crack a joke at practice, but most wouldn’t call him the most outspoken player on the team. That doesn’t matter according to Morris, who sees the respect #20 has earned from his teammates.
“He may not be overly vocal, but when he speaks, everyone takes notice because they realize… he means business.”
For Sullivan and the rest of the captains, the business is winning hockey games. The Skating Saints have done a lot of that over the past few years, and the 2017-18 addition welcomes a strong rookie class to bolster their strong returning core. Led by Sullivan, Lough, Gluchowski, and Laidley, the Saints should once again be a top team in the ECAC.