The game of hockey on Long Island owes everything to Bill Torrey, and teams at all levels are reaping the benefits of his Islanders dynasty from the early 1980’s that won four straight Stanley Cups. A crop of young talent from Long Island, including Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Harvard defenseman Adam Fox, and St. Lawrence’s own Mike Marnell, are starting to take the hockey world by storm the way St. Louis born players did a few years ago.
Marnell, who hails from South Huntington, NY, has played a crucial role for the Saints, scoring 33 goals over his first three seasons, but his career on ice didn’t start with sticks and pucks.
“I actually started with figure skating, my mom got me started skating, but every time I went to the rink, I’d see people playing hockey and I always wanted to, so finally my parents got me some hockey skates and eventually signed me up to start playing.”
Marnell caught on quickly, and as he moved up the ranks of youth hockey on Long Island, the decision between college hockey and Canadian Juniors loomed. However, for Marnell, it wasn’t much of a debate, for several reasons.
“I remember I was skating once when I was younger, and Matt Gilroy from BU, who grew up on Long Island, gave me one of his sticks, and that was just really cool, and I always remembered that,” said Marnell. “My parents also always me to play college hockey, I don’t think they would have let me play Canadian Juniors,” he continued, with a laugh.
Then came the decision of which college to go to. Marnell possessed excellent hands and an un-teachable scoring touch to go along with his great skating ability, making him a strong recruit for schools. Academics were important in his decision, as was staying on the East Coast, which narrowed his choices to programs in the ECAC and Hockey East.
“I found SLU when I was trying out for the US National Team up in New York, and I think coach Hurlbut and coach Carvel came and watched me play,” Marnell recalled. “They were really interested, and while I visited some other schools, coach Carvel was definitely the most interested, but he never pressured me to visit, so I finally went up to visit and I loved the campus.”
Marnell also grew up spending summers in Lake Placid, and felt right at home on the small SLU campus, nestled among the Adirondacks. The fit was perfect, and he arrived on campus in the fall of 2014, ready to make his mark.
That Saints team was picked to finish 11th in the ECAC that season, but with a good balance of returning players and rookie talent, including Marnell, the Saints flipped the script, finishing second in the ECAC with a 20-14-3 record, and Marnell potted 11 goals in 32 games to lead all Saints rookies in scoring.
While the Saints were ultimately knocked out of the ECAC tournament in the semi-finals by Colgate, 4-3 in overtime, that team was the surprise of the year in college hockey, and earned Greg Carvel the ECAC coach of the year honors.
“My freshman year was probably one of the best teams I’ve ever been on. We may not have had the most skill, but we were definitely the best team, in terms of leadership and the atmosphere in the locker room,” said Marnell.
His next few seasons would be wrought with injury, but despite these setbacks, Marnell has remained one of the best scorers for St. Lawrence. He played in his 99th and 100th career games against Union and RPI last weekend and picked up a goal and assist to bring his career totals to 39 goals and 69 points.
Despite his setbacks, Marnell has remained positive, which was helpful as the Saints battled through a tough first half marred by injuries. Now, as the lineup gets healthy, Marnell knows the Saints are poised to make a second half push, and his leadership and experience, on and off the ice, will be crucial.
“You just always have to be positive. You have to look on the bright side, and know that anything can happen. College hockey is weird that way, and once you hit the playoffs, especially in the ECAC, it’s all up for grabs.”