This Week in the ECAC: November 17, 1999

The Triple Threat and The Stingy Seven

If you take a look in Canton, N.Y. and the St. Lawrence Saints you’ll see something which one doesn’t exactly see all the time — a Triple Threat in Jeremy Symington, Sean Coakley and Derek Gustafson.

The last time that the USCHO staff can remember such an instance was Boston University with Cashman, Herlofsky and McKersie in 1992-93 and Mass-Lowell with Lindsay, Fankhouser and Fillion in 1994-95.

If you hadn’t figured it out, it’s the three-goaltender rotation on a regular basis.

“I don’t know if I have ever done it,” said head coach Joe Marsh. “Quite honestly, there is no reason not to do it. All three kids work hard and are talented.

“I would assume at some point maybe two guys or one guy will split. But I don’t see us right now arbitrarily looking at statistics and saying that this guy is third. There is so much more than statistics there. The guys are confident in all three. The thing that I notice the most is that all three guys are supporting each other. As tough as it is to rotate three, I think it’s their personalities and their camaraderie that makes it work. They are all good guys and they deserve a shot.”

The Saints are off to a 8-0-0 start after sweeping Rensselaer and Union, behind Symington and Coakley, at home this past weekend and a large part of it is due to the Triple Threat replacing ECAC Player of the Year and All-American Eric Heffler in between the pipes.

Saint fans knew that replacing Heffler was a big question mark for the Saints, but people heard straight from Marsh exactly what he was going to do.

“To fill [Heffler’s] shoes three guys will be battling it out,” he said before the season began. “I don’t think we’ll see a situation where we have the same guy in there every night.”

And thus far, Marsh has stuck to what he has said. Juniors Symington and Coakley each have three wins and Symington’s numbers are a 2.00 GAA and a .934 save percentage, while Coakley’s are a 1.67 GAA and a .950 save percentage. Freshman Gustafson has a 0.50 GAA and a .984 save percentage in two wins.

“It’s a good situation for them,” said Marsh. “The team defensive concept is bought into and if I’m not scoring 20 goals a year we can contribute in a lot of different ways.

“In goal it should be a team where the guys are not going to be surprised about what they have in front of them. Everyone will be blocking shots, playing defense and that should give the guys that are in the goal confidence that they’re not alone out there.”

And the defense so far for the Saints has been spectacular. The Saints have allowed only 13 goals in eight games and have returned seven defensemen with experience to this year’s squad — The Stingy Seven.

“Our defense has been around,” Marsh said. “A lot of them played when they were young and played a lot. They read situations real well now and we were giving up goals back then and they are experienced.

“We’ve got two premier defensemen. I like their defensive mentality and they are led by [Justin] Harney and [Dale] Clarke. Those two guys are very hard workers and can log a ton of ice time. They can work both ends and Justin is one of the premier offensive defensemen in the league. Both of those guys give us a chance to play a high-tempo transition game.”

Joining the two back there are fellow seniors Jake Harney and Josh LeRoy, juniors Kevin Veneruzzo and Matt Desrosiers and sophomore Ray DiLauro. The unit of seven is working hard to stymie opposing offenses and allowing their young goaltenders the chance to make the saves.

“We’re playing pretty hard defensively and I think we know we have to,” said Marsh. “We’ve worked hard on that. Our guys knew they had to play that way for the last couple of years because goals have been hard to come by. Fortunately we’ve got good goaltending and I’m happy with our defense from our forwards too.”

If you look closely too, three of the Stingy Seven are in the top seven in scoring for the Saints. Clarke leads the Saints with nine points (3-6–9) and Harney (0-7–7) and Desrosiers (2-5–7) each have seven points. That is something that Marsh likes, but also dislikes at the same time.

“Clarke and Harney can play, as can Desrosiers [offensively], but we need to work a lot on trying to sustain our offense a little bit,” he says. “We’re harping on defense all the time so in the back of everyone’s mind it’s hard to let go offensively and at the same time not worry about, ‘I better not do that because I have to get back there.’

“So far, we can’t complain. We’ll have walk that fine line of sustaining our offense better but not forsaking our defense to do it.”

That has been the story for the #6 Saints thus far. A Stingy Seven on defense and a Triple Threat in the nets.

It’s Just Old Hat

Continuing in the North Country, Clarkson is still winless in the ECAC and winless at home after losing to Union and Rensselaer by 3-2 scores each night. The Knights are 0-2-2 in the ECAC and 0-4-0 at home.

It’s just old hat, isn’t it? Considering that the Knights are known to start the season slowly and pick it up at the end, one could say that the usual panic has set in from the fans and the media. But are the Knights worried?

“Look at our start last year and look what we accomplished,” says goaltender Shawn Grant. “Every game so far has been a close game, but we can’t panic right now. There are little mental errors here and there. But we’ve got a long season ahead of us and a lot more games to play.”

“You never know from year to year,” said head coach Mark Morris. “You can’t bank on the fact that you’re going to run the table, it’s a hard way to do business. We’ve got our backs against the wall and it’s an uphill battle. We’re going to continue to strive for wins and it’s another tough weekend coming up again.”

It just seems so eerily familiar. What is it about Clarkson and starting the season?

“If I knew that answer we wouldn’t be in the dilemma that we’re in now,” said Morris. “We’ve had way too many injuries and we don’t have the depth that we have had in the past. We need to be steadier from a defensive standpoint. It seems like every mistake we’re making is winding up in our net. We have to improve between the pipes, we’ve got to stop making the giveaway pass in our own zone at a critical time and we need to muster an attack that is going to give us some goalscoring.

“We figured some things out with our team [this past weekend against RPI]. We saw some positive results and if it weren’t for bad luck we wouldn’t have any at all, that’s just the way things are going for us right now. Our guys played well periodically this past weekend and we need to do it for sustained periods of time. We came alive in the third against RPI and there were plenty of missed opportunities. Bottom line is that we have to score.

“We played a more complete game and I don’t think RPI came close to being a big threat to us. Credit them for the win, but I felt we controlled the game.”

“If I knew we wouldn’t be in this situation right now,” said senior defenseman Philippe Roy. “It’s not one problem, it’s, well, I just don’t know.

“We need everyone to chip in and go in the same direction. It just seems to take us longer than other teams. We can’t wait to get out of there. Every year that I have been here there has been adversity at the beginning of the season. I don’t know if that makes us stronger or better, but it seems that were in the same pattern this year. And to be honest, we can’t wait to get out of there and put some wins on the board.”

The Knights will try to get some of those wins against Colgate and Cornell this coming weekend.

Brown and Out

Sometimes a step forward isn’t necessarily all great news. In the case of Brown, every step in the right direction seems to be accompanied by an even larger leap back. Every positive play is followed by one which accentuates the need for improvement. Can you tell that it’s been a long season already for the Bears?

Last weekend, the team finally showed some offensive life by notching an unprecedented — at least for them — six goals on Saturday night against Colgate. But still, the final score read: Colgate 7, Brown 6.

“We have to take all the positives we can out of this experience, but it’s still a disappointment,” said Brown coach Roger Grillo following Saturday night’s loss to the Red Raiders. “Scoring six goals is a major step in the right direction, but we’re just not playing consistently on either end. We’re giving our opponents far too many chances.”

The numbers tell the story. Brown is off to an 0-5 start. The Bears have allowed 26 goals and scored only 12. Jeff Lawler, the team’s top scorer, has two goals and two assists. The goaltending duo of Graham McNally and Brian Eklund have a combined 5.50 GAA. The power-play unit is producing at a 13 percent clip, and the team as a whole has spent only 17.3 percent of its time leading a game this season.

“The negatives thus far in the season is that we aren’t doing a good job keeping puck out of our own net,” said Grillo. “We gave up 15 goals and that alone is not conducive to winning many games. Our biggest concern is getting our goals-against average to 2 or 2.5 or at the highest 3.0. We are capable of doing that, it’s a matter of being a lot better in our own zone.”

It’s no mystery that this Brown squad takes on an entirely different identity when Scott Stirling is between the pipes. The senior netminder was so instrumental in Brown’s mini-surge into the ECAC playoffs last season when he collected 134 saves in the team’s final five games, including a 35-save performance in a heartbreaking 2-3 overtime loss to Clarkson in the quarterfinals. That momentum was quickly stopped less than 11 minutes into the season opener, however. At the 10:40 mark of the first period against Harvard on Oct. 30, Stirling pulled his groin and has yet to see any ice time since then.

“It’s been a factor, there’s no question,” said Grillo. “[Stirling] is a senior, he’s a leader on this team. Not only in games, but we also miss him in practice. The two younger guys [Eklund and McNally], who haven’t played much because of Stirling, have been thrown in the fire this season. They are getting better and except for the Cornell game, they are allowing us to be in each game.

“We have had opportunities. We just have to be better in our defensive end and be quicker getting the puck out of the zone. Right now, we aren’t doing a very good job taking care of the puck and we aren’t making it hard for the other team.”

While the sympathetic nods are being accepted on behalf of the depleted goaltending squad, no one quite knows what to make of the offense. Mike Bent, James Duval, Jon Zielinski, Tyler Garrow …. What happened to that crop of 12 returning forwards who were expected to lead the offense?

“I think that [the offensive and defensive problems] are related in that part of the reason why we have struggled offensively is because we haven’t had the puck enough,” said Grillo, who will once again be without the services of top returning forward Bent this coming weekend. The highly touted senior has played in only three contests this season due to injury.

And the key to a turnaround for the Bears?

“I think that it’s the upperclassmen, without question,” Grillo said. “They did that on Saturday [against Colgate]. Jeff Lawler, our assistant captain, had a four-point weekend. We hadn’t had someone with multiple points until that point.”

Grillo also feels that this dismal 0-5 start is just a continuation of what has become a unwanted tradition with the Brown program: slow starts.

“Unfortunately, the reality of Brown hockey has been notoriously slow starts,” said Grillo. “During my first year, we were 2-11 at Christmastime and finished fourth in the league. I don’t know what the exact reasoning is behind it, but it has been like that for a long, long time. We have tried to address the problem this year, but it hasn’t worked. We are in the same spot that we have been for the last 20 years.”