The Saints finished one goal away from an NCAA at-large bid, but instead settled for a season-ending tie in the ECAC Hockey consolation game against Princeton. The team finished fourth in the league on the strength of an 8-1-2 finish to league play, and derived much of its success from its dynamic transition game and the production of a stellar senior class.
Senior forward Mike McKenzie and the graduated defender Zach Miskovic led the team with 16 goals apiece, and 13 players finished with double-digit points — including four defensemen. Four of the Saints’ top five scorers were seniors, as were five of SLU’s top half-dozen goal-scorers. Senior Alex Petizian made 31 appearances for SLU, allowing under 2.2 goals a game and saving shots at a .927 clip.
The Saints look secure in net with the same faces (Petizian, classmate Kain Tisi, and sophomore Robby Moss) as last year … but beyond that, there are an awful lot of question marks. McKenzie is clearly the team’s top returning forward, production-wise, but others will have to step up if St. Lawrence hopes to come anywhere close to approaching last year’s achievements.
“We’ve got a pretty big class to replace,” Saints coach Joe Marsh said, “and last year’s class was a pretty special group. For us, we’re just pleased with everything the guys have done to this point. Everything we’ve done, they’ve embraced. It’s a big group of guys and they’ve been willing to stand our pretty [ambitious] agenda. From a coaching perspective, it looks like a pretty low-maintanence group. We’ve got a lot of work to do, to be sure, but the guys seem willing to do it. Nothing too earth-shaking here, we’re just cautiously optimistic.
“[Losing players] just happens. It’s not going to be up to one guy, like Mike McKenzie, you know. He’s obviously a big part of it. [Senior] Jerry Cunningham has always been in shape, he’s a great athlete, but he worked extremely hard this summer and he looks great. A lot of the guys did that themselves; I didn’t have to say, ‘You’ve got to do this, this and this.’ They see that all of a sudden, opportunities are presented, and they’ve done some things since the end of last season to take advantage of them.”
Marsh doesn’t mince words when it comes to the diminished state of his offense.
“Maybe we’re not going to score as many goals as we did a year ago, but there are different ways to win hockey games. We have got to play good, sound defense. … We can be a strong team, physically. The discipline is a huge part of it … not just penalties, but how we play our game.”
At least the veteran coach has a few known quantities to work with among this year’s forwards.
“We keep one line intact: [senior Travis] Vermeulen, [sophomore Brandon] Bollig and [senior Alex] Curran, a good line for us last year, a big strong line, physically. [Sophomore Mark] Armstrong, [junior Aaron] Bogosian and [junior] Jared Keller make a good solid line, they played well together last year. Right now we’ve got Cunningham going with McKenzie, and maybe Kyle Flanagan, a freshman — he’s a really talented young guy.
“We have a lot of other guys battling it out for the other line. We’ve got five lines even, so that last fourth group could be any one of those [remaining] six guys. I think we can get some consistency. I like to play four lines. The way we play, I think it’s important that we play at a real high tempo.
“Probably the biggest question mark is replacing four senior defensemen who were extremely productive. Miskovic led the country in goals from a defenseman; he had 16 goals. All four of those guys fit very very well into the offense, our transition game was really good and a lot of our offense was generated form the D-corps. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we want our defensemen to step up and get involved in the play.”
On the back end, the Saints are just hoping for a few quick learners.
“Hopefully it doesn’t take too long [for the defense to acclimate]. We still want to play an aggressive style, we don’t want to play trap hockey … but we’ll have to work exceptionally hard. We’ll pull back the reins a little bit in certain areas, like pinching the defensemen, maybe we’ll be a little more conservative in things like that to allow guys to get their legs under them.”