St. Lawrence was looking pretty good as the calendars flipped over to February, sitting at 14-9-5 with four home games and three on the road to close out the regular season.
Whoops. SLU fell face first with a first-round bye in sight, going 1-4-2 down the stretch and effectively — albeit coincidentally — choking away the biggest home-ice asset the Saints have: a long, long drive for any visiting opponent.
Instead of drawing Harvard or Princeton or Brown or Quinnipiac, or anyone else from lower New England, the Saints got the luckiest of all lucky bad teams: Clarkson, which could practically walk from Potsdam to Canton for the games.
Two overtime games and a nailbiter later, SLU escaped to take on Colgate in Hamilton. Two more one-goal games put the Saints on a serious roll, having all of a sudden won five of six (all one-goal games, incidentally).
Union put a stop to SLU’s shenanigans with a 3-1 Dutch victory in Albany, and in a meaningless formality, upstart Brown squashed the Saints 3-0 in the consolation contest.
The Canton club somehow finished fifth in the regular season despite scoring only 62 goals … by virtue of allowing 61. The Saints nonetheless finished with 13 double-digit scorers in their 41-game season, led by seniors Travis Vermeulen and Mike McKenzie. Senior Kain Tisi played nearly twice as many minutes as runner-up (and classmate) Alex Petizian between SLU’s pipes, each maintaining a save rate over 90 percent.
Coach Joe Marsh is probably SLU’s biggest asset. He has been around the block a few times (and then some). He knows this league, he knows the other coaches, and he knows what motivates players.
He usually carries a large roster, so depth is rarely an issue, and he always finds a way to get the most out of his boys: The Saints are characterized year-in and year-out as quietly successful, hard-working and offensively gifted at all positions. You know you’re playing St. Lawrence when the defensemen are doing all the scoring against you.
The weak links
The Saints lost their first-, second-, fourth-, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-highest scorers from last year. Oh, and both starting goalies. Need I say more? Fortunately, last year’s team had enough depth of scoring that 43 percent of its goals were accounted for by current players.
Losing that much, all at once, doesn’t exactly breed confidence in my mind. I’d never bet against Marsh, because his teams always seem to be there in the end … but I have to admit, I’m not betting on him right now, either. On paper, this looks like a team that will have to really scrap to stay out of the bottom four.