ECAC Hockey hits the road, and St. Lawrence gets dinged up

Welcome to the USCHO of Tomorrow … today!

Hope you’re getting a good feel for our new layout and material, and before rushing to judgment on the diminished length of the column, I’ll point out that we’re adding three weekly blog updates per league in order to better stay on top of timely events.

Today, a few quick-hitters, and I finally catch up with the mythical Joe Marsh.

Raiding new territory

Every team plays in a tournament or four each season, so a handful of neutral-site games on the docket is nothing new. But Colgate is taking things in a different direction: single-game showdowns on non-partisan ice.

We all recall Cornell’s “Red Hot Hockey” tilts against Boston University at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in 2007 and 2009, so it’s not as though ECAC Hockey hasn’t tried this before; the noteworthy act is that Colgate is doing it twice in two months: first at last weekend’s Cape Cod Classic (in which the Raiders beat Army 3-1 in Hyannis, Mass.), and next at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. against travel partner (and neutral-gamer extraordinaire) Cornell.

The Thanksgiving-break contest won’t count in the league standings, but it will serve as each squad’s last ECAC opponent before the new year.

Skating uphill

That complaint about so-called “Big Programs” not wanting to travel may have some merit after all: The entire ECAC will be on the road 59 out of its first 104 combined games. It only looks like a little more than half, but when you think about it, this indicates that the league is tending slightly toward prey and less toward the beast … at least, schedule-wise.

Here’s the breakdown:

Brown: The Bears will play six of their first eight games on the road, and it’s no Sunday drive: Cornell, Colgate, Boston University, New Hampshire, Yale, and either Princeton or Dartmouth await.

Clarkson: Now that the Knights are out of the Maverick Stampede (with an upset win to show for it), they can look forward to nine home games and one relatively local neutral site (Lake Placid) in their future.

Colgate: The Raiders opened the season on the road, and so shall they remain for five of their first six contests (not including an exhibition game at Starr this weekend).

Cornell: An ECAC heavyweight if there ever was one, the Big Red will play only two true road games (at the North Country schools) in the 13-game, 2010 portion of their season. Other than that, the Ithacans will also play Colgate at “The Rock” (Newark’s Prudential Center) in November, and participate in the Florida College Classic in late December.

Dartmouth: It’s not easy being Green, as Dartmouth will dress in foreign parts in seven of its first nine contests.

Harvard: The Crimson face an easier opening slate than last year’s grueling kick-off, but will nonetheless play five of its first eight games on the road — including the dreaded North Country trip in only the team’s second week.

Princeton: The Tigers play six straight road games to open the season (albeit the first two will be at the Ivy Shootout in New Haven). It’ll be clear after that point exactly how much mettle the Stripes possess.

Quinnipiac: QU started the season with a modest six road games out of 10, but now that the Ohio State weekend is in the rearview, the number has darkened to six of eight.

Rensselaer: No cupcake-gorging for the Engineers, who will skate on enemy ice in seven of their first 10 games.

St. Lawrence: The Saints play five of their first seven away from home, including last weekend’s flight to Mankato, and this weekend’s haul out to Ferris State.

Union: Another of the rare fortunate ones, Union booked five home games in their first seven contests of 2010-11.

Yale: A nice even balance awaits the Bulldogs — four at home (including hosting the Ivy Shootout), followed by four on the road, and four more back at the Whale.

Joe Marsh: Catch him if you can

This year’s St. Lawrence preview was admittedly sparse, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that there wasn’t much else I was in any position to contribute.

Now, though, I’m more prepared. For starters, sorry about the ranking, Saints. I’m not in the business of predicting failure; I’m just skeptical that you’ll be as good as the teams ahead of you.

“I don’t worry about that; not at my age,” said 26th-year coach Joe Marsh, who is pleased with his side’s attitude and performance so far.

“I don’t see that much of a difference from last year’s team,” he said. “We’ve really been encouraged by how responsive they’ve been to things. We’re not knee-deep in systems and things of that nature right now, but at the same time anything we throw at them, they’ve really embraced and really tried to implement it.”

The Saints played two tight games at Minnesota State last weekend, returning to Canton with two ties.

“It’s funny, with ties, they either feel like a win or a loss — and last weekend, we had both,” the coach mused.

SLU was 3-for-5 on the power play on Friday but blew a 4-2 lead in the 5-5 draw, while Saturday’s rematch was a completely different animal: Freshman goalie Matt Weninger stopped 37 of 38 shots in a 1-1 tie.

“If I had to play a big game right now, I’d say he’d be it,” Marsh said of the young ‘keeper’s performance.

Weninger wasn’t the only frosh to make an impact in the early going.

“[Greg] Carey, [Kyle] Essery, [Jeremy] Wick and [Nick] Vangog have done a pretty good job thus far. Essery is a pretty good defensive player, I think Carey will score some goals, Wick plays hard … it’s just one of those deals where hey, they’re gonna play. The team’s not that deep in numbers, so it’s a great opportunity for the freshmen coming in.”

The true depth of the squad is already coming under fire, as senior captain Jared Keller, classmate Bobby Torney and Wick were each banged up in the season’s opening set. Keller’s fate is especially worrisome to Marsh, however, as his status is utterly unknown at the present time.

“I guess he went to finish a hit, and [Keller] stumbled or something like that, and he kind of rolled off him and lost his balance, and hit his head on the glass,” explained Marsh. “We got those [extra-protective] Cascade [helmets], the real good ones … and we really like them. The nature of the helmet is that if you reach a certain stress point, the helmet will actually break away — you will actually break the helmet, which disperses the shock away from the head. He did crack the helmet, so at first it was like, ‘Holy ****! He broke his helmet!’ But they’re supposed to do that, as a release point.

“Keller’s out this weekend, he got hit again,” Marsh said, referring to what are now multiple concussions suffered by Keller in his career at SLU. “He’s a no-go this weekend, and we’re not going to do anything — anything at all — until he’s taken every single precaution.

“I mean, it’s possible that that might be it. We certainly hope not … but he’s got a long life ahead of him, so we’re certainly not going to press that issue.”

The coaching staff is obviously going to play it ultra-safe in this situation, but Marsh — and Keller — are hopeful that a return is on the horizon.

“Symptom-wise, he’s not symptom-free so we can’t do a baseline test on him. But at the same time, his symptoms are nowhere near as onerous as they were a year ago,” Marsh said.

“I gotta tell ya, I absolutely love this kid. He has just been one of the greatest kids; he doesn’t say a word, he just works his ass off every day. He’s a happy guy, he just relishes in the whole thing. He gets it; he gets why we’re doing this. He’s a great teammate, he doesn’t care about personal things, he just wants the team to do well. He came in as a walk-on … and he ended up earning a scholarship, and I sit here and say, man, did this kid earn it. So there’s absolutely nothing — and I already told him — there’s no way that you’re getting out there unless we’re absolutely sure that everybody, and I mean everybody is signing off that he’s good to go. I’m the last guy putting in [on that list].”

It’s a real tough lesson to learn, as an injured player or even as one of his teammates … but Marsh sees redeeming qualities in every challenge.

“It’s a tough way to start with some of the injuries, but I think the younger class respects some of the older guys, and what they’ve gone through. Especially a guy like Sean Flanagan. You know, I mean, he sat out all last year as a medical redshirt, then came back and had a great weekend last weekend (two goals, three assists). It’s fun to see the kids getting back and having some fun again.”

After last week’s travel, the team got precious few hours respite before packing up and hauling out again on Wednesday.

“When you go on the road like this, early on, non-conference, it does bring the team together. You get kind of a ‘circle-the-wagons’ mentality, if you will, and we saw some good things come out of that. I think these are beneficial weekends for us,” Marsh said.

“It’s just a team that knows that we’re going to have to work hard for everything.”

Next week

Looking ahead, keep an eye out for a full-length discussion about the potential trickle-down effects of Penn State’s jump to D-I, and what it might mean for ECAC Hockey.

Brian Sullivan can also be found on Twitter, at SullivanHockey.


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