No one’s sewing Frozen Four patches onto their sweaters yet, but solid starts out of St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac have the respective regions rumbling for more. Each squad is exhibiting a new twist or two this year. Let’s start with the Skating Saints and first-year head coach Greg Carvel.
No cupcakes for hungry Saints
“I would say that I’m surprised that we are 3-1,” Carvel said. “We had four real tough games on the road; I think 2-2 we would’ve been happy with, but the fact that we’re 3-1, we’re pretty excited about it.”
Carvel’s first four games under the head-coaching contract came on the road against bruising Western Michigan and Maine. The Saints departed Kalamazoo with a 4-3 overtime win and a 3-2 loss on their record. Up in Orono, SLU buried the Black Bears by a combined score of 10-1.
“We feel that they’re well-deserved wins, too. Not that we stole any victories, but we might’ve snuck up on Western Michigan the first night,” Carvel said.
The coach may be pleased by the record, but he’s not terribly shocked at his team’s advanced level of execution.
“We didn’t lose much from last year’s team, a team that we thought was playing pretty well at the end of the year,” Carvel said. “We won five in a row, I think we won six of our last eight in [regular season] league play. So we had our top six forwards and our top four D all returning, and our goaltender returning — this is Matt Weninger’s third year as our starter — so we had a lot of experience.
“I know how special a player Kyle Flanagan is, and he’s performing beyond expectations even. Greg Carey, who we also know is an explosive offensive player, has gotten off to a real good start, too.”
Flanagan has really lit it up so far, tallying five goals and 11 points in four games. The senior sniper summed two goals and five helpers last weekend in the Maine massacres. Junior Carey isn’t far behind, with three goals and 10 points through the first two weeks.
“I think that in our league, [Flanagan] is a known factor,” Carvel said. “I think in the ECAC last year, teams focused on him, tried to eliminate him, and I think in our non-conference games now he’ll be getting more attention than he did in the past. … But I think most teams scout each other pretty well now, most teams will match up their checking lines against the other team’s best player, but the noise he’s made here early on in the season, he’s definitely going to be getting everybody’s checkers when we play them.”
Pyrotechnic players aside, Carvel has been pleased by what he’s seen out of his defense and goaltending as well.
“We’re playing well on the defensive side of the puck,” he said. “Matt [Weninger] is making saves that he’s supposed to make. Maine threw a lot of stuff at the net last weekend … but we didn’t feel like we gave up a lot of high-end chances.”
Special teams have given the Saints a tremendous boost — “Definitely a key to our success,” according to the coach. To wit, the power play — returning all five of its top-line players from last year — has executed at a 28 percent success rate; the PK unit has stymied nearly 93 percent of opponents’ advantages.
With so much experience in the locker room, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Saints’ rookies have been slow to bloom. Only three have cracked the lineup, and only forwards Alex Hagen and Sean McGovern have cracked the roster more than once.
“[McGovern] is the only one that’s played regularly,” Carvel said. “We tested him at Western on the wing — he’s a natural centerman and wants to help in the middle right away — but he showed me that he’s capable of playing [out there]. That allowed us to split up Flanagan and Carey onto two different lines, kind of spread out the wealth, and I thought that really helped us this past weekend. Now we have two lines that should score every night.
“Sean McGovern’s a real smart player. He’s got a lot of speed, a good hockey IQ, good vision. He’s really the only freshman who’s made any impact to this point.”
As experienced as Carvel is — he has 15 years of coaching experience under his belt, including assistant positions with Anaheim and Ottawa in the NHL — the St. Lawrence alumnus loves picking up the phone and chatting with Joe Marsh, who retired last year after 26 years behind Appleton’s home bench.
“I call Joe on a regular basis and look for his guidance,” he said, mentioning that Marsh was in attendance in Orono on Saturday. “He’s got too big of a personality to not want to have him connected to the program. He brings an element that you just can’t manufacture. He just makes things better, he makes you happier, he’s fun to be around. When he’s in the room, the temperature goes up a couple degrees. We want him to stay as close to the program as he can.”
Marsh, nor Carvel, nor Saints fans anywhere could’ve hoped for a more promising start than this. SLU hasn’t had a better start since 1999-2000 — also the last time the team started as well as 3-1 in its first four road games — when they last went to the Frozen Four.
Q ball: Bobcats riding high
The other ECAC team quick out of the gate, Quinnipiac, is off to a 3-1-1 start following a win and tie at the Ohio State University last weekend. While SLU is putting monster numbers on the scoreboard, QU has found a way to win in a way understandably foreign to many ECAC watchers: The Bobcats are amassing W’s with D.
“It’s always interesting just to get the team off and running,” 18-year coach Rand Pecknold said. “We obviously found a way to win against Maine — we didn’t play great hockey, but [senior goalie Eric] Hartzell kind of stole the game for us — and the Robert Morris weekend, I thought we played OK.
“It was unfortunate, the loss: We had 48 shots on net, and the Levine kid [Colonials senior goaltender Eric Levine] was just phenomenal. We gave away a couple breakaway goals, which was a little sloppy. But I really thought we hit our stride this last weekend.
“Our compete level was great against Ohio State both nights. We played our systems well. The kids really bought in and were very coachable, and committed to winning hockey games. It was a really good weekend. I thought we could’ve won both nights; [OSU senior goalie Brady] Hjelle was great on Friday night. We only scored the one goal but had plenty of chances.”
After seeing quite a run of senior netminders, Pecknold is still pretty pleased with his own. With a shutout and three one-goal games (out of five starts), Hartzell is certainly carrying his share of the load for the Q-Cats.
“He’s played very well. His save percentage is .955, so that’s pretty good,” Pecknold chuckled. “He’s been great, and he hasn’t given up many goals at all. I’ve been really happy with him; he’s been our best player so far and our biggest reason for success.”
Pecknold is also pleased with the effort in front of his workhorse: “We really haven’t scored a lot of goals, but we’ve been playing great defense. You win a lot of games when you’re only giving up one a game.”
The penalty kill has done its job in that regard, as the unit has yet to be breached in 22 defenses. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops in Hamden, though: The QU power play has yet to find the back of the net.
“Our power play hasn’t been very good, but we’re getting chances. We’re just not finishing,” shrugged the coach, who noted a couple of untimely injuries that may have gummed up the works.
“[Senior forward Jeremy] Langlois was hurt, so he missed one game, and [junior forward] Connor Jones is out right now and missed the Ohio State series. That was a big loss for us, but we found a way to compensate. Langlois is back now — he played against Ohio State — and we’re hoping to get Connor back soon. He’s a maybe for this weekend against Colgate.”
Those who helped compensate, as said the coach, included a few fresh faces to the Q crew.
“[Forward Travis] St. Denis has been very good,” Pecknold said. “He had the big goal against Maine. He’s been really good defensively, too, which is nice for a freshman forward. [Defenseman] Alex Barron has been solid, [goalie] Michael Garteig [might not] play a lot, but we’re very, very high on him; he’s looked great in limited action. We’ve got some other freshmen who I think are going to turn the corner soon and will contribute as the year goes on.”
So far, so good, for the coach and his suddenly airtight (yes, Quinnipiac … airtight!) ‘Cats.