St. Lawrence commits to better net-front presence, and it pays off

St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel and his staff didn’t have to look very far to find what was wrong with the Saints.

A scorching start to the season led to an appearance in the national polls, but a winless December sent St. Lawrence tumbling near the bottom of the ECAC Hockey standings.

It got a little better for the Saints after the new year, but there were still some inconsistencies — including a 3-0 lead Jan. 19 against Clarkson that ended as a 3-3 tie.

“After that weekend, we sat down and tried to figure out what part of our game was letting us down,” Carvel said. “We were starting to think we were playing well in those games but were coming up on the short end. We looked at the way teams were getting their scoring chances; it wasn’t on odd-man rushes or entries or special teams. We found that we were getting out-battled in front of the net. A lot of guys were scoring dirty goals.”

The Saints spent much of last week working on their net-front presence — on both ends of the ice — and it worked last weekend as St. Lawrence swept Dartmouth and Harvard on the road to jump back into the home-ice picture for the postseason.

The commitment to a better net-front presence should make life easier for goalie Matt Weninger, who’s played the most minutes in league play while facing the second-most shots.

“He’s battled at times to make saves,” Carvel said of Weninger, who stopped 58 of 63 shots last weekend. “For him, all he has to worry about is making the first save and we’ll be in position to get the rebound or [guard] the back post.”

Friday’s win against the Big Green came on the strength of three unanswered third-period goals. The Saints were down 2-1 after spotting Dartmouth a pair of goals, one on an unusual bounce on the power play and another after Dustin Walsh broke in alone after coming out of the penalty box.

“We dug down and found a way to win,” Carvel said. “It was a good character win on the road. We played as well in the third period as we have played all year.”

The Saints followed that up Saturday with goals from four different players to leave Boston with an overtime win against the Crimson. That’s an important stat for a team that, even during their hot start, relied heavily on top forwards Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey.

“The things I’ve noticed most at the college level is that most nights, games are decided by your goaltender and your top forwards,” Carvel said. “When you can get secondary scoring, that’s a huge factor.”

Flanagan and Carey are still factors on the score sheet; the duo combined for eight points last weekend, but the Saints have gotten recent contributions from forward Chris Martin (two goals against Brown on Jan. 18), George Hughes (tied for fourth in the league for defenseman scoring), and Jeremy Wick, who’s scored four goals in his last three games and has settled at right wing on a line with Flanagan and Carey.

“We were trying to put speed on the wing with those two guys,” Carvel said. “Jeremy is a power forward; he hits and he works, but he has the ability to finish. Kyle is such a great setup guy and Greg is a great shooter and [Jeremy] hangs around the net and gets rewarded.”

Flanagan and Carey began the year on the same line and stuck together while the Saints were winning. But Carvel opted to break them up once St. Lawrence began to struggle offensively, before sticking the duo with Wick, who was named an alternate captain last month.

“He does everything the right way,” Carvel said of Wick. “We gave him a leadership role and he’s responded by elevating his play.”

A changing of the guard in goal?

Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell and Yale’s Jeff Malcolm arguably have been two of the ECAC’s top goaltenders so far. Hartzell’s name is all over the national leader boards, and the senior is a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award. Malcolm has a .937 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average in conference play.

That the pair are enjoying breakout senior seasons isn’t a total shocker; Hartzell was solid his first three years, while Malcolm showed flashes of grabbing the Bulldogs’ top spot in net last season.

But a glance at the leader board behind the duo from Connecticut reveals three goalies who didn’t play a single minute last season: senior Anthony Borelli at Brown and freshmen Jason Kasdorf and Spencer Finney at Rensselaer and Colgate, respectively.

Borelli took over the starter’s job in early December after an injury to regular goalie Marco De Filippo and played through a bout of the flu earlier this month. Borelli entered this season having played in only seven career games, but coach Brendan Whittett said earlier it’s going to be tough to sit him based on the way he’s been playing. That includes his first career shutout in a 3-0 win at Cornell last weekend. It was the first time the Bears had shut out the Big Red since 1991, and the first time they had done so in Ithaca since 1959.

As for Kasdorf and Finney, each came in and was able to work his way to the starter’s job by the season’s midway point. Kasdorf made six straight starts before getting hurt against St. Cloud State on Dec. 27, but he has gone 2-1 since returning two weeks ago.

Finney has developed faster than coach Don Vaughan and his staff expected and has started all but two games since relieving junior Eric Mihalik against Dartmouth on Nov. 16.

Throw in Dartmouth’s Cab Morris, who’s posted impressive numbers of his own after playing in just six games last season, and there’s a changing of the guard in goal. Last year’s stalwarts are either off their pace from a season ago (Cornell’s Andy Iles and Union’s Troy Grosenick) or have moved on (Clarkson’s Paul Karpowich).

Around the league

Colgate: The university revealed Tuesday that sophomore defenseman Spiro Goulakos will miss the remainder of the season to undergo treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Goulakos should be ready to resume regular school and athletic activities this fall, according to Colgate’s team physician. He had six goals and nine assists this year and was a key member of the Raiders’ top power-play unit. The full release from the school is here.

Cornell: The Big Red haven’t finished below .500 since the 1998-99 season, but that’s where they find themselves thanks to a three-game losing streak. Cornell was shut out for the first time this season in a 3-0 loss to Brown last Saturday in Ithaca. Coach Mike Schafer opted to shake up the lineup against the Bears, sitting leading scorers Greg Miller and Joel Lowry along with forward Dustin Mowrey.

Dartmouth: Forward Dustin Walsh and returned to action last weekend for the Big Green after not playing since getting hurt Jan. 5 against Princeton. Dartmouth was still without forward Brandon McNally, who crashed headfirst into the endboards against Brown on Jan. 18 after scoring an empty-net goal.

Harvard: The Crimson were just 1-for-11 last weekend on the power play and rank 54th in the nation after boasting the top power play unit in Division I a season ago.

Princeton: The Tigers’ athletic department has started a Twitter account promoting senior forward Andrew Calof for the Hobey Baker Award. You can follow along at @Calof4Hobey.

Quinnipiac: The Bobcats just missed grabbing the top spot in the latest Division I Men’s Poll for the first time in program history but are still ranked No. 1 in the PairWise Rankings entering the first weekend of February.

Union: The Dutchmen won the inaugural Mayor’s Cup with a 3-2 win over Rensselaer last Saturday at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. Union’s game at Messa Rink on Friday against Dartmouth will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network.

Weekly awards

As selected by the league:

Player of the week — Joe Zarbo, Clarkson: The sophomore recorded the Golden Knights’ first hat trick in over two years, scoring three goals while adding an assist in a 5-1 win at Harvard last Friday. He scored Clarkson’s lone goal Saturday to complete a four-goal weekend. He leads the conference in goals scored with nine in league play.

Rookie of the week — Jimmy Vesey, Harvard: Vesey scored four goals in three league games last week. He leads all rookies nationally with 0.62 goals per game, and his 10 goals and 14 points lead the Crimson.

Goalie of the week — Spencer Finney, Colgate: The freshman stopped 67 of 69 shots in a weekend sweep of Brown and Yale, including a career-high 35 saves against the Bulldogs last Saturday.