This Week in ECAC Hockey: Battling season-long struggles, St. Lawrence stoked to play in renovated Appleton Arena

St. Lawrence junior Bo Hanson has collected four goals and 14 points through 27 games this season for the Saints (photo: C A Hill Photo).

It’s been a rough year for St. Lawrence, but the recently completed renovations at Appleton Arena are a bright spot as the Saints enter the stretch run of the season.

The updated arena was officially dedicated on Feb. 8 and work on the hockey portion of the building will be entirely finished by this weekend.

“It will nice for our seniors to get five games in the new building,” said first-year coach Brent Brekke. ”It turned out beautiful. There are still some finishing touches, but it’s a pretty special place.”

Work began on the historic arena last spring. The original plan was for arena to be ready for the start of this hockey season, but a series of delays on the project meant that the Saints didn’t play a game in their home rink until Jan. 31. St. Lawrence’s previously scheduled home games were held on Canton’s campus.

Updates to Appleton arena, which opened in 1951, include new locker rooms, a new lobby, media rooms, a video board, training facilities, and event spaces. Each of those updates improved the arena while still maintaining the building’s historic nature.

“It expands the recruiting base,” Brekke said. “We obviously attract a lot of high-end student-athletes and we can attract even more when we have new amenities.”

On the ice, St. Lawrence is tied with Alabama Huntsville for the worst winning percentage in Division I. The Saints are mired in a 19-game winless streak dating to Nov. 9, when they beat Union 3-2.

But St. Lawrence has been in most of its games in the second half of the season. In 13 games since the break, the Saints have two ties, two overtime losses, and five losses by two goals or less.

“We have lapses in the game and that will be the difference on the wrong side of it,” Brekke said. “We’ve played some good hockey in different spurts, but we’ve got to get a good 60-minute game start to finish with no lapses.”

Case in point: On Friday, the Saints led Princeton 2-1 after one period before allowing three consecutive Tigers goals en route to a 6-3 loss. And on Saturday, St. Lawrence was tied with Quinnipiac after two periods before the Bobcats erupted for five third-period goals, aided in part by a rash of Saints penalties.

Part of the problem has been a lack of goal scoring. St. Lawrence has only scored more than three goals in a game once this season. That lack of offense means the Saints have very little room for mistakes.

“We don’t have the margin for error right now because we’re not producing as much offense as we want to,” Brekke said. “If you don’t have a good segment for 15 or 20 minutes, you find yourself in trouble.”

St. Lawrence is on pace to finish with the worst full season winning percentage in program history and have not won a game as the home team this year. The Saints host Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend and conclude the regular season with games at Cornell and Colgate.

Cleary Cup going down to the wire

Clarkson and Cornell have both clinched a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, but there’s still plenty to be settled in the top four of the league standings over the final two weeks of the season.

The Golden Knights and Big Red are currently tied for first place and will play each other in the regular-season finale at Lynah Rink on Feb. 29. Cornell beat Clarkson 4-2 in November.

Both teams enter this weekend on five-game winning streaks. The Golden Knights success has come thanks to good special teams play and a strong season from goalie Frank Marotte.

Cornell has been one of the top teams not only in the league, but the country despite an uncharacteristically poor penalty-kill unit that ranks tenth in the conference.

Quinnipiac and Harvard currently sit in third and fourth, respectively. The Bobcats have only lost two conference games in the second half, both to Clarkson. Quinnipiac has a favorable schedule the rest of the way, as all four teams it plays are below it in the league standings.

Harvard has been an enigma this season. The Crimson, who lead the league in conference goals, have exploded offensively in some of their wins, but also have had some close games not turn into wins. Harvard is 3-2-4 over the last month in league play, including a pair of ties against Yale and Brown at home last weekend.

While the top of the league has been strong throughout the season, the teams at the bottom half of the standings have been especially bad. Brown, Union, Princeton and St. Lawrence are all in the bottom-ten nationally in terms of overall winning percentage and have combined to win fewer conference games (14) than first-place Clarkson (15).

Penalties abound

St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac both entered Saturday’s game in Hamden near the bottom of the country in penalty minutes per game.

So of course, the teams combined for 21 penalties and 61 penalty minutes, with the Bobcats scoring four power-play goals in the third period en route to a 6-1 win.

The Saints finished the game with 37 penalty minutes, nearly four times their season average entering the night.

“Our emotions got the best of us,” Brekke said. “We got caught up in it and shot ourselves in the foot. It’s embarrassing; it’s not who you want to be as a program. I was very disappointed with that.”

The Bobcats have kept their discipline throughout the season despite having 15 underclassmen that have seen significant game action.

“When I was a freshman, I was scared to take a penalty because I didn’t want to be that guy who would cause a penalty kill goal” QU senior assistant captain Alex Whelan said. “I think it’s also because we’re a better disciplined team and when we don’t worry about the refs, we’re very good and we’re very hard to play against.”

Clutch grab by Clark

Dartmouth might have lost to Yale on Saturday, but Big Green goalie Adrian Clark made the save of the weekend late in the second period.