Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Know Your Enemy: St. Lawrence

There may have never been any more solid evidence of how much Kyle Flanagan deserved to be considered for the Hobey Baker Award (as Seth Appert had pushed for as hard as you'll see an opposing coach push) than to examine just what his absence meant to St. Lawrence late last year when he had an emergency appendectomy at the worst possible time (not that those things are something you can plan for). It may have doomed a team that looked for quite some time like they could beat anyone. Now, they must move on from him for good.

St. Lawrence
Nickname: Saints
Location: Canton, NY
Founded: 1856
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2007
Last Frozen Four: 2000
Coach: Greg Carvel (2nd season)
2012-13 Record: 18-16-4 (9-9-4 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: SLU leads, 76-54-6
First Game: January 3, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 2, 2012 (Troy, NY)
Last SLU win: November 5, 2011 (Canton, NY)

2013-14 games: February 1, 2014 (Canton, NY); February 21, 2014 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Riley Austin, sr.; D Justin Baker, sr.; F Greg Carey, sr.; F Kyle Essery, sr.; D Pat Raley, sr.; G Matt Weninger, sr.; F Jeremy Wick, sr.;  F Patrick Doherty, jr.; F Gunnar Hughes, jr.; F Chris Martin, jr.; F Tommy Thompson, jr.; F Alex Hagen, so.; F Sean McGovern, so.; F Brian Ward, so.; F Matt Carey, fr.; D Mitch Eden, fr.; D Ben Masella, fr.; F Drew Smolcynski, fr.

Key losses: F Kyle Flanagan, D George Hughes, D Jordan Dewey, D Mac Stratford, D Matt Dyer

Previous KYE installments:
Greg Carey, Flanagan, and Wick were certainly one of the most potent lines in the entire country last year, if not the very best in the land. Carey and Flanagan combined for 98 points and were 3-4 in scoring nationwide. So when Flanagan's surgery came just prior to the last weekend in the regular season and the Saints hopeful to finish as high as second in the conference, the big question was how SLU would look without their leader.

The weekend could not have gone much worse. After having scored at least two goals in each of their previous 16 games, SLU mustered only two on the entire weekend, falling 5-1 and 4-1 to Union and RPI respectively. The Saints ended up as the 6th seed in the ECAC Tournament. After Flanagan returned, he helped the Saints spank a floundering Colgate squad (he had four points in Game 2 alone), but SLU was quickly dispatched in the quarters by a Yale team ready to go on to bigger and better things. The Saints were outscored 9-1 in the two-game sweep.

Beyond Flanagan's graduation, St. Lawrence also loses a key cog in George Hughes, whose puck distribution efforts were important for the Saints' offense. Hughes was also one of four seniors on the blue line last year - all four played in at least 31 of SLU's 38 games. Both Flanagan and Hughes were All-Americans last year.

Fortunately for the Saints, the defense still manages to return three seniors who also met that benchmark with Austin, Baker (another puck distributor), and Raley. They will be part of the core of an upperclassman-laden team that returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last season, all of which will be juniors and seniors this season and all of which had at least 10 points last year.

The question marks here revolve around how integral a role Flanagan played in the success of his linemates and his team. Greg Carey (who is joined this year by his brother Matt, a redshirt last season) has had a phenomenal career on his own (and was also an All-American last year), averaging over a point per game across his first three seasons, a rarity in this day and age. He returns as one of the most dangerous players in the nation, to say nothing of the league. Wick's numbers had been more pedestrian prior to last season.

Weninger comes into his fourth season as the Saints' top goaltender. He's not a star by any stretch of the imagination, but he does enough to keep SLU in games long enough for their offense to have a shot to win. Sometimes, that's all you can ask for, but he'll rarely steal a game himself - at least, that's been the experience in the last three seasons.  Unless he steps up for his senior year and shows us another side (as Paul Karpowich did up the road two years ago), that means SLU's offense can't take too many nights off.

The incoming class isn't exactly full of standouts (although Ward, who spent a semester at Dartmouth in 2011-12 but did not play due to injury, was one of the top scorers in the USHL last year), but St. Lawrence's 2014 arrivals are already looking very, very solid. They aren't likely to be pushovers this season even if Carey is unable to replicate the role Flanagan played last year - and they aren't likely to be pushovers in the near future even after he graduates.

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