By DANIEL J. CASSAVAUGH
CANTON — If St. Lawrence makes any noise in the playoffs, one can look to Saturday night as the turning point.
The Saints lost, 5-2, to No. 7 Union on senior night, and SLU coach Joe Marsh spent nearly 30 minutes inside a closed locker room giving a simple, stern message: Play like the Saints are capable or expect an early exit from the playoffs.
“It wasn’t acceptable,” St. Lawrence’s Jared Keller said of the team’s performance. “It’s going to be a short season if we keep playing like that.”
Union capitalized on nearly every St. Lawrence mistake, particularly in the second period. The Dutchmen scored three goals in the period to take full control with a 4-1 lead.
“We started getting some turnovers and we figured out their breakouts,” Union’s Jeremy Welsh said. “Most of those goals came from transitions on their broken plays. We knew they were a good team, so if we let them hang around, we knew they were going to capitalize first.”
Welsh started Union’s dominant second period with a power-play goal at 13 minutes, 28 seconds. The shot was merely a routine wrister, but it went through SLU goalie Matt Weninger’s five-hole. Then, Kelly Zajac converted back-to-back goals on St. Lawrence neutral zone turnovers.
“There’s a big reason why we’re where we are and they’re where they are,” Marsh said. “It was an example tonight. We’re just not resilient enough. The decision making was just ridiculous.”
St. Lawrence (10-17-5 overall, 6-13-1 ECAC) dropped into 10th place in the conference standings, while Union (24-7-3, 16-3-1) stayed atop the ECAC standings and now has a three-point edge over Yale.
“We’ve gone on a tremendous run to get where we’re at,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “It’s taken us nine wins in a row just to get ahead of (Yale). They haven’t given us much room to breathe.”
St. Lawrence is just struggling to stay afloat. Marsh blamed himself for the team’s inconsistent performance throughout the season and cited his sporadic attendance at games and practices during the second semester. He missed four games and several practices while recovering from a January medical procedure.
“I feel like I’ve let this team down in a lot of ways. I haven’t been here,” Marsh said. “We’ve only got three coaches and basically, I haven’t been there. Tonight the resilience wasn’t there and you have to have that.”
Instead of fighting to get back in the game after Union took the lead, St. Lawrence appeared content with the score and played without urgency. Keller was reluctant to say the Saints gave up, but allowing five unanswered goals spoke for itself.
“It all stems from a lack of effort,” Keller said. “You never, ever want to admit to (giving up), but we definitely didn’t have the response we need to have this time of year.”
Kyle Essery scored St. Lawrence’s only goal in third period on a power play with 12.3 seconds left. Afterward the Saints made a slow march to the locker room, where Marsh set the tone for the rest of year, however long it may last.
“It was stern, strong message and one we needed to hear,” Jacob Drewiske said. “The table’s been set and now we have to answer the bell. I hope to God it was (received).”
If it wasn’t, St. Lawrence’s season will end like its senior night did on Saturday — with immense disappointment.
“As a senior, you want to go out with a bang,” Keller said. “You want to have a big last game here.”
Now, the Saints head back on the road to Dartmouth and Harvard for the last regular-season weekend with Marsh’s words fresh in their minds.
“We need to realize what it takes to win,” Drewiske said. “In the locker room, we know the playoffs start now. If we hope this season is going to go any farther than the first round of the playoffs, we need to find our ‘A’ game next weekend.”