CANTON — St. Lawrence limps into Hobey Baker Rink in Princeton, N.J., today to start its ECAC playoff serieswith the Tigers after losing three straight and five of its last six games.
The Saints, having finished in 11th place, are the lowest-performing club in Joe Marsh's 26-year tenure as head coach.
It's a title senior Jared Keller is disappointed to hold, but one few will remember should the Saints surprise the conference.
"Obviously you don't ever want to go down in history as the worst team Joe (Marsh) has ever coached," he said. "I think the one thing about college hockey is if you do make a good playoff run, it can completely erase everything you've done during the year."
Which isn't much. The Saints failed to take advantage of a late-season homestand, dropping three of five games, in February when it had an opportunity to gain home-ice in the playoffs.
Even heading into the final weekend at Dartmouth and Harvard, the Saints still had an outside chance at finishing in the top eight. The Saints lost both games and fell into their current position where they face a team that beat them 5-1 and 5-3 already this season.
"If they score five goals, they're going to beat us," St. Lawrence's Kyle Flanagan said of the matchup. "The same mistakes have been re-occurring. We don't get it out of our zone, we turn it over and they make a good play. We either correct it now or our season's going to be over."
Correcting the ills has been an ordeal this season, as well. Just when St. Lawrence looked poised to turn the season around — a 2-1 victory over No. 2 New Hampsire in early January and a 3-2 win over No. 2 Yale last month — the Saints went on a losing streak. But the wins they did accumulate weren't for naught, according to Keller.
"We've proven to each other that we know what we're capable of," he said. "You've earned those wins; those weren't flukes. We can be successful against any team in the nation."
St. Lawrence has four wins against nationally ranked opponents, including Cornell and Rensselaer in addition to Yale and UNH. In those games, St. Lawrence put together a complete performance. It didn't have the bad defensive zone turnovers or the penalties that have plagued the Saints all season.
"We need to play 60 minutes," Marsh said. "I think we're getting there, but we have to get there a heck of a lot faster."
THIRD TIME'S A CHARM
Despite losing badly to Princeton twice already, St. Lawrence showed no fear or panic over their possible season's end during this week's practices.
The Saints were confident they'd be headed to either Union or Yale in the second round next week. That confidence, despite the struggles of the season, has never wavered.
"When the games are big and the games are on the line, we always seem to show up," Keller said. "We're really excited to do something special."
St. Lawrence has seemed to shrug off bad losses or a bad stretch to win an important game this season. It beat UNH after losing four of six, and its win against Yale came following a stretch of just one win six games. One of the questions, and there are many, is if St. Lawrence can truly start anew today and move past an abysmal regular season.
"We've never had more question marks going into the playoffs than we do this year," Keller said. "I'm a big believer that you can't just show up to Princeton (today) and flick a switch. You have to practice hard all week and really earn it."
The Saints had a much more serious tone to practice this week in preparation for Princeton. St. Lawrence needs to play the way it did in its best wins of the year to eliminate Princeton over three games. It's something Keller says they can do.
"We show flashes of brilliance," Keller said. "You need to play with a sense of urgency for a whole 60 minutes in the playoffs because you're playing for your lives."
Sportswriter Daniel J. Cassavaugh covers St. Lawrence University hockey for the Times. For additional coverage, visit his "Casstle of the Saints" blog online. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.