Greg Carvel didn’t waste any time once he was hired as St. Lawrence’s assistant coach before this season. He immediately began breaking down film and used his 12 years of NHL coaching experience to dissect what went wrong in SLU’s 13-22-5 season a year ago.
“There was all sorts of energy, passion and excitement, but there wasn’t a lot of structure,” Carvel said. “I wanted to come in and organize that structure and maximize it.”
It was a worthy cause. The problem was these hockey players are not at the same level as those in the NHL. They haven’t played the game as long, aren’t as skilled and, perhaps most importantly, don’t have just hockey to worry about. They also have school.
The team didn’t pick up Carvel’s new offensive system right away. In the scrimmage against Carleton just two days into practice, the Saints looked like that disorganized bunch of a year ago and lost 5-2.
Then, the following weekend the Saints as they appear now, began to take shape. They ran the systems, albeit slowly. A player would hold the puck a moment too long waiting for others to get to their spots. The Saints would spend more time finding their places on the ice than looking for shots.
In the end, it resulted in two more losses at home to start the season.
“Greg brought in a renewed emphasis on being in position on a consistent basis,” associate head coach Mike Hurlbut said. “Each player should know exactly where he should be on the ice in a given situation so there’s more consistency between the lines.”
A week after dropping its two opening games, the Saints again struggled in their next two contests. Michigan pounded SLU, 10-3, and RIT came away with a heartbreaking 6-5 overtime win. A much-needed three-week break ensued before ECAC Hockey play began on Nov. 4.
“It’s been a lot of consistent work on it,” Hurlbut said. “If guys didn’t know where they were supposed to be, they were to ask Greg or myself. It’s a matter of making sure guys are aware of where they’re supposed to be.”
St. Lawrence dropped one more game, a 2-0 loss to Union at home, to fall to 0-5 overall on the young season. Then, finally, against Rensselaer in front of a homecoming crowd, St. Lawrence finally earned its first win.
The Saints haven’t lost since, following that win with road victories over Princeton and Quinnipiac. They now sit tied for first place in the conference with Yale, Union and Cornell.
“It’s hard to judge success in wins and losses,” St. Lawrence forward Jacob Drewiske said. “I was just happy to see our team play the systems hard and fast and feel comfortable in them. We felt like a team that knew what we were supposed to be doing.”
Now, the Saints can focus on doing what it has always done: grind out wins. It will just look a little more fluid to the average fan.
“We can work hard and work smart at the same time,” Drewiske said. “We’re a team that can’t make mistakes. We don’t have that offensive fire power to make up for those mistakes. We’re going to win games 3-1 or 2-0, so it will be exciting for our fans but give our coaches a lot of gray hairs.”
St. Lawrence’s Twitter game should be nationally ranked. Already, it’s gained national attention from USCHO.com.
Currently, 17 players have accounts on the popular microblogging site with 14 actively tweeting on at least a weekly basis. Many post multiple times daily.
They tweet about class, hockey, playing the new “Call of Duty” video game (Greg Carey said a group has spent around 20 hours playing it since it was released). Ultimately, the Saints use it to chirp each other, and none gets abused more than Kyle Essery.
The Saints were recently featured in a USCHO.com column for its popular hashtag “#eshasbrutalhair.”
It all started with a playful jest between Essery and George Hughes.
“I made fun of his hair,” Essery said. “He made up the ‘#eshasbrutalhair’ and everyone on the team kind of joined in and it kept on going.”
As social networking sites tend to do, the hashtag spread through retweets and new tweets to the point where it went viral in the relatively small ECAC Hockey world. It turned Essery into a kind of celebrity.
“I’m gaining some recognition all around the league,” he said. “It’s pretty cool, I think.”
He still hasn’t fully embraced the moniker, although he’s enjoying his newfound fame.
“There are a couple other guys that I feel have worse hair than me,” Essery said. “I definitely do not have the worst hair on the team.”