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He’s a hometown natural: Canton’s and SLU’s Kyle Flanagan

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CANTON — Ever since he was a youngster, Kyle Flanagan dreamed of playing at St. Lawrence University, ultimately choosing his hometown team over several offers from larger schools.

“I used to pretend I was Burke Murphy scoring goals when I played in my driveway as a kid,” Flanagan said of his family home in Canton, and of Murphy, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award representing St. Lawrence in 1996. “It was pretty neat during alumni weekend and Joe Marsh Night, it was pretty cool seeing all those alumni back in town and seeing Burke Murphy.

“I was thinking ‘I was in the stands growing up watching him and now he’s back watching me,’ I thought that was pretty neat.”

So when the time came, choosing St. Lawrence was the natural selection for Flanagan.

“I had other options, but this is where I grew up, it’s a small town,” said Flanagan, a senior who is in his second season as Saints’ team captain. “Most of my family went to school here and played here. Most of my family are St. Lawrence fans and once my brother went here that was really the turning point. Not many brothers get to play Division I hockey together in their hometown in front of family and friends.

“That was a dream come true ... that was probably the best experience I’ve had. I felt I would always regret not coming here if I went somewhere else.”

The St. Lawrence faithful are sure glad he did as the highly skilled forward has not only provided Appleton Arena fans with plenty of excitement, with his consistent and up-tempo style of play he’s drawing national attention as a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

“Kyle, obviously being from here, gives a ton of time and energy giving back to the community,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said of Flanagan, who has tallied 40 points in 29 games this season. “Character is a big part of Hobey Baker consideration and Kyle definitely has that.”

Flanagan, who centers the high-flying and top-scoring line in the nation, is bidding to become the latest Saint to be chosen as a finalist for the prestigious award — as is teammate Greg Carey, who leads the nation in goals and points — with the last being defenseman Drew Bagnall in 2007.

“It’s great to have two viable candidates,” Carvel said. “If you have two horses in the race, only one of them can win, so hopefully they don’t subtract votes from one another because they’re two different players. ... They’re two outstanding college hockey players.”

Flanagan is tied for second nationally in both assists (27) and in assists per game (0.93); and stands third nationally in points (40) and is tied for fifth in points per game (1.38).

The Saints hope to garner two Hobey Baker Award candidates, since Flanagan’s linemate Greg Carey leads the nation in several categories, including goals (23) and points (45).

“Absolutely, he belongs there,” Flanagan said of Carey.

Previous Hobey Baker finalists from St. Lawrence as well as Murphy include Pete Lappin (1988), Daniel Laperriere (1992), Eric Heffler (1999), Erik Anderson (2001) and T.J. Trevleyan (2006).

“The Hobey Baker Award nomination is great,” Flanagan said. “But the biggest thing is that it’s a compliment to our program. It just doesn’t say ‘Kyle Flanagan’ — it also says ‘St. Lawrence University’ and that’s a compliment to the school It even says ‘Canton, New York,’ — so individually, it’s great — but I had a lot of help along the way.”

Flanagan will play his final two regular-season home games this weekend at Appleton Arena when the Saints host Harvard tonight and Dartmouth on Saturday night, both at 7.

“I’m just going to try and take it all in,” Flanagan said. “Obviously it’s going to be the last hurrah for us seniors in the regular season. Just have fun and try and win a game.”

St. Lawrence (15-11-4, 8-6-4) enters tonight as one of the hottest teams in college hockey as after knocking off top-ranked Quinnipiac 2-1 last Friday and beating Princeton, 3-2 last Saturday, as it has lost only once in its past 10 games (7-1-2), including three straight wins.

With four games left in the regular season, the Saints are tied for third place in ECAC Hockey with reigning champion Union. A top four finish would give St. Lawrence a first-round playoff bye.

“Something I’ve always wanted to do here is winning the ECAC championship,” Flanagan said. “That’s still my main goal.”

Flanagan has teamed up with junior wingers Carey and most recently Jeremy Wick, to comprise the most lethal scoring line.

“He’s the backbone of our team,” Carey said of Flanagan. “He’s been a great leader and he’s definitely been a great role model for me since I’ve been here.”

Carey (23-22-45), who is on a career-high, nine-game goal streak, leads the nation in goals and goals per game (0.77) and is tied for the lead in points and points per game (1.50). He also leads the country in points per game (1.50), and stands second nationally in power-play goals (10).

“People often use the excuse that the ECAC is the weaker league and it’s easier to score in this league,” said Carvel, “but nothing can be further from the truth. The ECAC is a tough league to play in ... and this kid (Carey) just scores goals. You lead the country in goals at this point of the season, that’s a real testament to him and the ability he has — and that’s coupled with the fact that he’s an intelligent young man.”

Flanagan will be looking to buck several Hobey Baker Award trends.

Firstly, a player from the ECAC hasn’t won hockey’s equivalent to college football’s Heisman Trophy since 1989 — when Lane MacDonald of Harvard won the award — three months after Flanagan was born.

Also, no player born or raised in New York state has won the award, and there hasn’t been a winner from a small school since Marty Sertich of Colorado College in 2005.

“We hope Kyle Flanagan can change all that,” Carvel said. “I haven’t seen all the teams, but I’ve seen enough to say there’s no player that stands out like Kyle does in a hockey game.”

But in Flanagan’s favor, the past two Hobey Baker winners — Jack Connolly of Minnesota-Duluth and Andy Miele of Miami of Ohio — both stood less than 5-foot-9.

Flanagan, listed at 5-9 and 170 pounds, dedicates himself to a balanced workout regimen.

“I think my strength has improved,” Flanagan said. “Being a smaller guy, that’s something you have to do — you have to build your strength. To be in shape and outlast guys, is something I try and pride myself in.”

“He’s got unbelievable hockey ability — he’s going to sign with an NHL team, and it won’t be a surprise for me to see him in the NHL someday,” Carvel said of Flanagan. “He is a rare player in this league — as when the puck is on his stick he controls the tempo of the game. He decides how fast or how slow the game is going to be.”

Flanagan shares a common bond with Carvel — both are the last two St. Lawrence captains from Canton.

“That’s also pretty neat,” said Flanagan, who played a season at St. Lawrence with older brother Sean in 2010-11, and their uncle is Paul Flanagan, former Saints player and women’s hockey coach, who now coaches at Syracuse University. “I look up to him (Carvel) for guidance or anything, really. He’s been as much of an influence on me as anybody has been in hockey in my 24 years. So I have a tremendous respect for him and very happy and fortunate that he was able to take over the program.”

Flanagan is also grateful to the now-retired Marsh, who recruited and coached Flanagan in his first two seasons.

“Joe was great one-on-one,” Flanagan said of Marsh. “He was really patient with me — I came in and played a lot as a freshman and as a sophomore. One think he taught me is it’s not just about coming here and playing hockey. It’s about being a student-athlete and being a better person — and building character.”

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