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Local college hockey: Saints’ Essery is ultimate team player

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CANTON — Kyle Essery is admittedly not a flashy player, but he’ll do almost anything it takes to win a hockey game, within reason of course.

The senior forward, who is serving as St. Lawrence University’s team captain for this season, doesn’t hesitate to block a shot, make his presence known with a big hit or grind it out in the corners.

One memory Essery has in particular that exemplifies his gritty style was midway through last season against Vermont when he took a shot to the face from a puck that had been drilled through his face mask.

“Over the years, I take a lot of pride in blocking shots, and it sometimes it might hurt like hell,” said Essery, who recovered quickly and wasn’t out of the Saints lineup for long. “But if I can keep the puck out of the net, I don’t mind sacrificing my body.”

Essery is a iron man, not missing a game in his three-plus seasons with the Saints.

“My role is go out there every shift, play my hardest and try and create something out there,” Essery said. “I have to a leader out there ... and I like getting under the opponent’s skin and seeing what I make happen.”

Essery will lead the Saints (4-2) into their ECAC Hockey season opener at 7 tonight at defending national champion and 11th-ranked Yale (1-1).

St. Lawrence’s 2012-13 campaign came to a halt against the Bulldogs last season in New Haven, Conn., as Yale swept the conference quarterfinal series.

“Especially for myself and the other seniors, that was kind of bitter pill to take when we lost to them in the second round last year,” Essery said. “Going into this weekend, especially with Yale raising their [NCAA championship] banner, I think we’re going to have a fire within us, and we want to keep this going against Brown as well.”

Essery has played in all 120 games of his collegiate career with St. Lawrence.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” said Essery, listed a 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds. “I try and go out there and block as many shots as I can and if I get hurt, I’m going to try my hardest to get back out there. I don’t want to watch, I want to do the best I can to help the team win, whether killing a penalty or taking a hit for the team.”

“Ess is a guy that I know I can trust in any situation,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. “He’s a guy who I put out there when we have to kill off a 5-on-3 — he’s one of our top penalty-killers. He’s just a real character guy and that’s why he wears the ‘C’ — he does everything the right way and he’s a coach’s dream. He plays hard and you get the same thing every night.”

While taking on further leadership responsibilities as team captain, Essery’s role with the team hasn’t changed all that much.

“I would say it’s changed a bit,” said Essery, a native of Mississauga, Ontario. “But for the most part, it hasn’t really — I just pride myself in trying to be the best at what I do. Like going into the corners to get the puck, working hard every shift and doing the right things.”

Essery hasn’t recorded a point this season, but he doesn’t judge success on numbers alone.

“Yeah sure I don’t have any points, but if the team’s winning I’m happy,” said Essery, who scored seven goals and totaled 11 points last season, matching his goal output as a sophomore, and was among the league leaders in shorthanded points, including two tallies. “I know the points will come, but when we’re winning, we have to be doing something right, myself included.”

POWER PLAY IGNITED

After generating only two man-advantage goals over their first four games, the Saints power play came to life last weekend.

St. Lawrence tallied five power-play goals from 13 chances during the two games against Northeastern to produce at a 38.5 clip.

Jeremy Wick, who scored twice on the power play on Saturday, is tied with Matt Carey for the team lead in man-advantage tallies with two each.

EXCELLING IN FACEOFFS

St. Lawrence ranks second in the country in faceoff percentage at 57.1 percent, not far behind archrival Clarkson (57.7), which leads the nation in this category.

The Saints have won 217 of 380 faceoffs, led by sophomore Brian Ward (49 won-29 lost, 62.5 percent), who ranks 20th in nation, and Carey (66-40, 62.3) who stands 35th.

Sportswriter Chris Fitz Gerald covers St. Lawrence University hockey for the Times. He can be reached at cfitzgerald@wdt.net

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