CANTON While St. Lawrence Universitys top line has been receiving many of the early-season accolades and rightfully so, the Saints success thus far this season can also be attributed to team balance.
One group that exemplifies this balance is St. Lawrences second line of junior wingers Patrick Doherty and Gunnar Hughes and sophomore center Brian Ward.
You get a little bit of everything there, St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. Pat brings a lot of speed to that line, Gunnar really grinds it out and Brian Ward has been great for us. All three of those guys have good hockey sense so they can play in all situations, and they can play against any kind of line whether its a skill line or a gritty kind of line. Theyre very versatile.
St. Lawrence (6-2-2), which is 2-0-2 in ECAC Hockey play, is off to its best start in the conference since a 4-0 mark in the 2006-07 campaign and its best in a season since 2005-06 when it started 7-3-0.
Its been really good, Doherty said of the start. And every game counts like last year when we finished a point out of getting a first-round bye. Its good to get points early and the guys are excited about our start.
The Saints, on the strength of wins at Harvard and Dartmouth last week, are ranked No. 17 in the nation in the USCHO.com poll the first time theyve cracked the national rankings since early last season.
St. Lawrence will continue conference play, hosting Colgate and Cornell tonight and Saturday, both 7 p.m. starts at Appleton Arena.
Doherty had a breakout weekend highlighted by a four-point night in an 8-5 victory at Dartmouth on Saturday.
I think that was important, Doherty said of the win against Dartmouth. Youve got to find different ways to win and thats what we did. Knowing that there are different ways goes a long way down the road no matter what kind of game were in we know we have a chance.
We went through a little bit of a slump there, but weve been playing well, he added. We just keep telling each other to stick to the system and good things will happen and Saturday it paid off for us. I think weve been playing well on both ends of the ice.
Doherty also scored his first short-handed goal of the season on a breakaway, and it couldnt have come at a more opportune time against the Big Green.
We needed that, Carvel said. We took a major penalty and they scored about 10 seconds into their power play. About halfway through that major, it was real good anticipation by Pat to intercept that pass and go in with a real good finish. That line scored four goals that night, as did the Carey line.
The Saints second line totaled nine points overall, including four goals, against Dartmouth, including two goals and an assist from Hughes, and a pair of assists from Ward.
All three us play on the power play and on the penalty kill, Doherty said. I think all three of us can play down low, we can all play a skill game, which makes it great in the D-zone, we can play against the top line or the third line.
The contribution of the Doherty-Ward-Hughes line has helped take the pressure off the Saints top line of senior Greg Carey, junior Chris Martin and freshman Matt Carey.
Over the weekend we had two lines really going well, Carvel said. Thats a big plus at this level and now well see if we can get a third unit that can give us offense consistently.
CAREYS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Greg Carey, who leads the nation in points (19) and assists (13) and ranks second in points per game (1.90), was selected as ECAC Hockeys player of the week, while Matt Carey (8-5-13), who recorded his first collegiate hat trick at Dartmouth, was named league rookie of the week.
Along with Martin on the right side, the line combined to post seven points, including four goals, against Dartmouth after compiling six points at Harvard.
While these guys have done very well, I think Chris Martin is kind of the missing link to this line, Carvel said. He brings a lot of energy and he plays really hard he get pucks in and he works hard to get pucks back and get possession down low. Hes a good forechecker and is just a tough player to play against. His game has really come a long way.
OFFENSE ON A ROLL
St. Lawrences offensive surge on Saturday represents its largest output since the 2008-09 campaign, when the Saints thumped Cornell, 8-1, on Jan. 30, 2009.
Conversely, the Saints have allowed more than three goals four times in 10 games this season, faring 2-2 in those outings. Theyre also tied for the leagues scoring lead (4.25 goals a game), but stand seventh in defense (3.0 goals allowed).
The more often we get that well be in good shape, Carvel said of the eight-goal night. But then again, we let up five goals. Weve got to continue to work on tightening our game.
CATCH THEM WHILE YOU CAN
This weekends pair of games represents St. Lawrences lone homestand in November.
The Saints opened league play with a road swing through New England, which included 3-3 ties at Yale and Brown on Nov. 1-2.
Next weekend, St. Lawrence plays two games at Rochester Institute of Technology before traveling Thanksgiving week for a pair of games at North Dakota on Nov. 29 and 30.
Chris Fitz Gerald covers St. Lawrence hockey for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org