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College hockey: Saints players gave all despite struggles

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Even with the late-season run made by the St. Lawrence University men’s hockey team, coach Greg Carvel summed up the state of program in this way:

“We’re still a work in progress,” Carvel said after the Saints’ season came to an end two Saturdays ago at Colgate.

There were plenty of positives for this St. Lawrence squad, particularly later in the season in which it reached the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals for the second consecutive campaign.

“This is a group that plays hard and they don’t give up,” said Carvel, whose team finished 15-19-4. “They could have given up halfway through the year when we went nine games without a win, but they pushed through and earned us a home playoff series.”

Despite enduring a nine-game winless skid in the middle of the season, the Saints finished the regular season strong by winning four of its last eight games — highlighted by a 3-2 victory at then No. 3 Quinnipiac on Feb. 8.

After St. Lawrence was drubbed by Quinnipiac 8-0 on Feb. 28, the Saints rebounded to beat Princeton 5-0 the next night to not only win their second home game in their last 12 regular-season attempts (2-9-1), but secure eighth place with a 7-11-4 conference record, and thus a home playoff series for the second straight campaign.

“We were playing for our lives and I couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished,” senior winger Greg Carey said. “It was a tough season for us and we had ups and downs. We’re done as seniors, but there’s guys in that locker room who are going to be strong for this team next year.”

St. Lawrence, which went on to sweep a first-round opponent for the second straight year, this time Brown, were in turn swept in the quarterfinal round for the second consecutive postseason, this time at Colgate.

“It’s very tough when your season ends, but I’m very proud of this group,” said Carvel, who has now coached two full seasons at the helm in Canton. “Nobody expected us to do much this year and I feel like we exceeded expectations, but it’s still too early for a season to end.”

Individuals on the team were once again in the national limelight in terms of awards as senior Greg Carey was selected as a top 10 Hobey Baker Award candidate for the second time in as many years.

“We’re losing a pretty significant part of our offense with this senior class,” Carvel said. “And we thank them what they gave to the hockey program and what they gave to the university, there’s a lot of character in this group of kids that did a lot of things off the ice as well.”

Carey, the first two-time Hobey Baker finalist at St. Lawrence, still leads the nation in assists (39) and is second in points (57) after leading the country in goals (28) the year before.

“It’s tough when we lose a group of guys like we have with our senior class,” junior forward Patrick Doherty said. “Every single one of them has brought a ton to this program. ... It will be a tough act to follow with this group.”

Honored as ECAC Hockey’s co-player of the year, Carey was joined by freshman defenseman Gavin Bayreuther, who shared the conference’s co-rookie of the year honors.

While the Saints forged a respectable 8-9-3 record on road this season, they curiously struggled at home by posting a 7-10-1 mark at Appleton Arena.

St. Lawrence still owns the nation’s top-ranked power play (27.2 percent) where it was ranked for much of the campaign, but its penalty kill had issues throughout the season and finished second to last in the nation (73.7 percent).

One of the nation’s top offensive teams, the high-flying Saints averaged 3.21 goals per game, but in turn was at times challenged defensively, yielding 3.45 goals per game.

The Saints will lose plenty of firepower to graduation, including seniors Jeremy Wick (17-18-35), who finished as one of the top power-play goals scorers in the country, and Justin Baker (9-24-33), who with Bayreuther are among the country’s top scoring defensemen.

“Gavin had a tremendous year for us,” Carvel said of Bayreuther (9-27-36), who is the highest scoring freshmen defensemen in school history. “And Eric Sweetman as a freshman played a lot of big minutes for us. And players like Alex Dahl and Woody Hudson really came into their own down the stretch for us.”

St. Lawrence will turn to another goaltender with the graduation of Matt Weninger, who was the team’s No. 1 starter for three-plus seasons, finishing as the program’s all-time leader in saves (3,409), minutes played (7,538 minutes, 55 seconds) and appearances (132).

“Matt is in the record book for a lot of categories here at St. Lawrence,” Carvel said. “And you have players like (team captain) Kyle Essery and defenseman Justin Baker, who both work their hearts out every shift. So it’s tough to lose a senior class like this.”

The Saints may very well turn to Tyler Parks, who went 2-1 with a 2.99 goals against average and .861 save percentage in seven appearances in his freshman season.

They’ll also have to move on without the offensive talent of Matt Carey, Greg’s brother who left early for the pros. But Carvel insists the team will carry on.

“We have lot of the younger guys who have shown a lot of good promise,” Doherty said. “So it’s exciting to see going forward what they can do; we’re expecting a lot of good things next year.”

The Saints will also look to current juniors Doherty (9-8-17), Gunnar Hughes (5-15-20) and Chris Martin (2-13-15), as well as sophomore Brian Ward (8-9-17).

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