St. Lawrence University's men's hockey team will lift the curtain on a new season Saturday night at Appleton Arena when the Saints take on Carleton University of Ottawa in an exhibition game at 7 pm.
The Saints will officially open the NCAA season at Minnesota State Oct. 8-9 and will play their NCAA home openers Oct. 22-23 against Western Michigan.
The 2009-10 St. Lawrence University men's hockey season was a little bit of a surprise. The Saints had graduated seven players from the previous ECAC fourth-place team with almost all of them finding spots on professional hockey teams after graduation. The Saints responded with a 19-win season, a fifth place finish in the ECAC and a second straight trip to the ECAC semifinal round.
A total of ten seniors graduated from last season's team, six of them heading for the professional ranks, and an 11th player signed early, but despite the significant talent departure over the last two seasons, Saint coach Joe Marsh hints that his 2010-11 team could raise some eyebrows as well.
"We are coming off a really good year in which we exceeded expectations," said Marsh. "A lot carries over from that team. The agenda we went by last year is still in place and we have a lot of positives going into the year. We had great leadership from Travis Vermeulen, Alex Curran and Derek Keller and the torch has now been passed to Aaron Bogosian, Jared Keller, Sean Flanagan and Jacob Drewiske. What we have seen early is a smooth transition from a leadership standpoint. A lot of things that were present with last year's team haven't changed much, although with that being said, we do have a number of key slots to be filled."
The Saints lost five of their top eight scorers, one defensive pair and two goalies who combined for 40 appearances last season, but they augment a group of 17 returnees with a rookie class which has a very positive upside.
Sophomore forward Kyle Flanagan is the leading returning scorer, after a five-goal, 23-assist rookie campaign and senior captain Bogosian had his most productive season with 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points in 37 games. Senior Nick Pitsikoulis and juniors Drewiske, Rick Carden, Mark Armstrong, Jake Klancher and Max Mobley all played in at least 25 games at forward for the Saints and they regain the services of graduate assistant captain Sean Flanagan, who sat out last season on a medical redshirt and captain Jared Keller, who played in just 11 games last season before injury ended his year.
Five rookies will have a shot at finding regular spots in the Saint lineup at forward and a couple could be key factors for the Saints.
"It is an excellent group of new guys and they all came in in good physical condition," said Marsh. "Greg Carey and Kyle Essery are both impressive players. Carey has a bomb for a shot and put up impressive statistics in junior. He broke the OHA record for goals in a season and when you look at the absence of Vermeulen and Mike McKenzie, Carey gives us strengths and what we need to help fill that gap. Essery is a lot like Vermeulen in that he is an extremely good defensive player as well as being strong in the middle. He is a great skater...kind of like a Brock McBride...and has a great work ethic. He does all the hard things and does them well."
Jeremy Wick, a 78 point scorer for the Georgetown Raiders, Nic Vangog, a 6-6, 230 pound forward for the Aurora Tigers and Sean Logue, 6-1, 205, are the other rookie candidates up front. "Wick is a good strong winger and will challenge for a regular slot," said Marsh. "Vangog has a good upside because of his size and has pretty good hands and Logue has good size and always gives a good honest effort."
Defensively the Saints return four regulars from last season plus three others who saw limited action. Leading the way will be sophomore George Hughes, a member of the ECAC All Rookie team, who scored five goals and had 18 assists in 23 games in addition to displaying a lot of defensive skill. Junior Pete Child, who had an outstanding initial season of collegiate hockey as a sophomore, pairing with Hughes and contributing six goals and 11 assists in 33 games and classmate Matt Raley, two goals, seven assists in 38 games are back as is Jordan Dewey, who came on strong defensively later in his rookie season. Senior Bobby Torney, who played in 14 games last season and sophomores Mac Stratford and Matt Dyer are other returnees while sophomore Sean Coffey was on the squad last season, but did not see game action.
A trio of rookies will also contend for ice time with the blue line corps, headed by 6-2, 190 Justin Baker. "He is a really skilled player...a George Hughes type," said marsh. "He is good with the puck and very creative. Riley Austin (6-2, 205) is tough and very good down low defensively and Pat Raley is a lot like his brother Matt...he works like crazy and is a good skater with good mobility."
With Kain Tisi and Alex Petizian headed for the pro ranks after 124 starts between them over the last four seasons, Robby Moss is the lone returnee with game experience. Moss, a junior, has played in 10 career games and went 3-1-1 last year in seven appearances with a 3.13 goals against average. Junior Joe Spadaccini and sophomore David Grilk were both on the squad last season, but neither saw game action.
Rookie Matt Wenninger, who led the Flin Flon Bombers to first place in the SJHL North Division last season, compiling a 2.39 goals against average with a .925 save percentage will challenge for the starting role in his first season with the team.
"Goalie is obviously a key position for us and the one that is probably the biggest question mark. We've got some good competition for playing time and we'll see who comes out and grabs the job," said Marsh.
Regardless of the final finish for the Saints, one thing the 2010-11 squad will be will be road-tested. The Saints play nine of their 11 non-league games on the road with back-to-back trips to Minnesota State and Ferris State to officially open the season in October, a non-league meeting with rival Clarkson on Halloween in Lake Placid and trips to New Hampshire, Sacred Heart and Northern Michigan in January.