The quest for 1,000 wins will begin for St. Lawrence University's men's hockey team when it opens the 2012-13 season with an exhibition game against Carleton University of Ottawa at Appleton Arena at 7 pm. Saturday.
Head coach Greg Carvel begins his first official season as a NCAA head coach with a challenging early schedule with back-to-back bus trips to 2012 NCAA tournament entries Western Michigan and Maine. Carvel, who served as interim head coach along with Mike Hurlbut last season, will work with a team which went 14-19-3 a year ago and earned home ice in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs.
The first year of the Carvel era and the 76th in the history of the program at St. Lawrence begins with the Saints just eight wins away from joining the select group of Division I men's hockey programs with 1,000 or more victories in their program history. The Saints will become the 16th team among the 59 Division I programs nationally to reach 1000 wins with their eighth of the season. They will be the sixth ECAC team to reach that landmark.
Carvel and the Saints expect a highly competitive season in 2012-13 as the Saints return their top four scorers, six defensemen who saw regular duty a year ago and a workhorse in goal.
"We were able to lay a good groundwork last season," said Carvel. "Although officially I am a new coach, a lot of what we want to do is already in place. We sent the guys home over the summer asking for a greater commitment than they have had in the past and we went into the summer feeling pretty good about the finish last year.
"The team has come back in excellent shape and feeling good about the season. While the polls had us in the middle of the pack, we're not putting a number on it, but we as a staff and the players are expecting a little better," Carvel added.
The Saints will get a series of stern tests early with Western Michigan and Maine both on the road in the first two weeks of the regular season. "We are concentrating to start the year on preparing for a very good opponent in Western Michigan. To get ready for teams of this caliber right out of the box allows the guys to get focused and ready to play at a high level from day one of the season."
The Saints will feature two of the top returning forwards in the ECAC in senior captain Kyle Flanagan and junior wing Greg Carey. The two were each named to a pre-season all star team, Flanagan by the coaches and Carey by the media and they tied in points scored last year with 37 each, Flanagan with 14 goals and 23 assists in 28 games and Carey with 15 goals and 22 assists in 36 outings. Wing Chris Martin finished third among freshmen in scoring among ECAC players with 10 goals and 16 assists and senior defenseman George Hughes was fourth among all ECAC defenders in point production with four goals and 20 assists for 24 points.
"We are expecting good years from Tommy Thompson and Jeremy Wick, who came back in very good shape, and if we can get some production from rookies Alex Hagen and Ross McMullen, we should have pretty good scoring depth," said Carvel. "We have a good group of forwards with Kyle Essery, Pat Doherty and Gunnar Hughes also able to contribute. Offensively I think we are in a good spot, but we definitely want to improve on the defensive side of things up front."
Additional returning forward who will compete for regular playing time include junior Nic Vangog and sophomore Justin Bruckel.
On the blue line, the Saints should have some solid depth with a unit led by Hughes, senior Jordan Dewey, juniors Riley Austin, Justin Baker and Patrick Raley and sophomore Nelson Armstrong. Seniors Matt Dywer and Mac Stratford and newcomer Ross McMullen will also contend for regular duty on defense.
"George is tremendous," said Carvel. "He is without question one of the best in the ECAC and has great hockey sense. We are expecting a big year from Baker, who came back from the summer in great shape and with a new dedication to the game and Jordan was playing real well before an injury ended his season last spring. We know what we are going to get from Pat Raley, who has been very steady for us and Riley Austin is much the same way. Nelson has gained a lot of maturity after a year of experience and should have a better year as a sophomore while Mac Stratford has come in with a high level of focus. McMullen gives us a big body and good tools, but it will probably take him a little time to learn to play at this pace."
Junior Matt Weninger started 32 of 36 games for the Saints a year ago and will be the go-to guy again this season after going 13-16-3 with a 3.09 goals against average and a .896 save percentage as a sophomore. David Grilk, a senior, has seen limited action as a backup and will be joined by newcomer Kyle MacDonald in contending for playing time in net.
"Having Kris Mayotte on the staff to work with the goaltenders is going to be a big plus for us," Carvel said. "He has worked hard with Wenny to help with some things technically and Matt has come back in great shape and with more intensity and focus. He is going to be our go-to guy again this year and will probably carry the mail as much as he did a year ago."
The Saints will follow the Western Michigan and Maine series with home openers against Alabama-Huntsville on Nov. 2-3 with the game on Nov. 2 a celebration of former head coach Joe Marsh's outstanding SLU career. SLU will begin ECAC play at Brown and Yale on Nov. 9-10 and play ECAC home openers against Princeton and Quinnipiac the following weekend.