CANTON — St. Lawrence University junior Kyle Flanagan and sophomore Greg Carey waited all summer to get back to Appleton Arena together.
The forwards proved a devastating combination against ECAC opponents last season. Combined, they registered 75 points playing on St. Lawrence's top line.
Heading into the 2011-12 campaign, each is anxious to continue that chemistry.
“Carey and I knew last year that we were probably going to play together the next three years,” Flanagan said. “We're pretty excited. The way we finished last year, we were on a pretty good roll. Every shift, we expect to have a chance (to score).”
It was that instantaneous connection that helped Carey reach a team-leading 23 goals and 40 points. Carey and Flanagan were especially potent on the power player, where they combined for 18 goals.
“When he has the puck, I can get myself lost and I don't have to worry about him losing the puck along the boards,” Carey said. “It's very rare when you can find someone who you have total faith in on the ice, and that's good for the line.”
But this year, ECAC opponents know what to expect from the stick-handling Flanagan and goal-scoring Carey. Yale figured it out after the first game of last season's ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series.
Carey didn't score after netting two in Game 1. Flanagan, who assisted one of Carey's goals, had just one more point the rest of the series.
“I'm going to expect guys to be on me much like Yale was in the playoffs,” Carey said. “I didn't really have any room to breathe out there.”
Associate head coach Mike Hurlbut, who will lead the Saints while head coach Joe Marsh is on medical leave, is looking to put Jacob Drewiske on the wing to help ensure the dominance of Carey and Flanagan. His job will be to disrupt the defense, leaving opportunities for either to score.
“We're going to play with a winger for that line to see who can complement those two,” Hurlbut said. “Drewiske is the type of player where he's going to be able to play on any line at almost any position. Plus, he's a great leader and one of those guys you love to have on your team.”
Drewiske, a captain, is also looking forward to playing on the top line with St. Lawrence's top two offensive threats. He anticipates being the workhorse, harassing opponents and freeing Carey and Flanagan for offensive chances.
“Kyle Flanagan's obviously excellent with the puck and Carey's also very good with the puck and has a tremendous shot,” Drewiske said. “If I can be a pest, create turnovers and get the puck to those guys — do the dirty work on that line — I think we can have a very successful start to the year.”
Drewiske add that the speed of the new freshmen class and growth in the sophomores makes St. Lawrence particularly unique. Each line will give opponents a different set of obstacles this season.
“We have the ability to have four lines that all have the ability to have their own identity,” Drewiske said. “If you look at teams in pros and in college, the teams that do well and are successful have four lines that all have their own identity and bring that aspect of the game every game.”
Hurlbut also likes the depth in this year's squad now with the improvement of some of last year's freshmen, including Nic Vangog, Jeremy Wick and Kyle Essery. All three were on a line together and produced game-winning goals and helped St. Lawrence upset Princeton in the first round of the ECAC Hockey Tournament.
“They played very well late in the year,” Hurlbut said. “(Wick) obviously is capable of scoring and plans to score a few more. We're very impressed with (last year's freshmen). We're looking forward to seeing their improvement.”
Returners: Robby Moss (Sr. G), Peter Child (Sr. D), Rick Carden (Sr. F), Greg Carey (So. F), Max Mobley (Sr. F), Jacob Drewiske (Sr. F), Nic Vangog (So. F), George Hughes (Jr. D), Kyle Flanagan (Jr. F), Sean Logue (So. F), Jeremy Wick (So. F), Riley Austin (So. D), Kyle Essery (So. F), Joe Spadaccini (Sr. G), David Grilk (Jr. G), Matt Weninger (So. G), Jordan Dewey (Jr. D), Justin Baker (So. D), Pat Raley (So. D), Matt Dyer (Jr. D), Mac Stratford (Jr. D), Mark Armstrong (Sr. F).
Newcomers: Patrick Doherty (Fr. F), Tommy Thompson (Fr. F), Chris Martin (Fr. F), Gunnar Hughes (Fr. F), Nelson Armstrong (Fr. D), Justin Bruckle (Fr. F).
George Hughes and Peter Child will lead the defense as St. Lawrence looks to improve upon a 13-22-5 season a year ago. A nasty injury to Justin Baker left his sophomore season in doubt. But he is back after a rapid improvement over the summer. The defense will be bolstered by more physical play this season, especially with Patrick Raley, Riley Austin and Jordan Dewey. New defensemen include 17-year-old Nelson Armstrong, who coaches say is as developed as the upper classmen.
St. Lawrence boasts a talented forward unit. Led by the tandem of Greg Carey and Kyle Flanagan, the Saints offense should be a formidable weapon in conference play. Carey and Flanagan combined for 75 points last season. Carey was a rookie of the year finalist after recording a team-high 23 goals and 17 assists. Flanagan had 12 goals and 23 assists. However, some questions remain behind Carey and Flanagan as the Saints lost third-leading scorer Aaron Bogosian and fifth-leading scorer Sean Flanagan. Look for Jacob Drewiske to play on the top line, while the Saints turn to Kyle Essery, Jeremy Wick and Mark Armstrong for additional offense. Rick Carden will also play a more significant role during his senior season. Freshman Gunnar Hughes is also expected to contribute.
Matt Weninger proved he was the top goalie last year, leading the Saints with a brilliant playoff effort against Princeton and Yale. Weninger comes in with a career 2.65 goals against average and .913 save percentage. He is the only Saint on roster with a save percentage better than .900. He will be the opening-game starter for St. Lawrence. Should associate head coach Mike Hurlbut decide to go with a rotation, he can turn to Robby Moss (3.28 GAA, .894 save percentage) or Joe Spadaccini (2.71, .868). Moss has extensive game experience after splitting time with Weninger through much of last year. Spadaccini is a Canton native and has appeared in five games during his career.
St. Lawrence is still young and that touted freshman class, which ranked 13th nationally last season, is still forming into a cohesive unit. The good news is that the Saints didn't lose considerable talent from last year. Rebounding shouldn't be as difficult as in past years. They return their top two scorers and didn't lose anything defensively. Adding to it, the coaches say the Saints are extremely fast and have four unique lines that can grind down opponents. The true tests will be on the freshmen class, which needs to play close to the level of the sophomores to keep St. Lawrence competitive against ECAC Hockey competition. The league coaches have again picked St. Lawrence to finish in the bottom half, voting the Saints ninth in the preseason poll. The Saints should be competitive early this season, but can they win the close games?
Prediction: 5th in ECAC Hockey