The scheduling strategy employed, in part, by St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh was at first difficult to understand.
Why would a team need a three-week break just four games into a season?
Then, St. Lawrence lost its first two games at home to Ferris State. The Bulldogs are now ranked No. 10 in the latest USCHO.com poll.
The Saints went on the road to take on then-No. 4 Michigan and lost 10-3. They followed that with a game against RIT, which they lost after giving up a tying goal with nine seconds left in regulation and the winning goal only 14 seconds into overtime.
The break, after enduring a brutal nonconference schedule, came at the perfect time.
“After the game at RIT, they certainly realized they have to be focused in order to be successful at this level,” said associate head coach Mike Hurlbut, who continues to fill in during Marsh's medical leave.
“It looks like a great job scheduling by Joe, now,” he added.
The Saints quietly worked away inside Appleton Arena, building up a defense that gave up over six goals per game, adjusting the offense that scored less than three goals a game, and mastering the schemes assistant coach Greg Carvel insists will prove fruitful.
“These three weeks have definitely helped us,” defenseman George Hughes said. “We're getting used to the new systems and I think these three weeks, we can turn it around coming up this weekend. We kind of made it into a training camp.”
Forward Kyle Flanagan added: “We've been working on pretty much anything. It was good timing that we had these two weeks off now rather than later in the year. We've been working on new things every day, which is why I think it's been really productive.”
It feels as though the Saints remain an unknown entity in ECAC Hockey. Sure, they're 0-4 overall, but that was against stiff competition during a time when the Saints were unlearning last year's systems, learning Carvel's and getting the freshman accustomed to Division I hockey. Remember, St. Lawrence is still a young team with nine sophomore and six freshmen. There are only seven seniors.
So getting that first win won't come easily, especially as No. 13 Union opens St. Lawrence conference schedule today. The Dutchmen are the reigning ECAC Hockey champions and appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season. Union beat the Saints 3-1 and 5-2 last year.
“It isn't an easy weekend to start,” Hurlbut said. “Obviously, a win would be a big boost to us, but we realize that we just need to work hard and worry about how we play. It doesn't matter who we're playing, just that we need to get better every single day in practice and improve on a game-by-game basis.”
St. Lawrence's first alum to win a Stanley Cup as a player, Rich Peverley, returns today as the Saints face No. 13 Union College at home.
He is part of St. Lawrence's homecoming weekend. The athletic department also brings back Christian Lopez, who caught a returned New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit this summer.
Peverley is a 2004 graduate of St. Lawrence and recorded 117 points in his career with the Saints. He captained the team during the 2003-04 season.
He won the 2011 Stanley Cup as a member of the Boston Bruins.
“It's pretty much the greatest thing you can do as a hockey player,” Mark Armstrong said. “Having him back around campus is pretty exciting. The fact that it's homecoming weekend and there will be a ton of people here makes you want to win that much more.”
Peverley will sign autographs between 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. in the Appleton Arena lobby before today's game.
MARSH ON THE MEND
Head coach Joe Marsh, whose arthritic condition forced him to take an indefinite medical leave, continues to improve at home.
“I feel better,” he said. “I've only gone to a couple practices and watched. What I don't want to do is go back and be in and out. I have to get to a point where I feel 100 percent and everyone has been very understanding of that.”
Marsh did not set a timetable for his return, but continued to laude the efforts of Hurlbut and Carvel.
“They're in good hands,” he said. “These (coaches) are experienced and know what they're doing.”
The Saints opened last season with an 0-3-3 overall record before earning their first win. The last time the Saints dropped its first four games of the year was the 1996-97 season.