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SLU defenseman Hughes closes in on milestone

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CANTON — The aspiration of achieving 100 career points was a goal George Hughes set for himself ever since he first stepped on to the Appleton Arena ice at St. Lawrence University.

Now not only does Hughes, a senior defenseman and assistant captain, have that milestone in his sights as he sits just two points shy of the mark entering the final weekend of the regular season, he and his teammates have high aspirations in the push for playoff positioning.

“It’s been great,” Hughes said of his senior campaign. “Especially of late, we’ve been playing really well and hopefully we can carry this over into the playoffs.”

The Saints, who sit in third place in ECAC Hockey, are hoping for a strong finish when it plays at Union tonight and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.

“It’s a pretty typical week in the ECAC, I think,” Hughes said. “All the teams are so bunched up together. This weekend is without a doubt the biggest weekend of the year so far. Home ice and byes are on the line, so we just have to take advantage of it. It’s a huge opportunity for this team.”

St. Lawrence (16-12-4, 9-7-4) can secure a home series in the quarterfinal round with a pair of victories, but there are several other scenarios where they can accomplish this depending on how the league’s results pan out.

At the personal level, Hughes is closing in on the feat of becoming just the third defenseman in the program’s history to reach 100 points.

“That’s a pretty impressive stat,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said of Hughes’ potential milestone. “There’s been a lot of All-Americans and a lot of Hobey Baker candidates who have played defense here.”

“It’s definitely an honor if I can achieve this,” said Hughes, who heads into tonight with 98 (18 goals-80 assists) in 124 career games. “My goal was to get 100 points when I came here, so this would be special.”

The all-time leader among St. Lawrence blueliners is Dan Laperriere with 120 (21 goals-99 assists) points in 124 games, and Brian McColgan (31-69-100) is second in 113 games.

“George kind of flies a little bit under the radar on our team maybe in the public eye because of (Kyle) Flanagan and (Greg) Carey,” Carvel said. “He’s an elite offensive defenseman at this level.”

Saints assistant coach Mike Hurlbut stands fourth on the list, with 86 (24-62) points in 134 games.

“He’s been a huge part of this team and he’s just so consistent every year,” Hurlbut said of Hughes. “His competitive level is very high — he sets high expectations for himself and the team is well. He’s certainly an elite skater and that helps him get out of trouble, and he makes plays because of his skating.”

Hughes, who has recorded 30 (5 goals-25 assists) points this campaign, is among the nation’s leading defensemen. He ranks first in points per game (0.94), leads all defenders in assists and is 11th in points.

“He’s put up these numbers since he and the team kind of slumped through the middle part of the season and were struggling through a stretch,” Carvel said. “But the last two months, he’s been outstanding. He’s a big part of our offense and is a huge part of our power play.”

Hughes also generated a seven-game point streak in which he posted 11 (2-9) points, and helped spark the Saints to a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) beginning in January.

“I don’t know if I consider myself an offensive defenseman,” Hughes said. “But I like to join the rush and I like to create offense, whether it’s on the rush or in the offensive zone. I like to keep my offensive options open.”

Overall, St. Lawrence is 8-2-2 in its past 12 games.

“He’s one of those guys who leads more by his actions than his words,” Carvel said of Hughes. “He plays over 30 minutes for us most nights — he gives us every thing he has and he’s as important to our success as Carey or Flanagan is.”

The Saints head into tonight without Flanagan, the senior captain who had his appendix removed on Tuesday. The Canton native is out for this weekend and possibly next week as well, which makes earning a playoff bye that much more important.

“We just have to try and get through this as a team and battle through it,” Hughes said.

LEADING THE NATION

Carey, a junior winger who carries an 11-game goal streak into tonight, continues to lead the nation in both goals (25) and points (47). He also tops the country in points per game (1.47) and goals per game (0.78).

Also tied for the nation’s lead in power-play goals (11), Carey has recorded 19 (11-8) points over this stretch and has 24 points, including 12 goals in 15 games in the 2013 calendar year.

SPECIAL TEAMS STEADY

In its playoff push, St. Lawrence has scored on 16 of 62 power-play chances (25.8 percent) in its past 12 games, including 11 man-advantage goals on 33 opportunities in its last six outings (33.3 percent).

The Saints have been sharp in penalty killing of late as they’ve allowed only one power-play goal from 22 of their opponents chances over the past two weekends (95.4 percent) and stand at 82.5 percent overall.

Chris Fitz Gerald covers St. Lawrence University hockey for the Times. He can be reached at cfitzgerald@wdt.net

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