November 16, 2011

ECAC Hockey Journal: Transitioning Saints settling in

By Dan Guttenplan

Through one month of collegiate hockey, it has become clear that there are no easy wins in the ECAC.

St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh (Lynn, Mass.) (photo: Beverley Schaefer)

St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh (Lynn, Mass.) (photo: Beverley Schaefer)

Last weekend's results are evidence of that.

Colgate beat Dartmouth 4-0 Friday night before falling to Harvard 4-2 on Saturday. Brown recorded a 2-1 upset over Union Friday and then dropped a 1-0 decision to RPI Saturday. Clarkson played Quinnipiac to a 1-1 tie Friday and then fell to Princeton 3-0 on Saturday.

When all was said and done, only three teams escaped the weekend with two-game sweeps: Yale, Cornell and St. Lawrence.

St. Lawrence? Who in their right mind had the Saints sitting tied for first in the ECAC standings, along with Yale and Cornell, after two weekends of league play?

After all, this is a season in which seemingly nothing could go right for the Saints leading into last weekend's action. St. Lawrence posted a record of 13-22-5 overall and 6-15-1 in the ECAC last season -- good for 11th out of 12 teams in the league.

On top of that, head coach Joe Marsh (Lynn, Mass.) delivered news to the team at the start of the semester that he was taking a medical leave of absence to deal with gout. Marsh's top assistant last season, Bob Prier, had left for Princeton last offseason.

Associate head coach Mike Hurlbut stepped in as the interim head coach and the team got off to an 0-4 start. Then came a three-week break without games for the Saints as they awaited the start of their league schedule.

"We had a slow start," Hurlbut said. "We took a lot of bad penalties, and it turns out we were losing to a lot of really good teams."

Looking back, four of St. Lawrence's first five losses came against top-15 teams. St. Lawrence opened its league schedule Nov. 4 with a 2-0 loss to Union. The Saints haven't loss since, posting wins against RPI, Princeton and Quinnipiac.

"I'm sure the coaching change was part of it," Hurlbut said of the team's slow start. "We changed our forecheck and defensive zone a little bit. It took a few games to get used to that."

Despite the fact that he has guided his team to a early-season turnaround, Hurlbut isn't getting too comfortable in Marsh's seat. He expects his boss back by the start of next semester. If Hurlbut's message of consistent, smart play continues to get through to the Saints, Marsh could be returning to a team battling for an ECAC title.

"When I played (for St. Lawrence) in the late 80's, there was a distinct line between good teams and teams that were struggling," Hurlbut said. "That's certainly not the case anymore."

Game of the Week

Quinnipiac at Cornell, Saturday

Quinnipiac was disappointed to come out of last weekend's set of home games with Clarkson and St. Lawrence with one point. This week, the Bobcats will be looking for a road sweep at Colgate and at Cornell.

ECAC Hockey power ratings

1. Yale (3-1-1, 3-1-0 ECAC Hockey): Order was restored for the Elis with a 4-0 win over Union Saturday.

2. Cornell (3-2-0, 3-1-0): That 5-4 loss to Brown Nov. 5 hardly looks as bad 10 days later.

3. Union (6-3-3, 3-2-0): The Dutchmen collected zero points last weekend with home losses to Brown and Yale.

4. Colgate (6-4-1, 2-2-0): The Raiders might be even higher had they not surrendered a 2-1 lead in a 4-2 loss at Harvard Saturday.

5. Dartmouth (3-3-0, 2-2-0): We'll chalk up an 0-2 weekend to a tough schedule (vs. Colgate, Cornell) for the Big Green.

6. Quinnipiac (7-4-2, 1-2-2): Cause for concern? The Bobcats are winless in their last four ECAC contests.

7. Brown (3-3-0, 2-2-0): Someone will have to explain how Brown beat Union and lost to RPI last weekend.

8. St. Lawrence (1-5, 1-1): Moves up one spot in our ranking after a 2-0 victory over RPI.

9. Princeton (2-4-1, 2-3-0): The Tigers will be happy to come out with two points in their New York swing (Cornell, Colgate) this weekend.

10. Clarkson (6-3-3, 1-2-1): The Golden Knights, winless in their last three, were outshot 44-11 in a tie against Quinnipiac Friday.

11. Harvard (1-2-1, 1-2-1): The Crimson deserve a better ranking after a 4-2 victory over Colgate Saturday.

12. RPI (2-10-0, 1-4-0): The Engineers may be the lone ECAC team incapable of posting an upset over one of the top six teams.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjourna.com.