by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
ALBANY, N.Y. After winning the ECAC regular season championship, Joe Marsh likely expected that his St. Lawrence team would be playing for the league championship on Saturday night. Instead, after falling to fifth-seed Quinnipiac in Friday's first ECAC semifinal, the Saints have to settle for a shot at third place.
But that's not all.
A win in Saturday's consolation game against Dartmouth will go a long way in securing a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Saints are looking for their first trip to the national tournament since 2001 but are clinging to one of the final tournament spots according to the current Pairwise.
Saints senior forward Kyle Rank — who led the team in scoring with 32 points — remains optimistic.
"It's probably one of the worst feelings, but tomorrow could be one of the best," said Rank. "We can get a win and hopefully move on. A lot of guys deserved [a chance at the ECAC title]. We wanted it so bad. But there's still another one out there."
The optimism displayed by Rank, as one of the team's leaders, is a big reason that Marsh is confident that his team can turn around and focus itself on what's at stake on Saturday afternoon. Part of Rank's optimistic perspective likely stems from the fact that, entering college, he was recruited for golf, not hockey. He made the team as a walk-on.
Said Marsh, "They're feeling pretty low right now, but [Rank and Drew Bagnall] in particular have been great leaders all year. They've been great leaders through their whole careers. They've developed in terms of how they lead, the responsibility they place upon themselves, and how they hold other people accountable in a very positive way.
"Sure, they're disappointed, but they know — and the other guys know — that we have to bounce back."
As Marsh suggested, Bagnall is another player whose leadership quality could help refocus a Saints team that came into this championship weekend winning eight of its last nine games. And Bagnall, the team captain, is just a day removed from being named not only the ECAC Player of the Year but also one of the ten Hobey Baker finalists.
"I was probably as crushed as anyone when we didn't win tonight," said Bagnall. "It's been a dream of mine to win a championship my senior year, but I realize too that the opportunity is there tomorrow, and we can advance to the next level. It's part of being a professional and of playing hockey. You have to deal with losses."
Of course, they won't have much time to deal with this one, as the consolation game takes place at 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon. But many in the college hockey world may have been surprised if, in October, they were told that the Saints would be playing for an NCAA tournament berth on the final day of the season.
The Saints were picked seventh in the preseason media poll.
"We've ridden the underdog mentality pretty high," said Marsh. "We've used that as a great motivator all year. We were picked sixth or seventh, but that was in October. And in all honesty, we had a lot of unknowns. But it was nice ammo for me as far as working that."
And now, the Saints regroup as a team and will likely use all the ammo they have in order to make sure their season doesn't end Saturday afternoon in Albany.
"I don't think there's a magical thing that I can say to them," said Marsh. "I trust the intelligence of our team. We just don't want it to end. We want to keep playing. I don't care where we go, and I don't care who we play. I just would love to play."
A win on Saturday afternoon could provide that opportunity and would certainly be more than just a small consolation.