by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
After averaging 3.32 goals per game during the ECAC regular season, and after scoring 11 goals in its two-game sweep over Colgate in the quarterfinals, who would have thought that St. Lawrence would need almost 90 minutes of play at Albany's Times Union Center before finally putting the puck in the net?
Over their first four-plus periods of play this weekend, the Saints were outscored 5-0 and found themselves trailing Dartmouth 2-0 early in the second period of their consolation game. A consolation game where the consolation prize wasn't just third place in the ECAC, but a chance — for each team's seniors, a once-in-a-career chance — to play in the NCAA tournament beginning next weekend.
For the regular season champion Saints, was there any mention of their scoring woes in the locker room before the second period against Dartmouth began?
"You don't want to call too much attention to it," said St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh. "The guys are cognizant of that fact. I was more concerned about management ability. The [first] goal that we gave up was just a miscommunication [leading to a turnover in front of goaltender Mike Devine]. We just have to talk more. I was trying to stick to tangible things that we could try and do and not focus on some sort of invisible shield where we can't put the puck in the net."
Still, according to Marsh, their first period play really wasn't all that bad, despite the score.
"I thought we played a pretty strong period," said Marsh. "We had pretty good jump, and I thought all four of lines were going pretty hard. So that was the big thing, to accentuate the positives."
Heading into the second period down 1-0, the pressure may have increased when Dartmouth freshman T.J. Galiardi extended the Big Green lead to 2-0.
ECAC Player of the Year and Hobey Baker finalist Drew Bagnall, the only senior defenseman on this St. Lawrence team, was on the ice for both Dartmouth goals.
Said Bagnall, "After the second one went in, we came back to the bench, and it was gut check time. For everyone. All year, we've played with the mentality that you don't play to the scoreboard. The scoreboard doesn't dictate how we play the game. No matter what the score is, we play the way we play.
"There are nights where you're not going to score goals, when a goalie stands on his head. It doesn't mean you stop playing. It doesn't mean you pack it in because that's the easy way out. We've preached all year that the easy way out doesn't get you anywhere, and nothing worthwhile is easy."
With that mentality, with not paying attention to the fact that they were trailing yet again, to the fact that a loss would likely end their season, things suddenly began to change. A flurry of action in the seventh and eighth minutes of the period saw goals from Saints forwards Kevin DeVergilio and Mike McKenzie to tie the score at 2-2, thus ending their uncharacteristic scoreless drought.
And while the first St. Lawrence goal certainly seemed to energize the entire team, Marsh saw signs in the minutes prior to the goal that gave him reason for optimism.
"We started to make a few plays and get some energy going," said Marsh. " I thought we were getting better sustainability from all four lines. We were getting to where the energy from one line was going into the next. That was the biggest thing that we had going for us, and it paid off. You have to be patient sometimes."
And Marsh and his Saints team have certainly been patient over the years, as the team's results have improved steadily. Now, they will likely make their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2001. Not surprisingly, that was in the back of their minds heading into Saturday's game.
"It was a very emotional game," said Marsh. "I understood that, if we won, we'd get in the tournament. That's certainly what we were playing for, but the big thing was to go out and play hard and get some good feelings back. And just hope that we could play [another day]."
Added Bagnall, "I think every guy on the team has so much respect for the guy beside him that he doesn't want to give up what we have right now. Everyone feels like we have something special. Getting to play another weekend together is the biggest consolation prize we could ever ask for."
Thanks in large part to leaders like Bagnall, St. Lawrence hasn't lost back-to-back league games all year. Faced with that possibility on Saturday afternoon, they responded like the team that led the ECAC wire-to-wire this year.
"This group is a pretty resilient group," said Marsh. "We've had a pretty good thing going as far as our response after a loss. The response was particularly impressive, given we came from the lowest point we were at all year.
Added Saints senior forward Kyle Rank about their 2-0 deficit and subsequent comeback, "It wasn't a good feeling, but that's the way our season's been going. We've been down a couple goals and had to win games. You can't quit. If you're going to quit, you shouldn't play sports. You're always going to be down, you're always going to have to claw back."
Now, St. Lawrence — the patron Saints of determination — gets to play another day. They don't know where yet, but they likely don't really care.
"If you told us after the second period that we had one period to play to get into the NCAA tournament," said Rank, "we probably would have taken it back in September."