October 25, 2016 PRINT Bookmark and Share

St. Lawrence. Morris Still Figuring It Out

by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer

Early-season results were favorable for St. Lawrence. The transition to new head coach Mark Morris seemed smooth and on the right track.

Everything seemed to be going right. The systems were largely in place, the transition was going smooth and it appeared that SLU was the team that many picked to win the ECAC, making it one of the better teams in the nation. Three straight wins had the Saints at 3-1.

"Coach Mo has been awesome," Saints defenseman Gavin Bayreuther said. "He has been everything that we have expected and more. We had a really good culture, he has just added to it. The things we have done; he is hard on us, he expects a lot from us but at the same time he is patient. He likes us to work and if we are, he is happy."

But with every new coach taking over there will be growing pains and a learning curve of what the new system entails.

As positive as the first two weeks of the season were, the Saints looked largely discombobulated in two losses last weekend against Providence and Massachusetts-Lowell. A defense that should be one of the best in college hockey, gave up 11 goals in two games.

"Last week we played our best game against Merrimack," Morris said. "It felt like playoff hockey. I thought we had it all figured out. Then we lost a couple of players (Eric Sweetman and Woody Hudson to injury), we have to draw from other lines and chemistry gets altered. That makes for some things we need to adapt to. We have five freshmen playing big minutes.

"We (need) to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. We can be way better. I didn't think we wanted to possess the puck enough (this past weekend). When you're seeing repeat offenders, the guys have to take ownership of their shortcomings. It is on me too, I have to find ways to keep these guys and at the same time hammer home the lessons."

Goaltender Kyle Hayton, presumably a Richter award favorite, was pulled in both games. It marked the first time in his career he was even taken out of a game; having it happen twice in one weekend is odd.

Hayton clearly had a rough weekend. As good as Providence was at finding open spots Saturday night, each of the goals allowed had a pattern. He was getting beat to his glove side high. If SLU wants to be successful this season, he will have to be the key piece to their success. Morris knows that, but it is largely anomoly to his career so far, which has been stellar.

"(Against PC on Saturday) wasn't our best game by a long stretch," said Morris. "I think Kyle is a little out of sorts right now, but we will get him squared away. He looked deep in the net a couple of times. He is a stellar goalie and he is a real competitor. We know he will figure it out."

Against Providence, the Saints would get momentum, then take a penalty and allow a power-play goal. They allowed Providence 14 man-advantage opportunities and gave up four power-play goals.

"We are going to have to figure this out very quick," Morris said. "I don't know if I have ever been around a group that continuously just goes there. If the stove is hot you don't put your hand right back there. We continue to take a lot of needless sticking penalties, which means we aren't moving our feet. We have to figure it out. Right now the best thing we have done is beat ourselves."

Although it was winning hockey games the first two weeks, it was giving up special teams goals at a high rate. Having to kill over eight penalties per game, even with the new initiatives that are in place this season, will cost any team.

"The amount of penalties that we have had the past six games has been unbelievable," Bayreuther said. "It is hard to create momentum or generate offense when you are constantly in the penalty box."

On the season, St. Lawrence is outscoring teams 17-9 at even strength, but losing the special teams by eight net goals. Against PC and UML, it was minus-5 on special teams. If new systems have any effect, it is most seen on the specialty teams and the Saints are certainly proving that.

"It all boils down to special teams," Bayreuther said. "We are also getting a lot of power plays, but we haven't been able to capitalize there."

Because centers are so important at both ends of the ice, it is tough to replace them, and St. Lawrence lost a few.

"You cannot teach experience at the center position," Morris said. "We have a freshman centering our top line and our top power play. A couple weeks ago I wasn't even sure who was going to play a regular shift there. We are seeing tremendous growth."

Over the weekend, the defense suffered with Sweetman out, too. His loss meant Bayreuther was playing more than usual and it was evident late against PC.

While the players are adjusting to Morris, Morris is also adjusting to getting back into college hockey. So that becomes a factor as well.

"The biggest difference now is there is no flow out there," Morris said. "When you're continually playing the same players on the power play and the penalty kill, there is a lot of people who aren't invested in the game. It is maddening for the players, the fans, and maddening for us to try and figure out. Man oh man it has been interesting. We will continue to try and figure it out all out."

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