St. Lawrence Hopes to Remain Steady Despite Changes
Everyone expected St. Lawrence to look a tad different this year, but just how different ended up being the surprise.
The past three seasons have been a renaissance for St. Lawrence, starting with Greg Carvel and continuing under Mark Morris. The Saints finished in the top four of the league in each of those years, though were unable to get over the hump of winning the title or making the NCAA tournament.
The success of those years was largely built on three defensive pillars: Eric Sweetman, Gavin Bayreuther and Kyle Hayton. Star defensemen Bayreuther and Sweetman were expected losses to graduation, and both ended up in the Dallas Stars organization.
"All those guys did a lot for us the last few years," said SLU captain Joe Sullivan. "But we have a couple of new freshmen coming in and a few quality returners that between the group we have we should be able to shoulder the increased load."
Bayreuther in particular will be sorely missed as the offensive-minded defender led the Saints in scoring each of his past two seasons. In his career, he added 35 goals and 111 points in 142 games. Sweetman also will be missed for his smooth skating and defensive capabilities. Both were two of the best defensmen in the ECAC during there years and their losses will be huge.
"Those two guys played huge minutes and you cannot teach experience," Saints coach Mark Morris said. "They were stalwart defensemen their three years here. Losing those two guys left a big void. We will miss the booming shot of Bayreuther and the physicality of Eric."
Losing them is bad enough, albeit expected. More unexpected was the loss of Hayton.
Hayton was a difference-maker in the Saints net the past three years. He burst onto the scene his freshman year and lead the Saints to a surprise top-two finish in the ECAC. That season the lanky goalie had a 1.95 goals against average and .937 save percentage. He continued to be a .930-plus goalie in his next two years.
Hayton found a loophole in the NCAA transfer policies that allowed him to play right away, finishing classes at St. Lawrence over the summer and graduating early so he could transfer to Wisconsin and play right away. His loss is a huge one and one that was mostly unexpected by Morris.
"(Hayton) was a great college goalie here and he had a lot to do with the success they had," Morris said. "He was a very valuable member of the team and wish him well."
But maybe there was trouble brewing last year. It never seemed Hayton fit into Morris' system. He struggled in the early games to get going and had his worst season, statistically, in his three seasons for the Saints. Hayton was fourth-best in the ECAC with a 2.28 GAA and his .929 save percentage was the lowest in his college career.
"Kyle had a lot of success here but he is gone now," Sullivan said. "We are looking forward to the future and we have three capable goaltenders, who have shown that they can muster the load. We aren't dwelling in the past but moving on with the guys with the think we can win with."
The three losses will add up to give St. Lawrence a new look this year, but there is still a lot of talent to work with.
The defense should still be solid, returning a pair of guys that have the talent to step into the roles that Sweetman and Bayreuther provided. But then again, it also lost a lot of stability with those stars leaving along with fellow seniors Mike Graham and Ben Massella.
"I think it will be quite a bit different for us this year," Morris said. "We are breaking in four new defensemen and that is a pretty big turnover. But the skill level that we brought in, with size and strength, I think will prove to be an asset for us moving forward. There is a learning a curve to be had and we have a very difficult schedule."
Nolan Gluchowski has been a staple on the blueline but has largely been overshadowed by his two heralded defensive partners. Now the hard-shooting senior will be tasked with a big role and be able to show his talents. In a sense, he is a hybrid of the two players, fleet of foot but with the shot and puck movement that Bayreuther also provided. In 2015-16, he registered 129 shots on goal and last year he had 97. He is not afraid to shoot the puck.
There is also Ben Finkelstein, who provided an extra option last year when both Sweetman and Bayreuther spent time on the mend. The 7th round pick of the Panthers was fourth on the team in scoring with 23 points and provided another offensive threat from the blueline.
"Those two guys will certainly be big pieces of our puzzle," said Morris. "They will log heavy minutes in all aspects and they also have things to prove."
Those two will be key to the success of the Saints this year, but the biggest growth may just be its strong returning core of forwards that experienced just two losses in the offseason. Considering the Saints struggled with depth at forward, something that Morris was highly critical of at many points last year, the minimal losses are a welcome sight.
"We'll have more skill and be dangerous up front," Sullivan said. "That depth should help us alleviate a lot of the offensive loss from the back-end."
Mike Marnell should lead that group; if not for injuries he would have been one of the highest scoring forwards in the ECAC last season. Morris is expecting a special season from his star forward.
"Him staying healthy will be so critical to our success this year," Morris said. "He is such a good player. He's crafty, speedy, knows where the net is and he is a finisher. We will need a big year from him."
Of course the biggest question is who will replace Hayton in net, but Morris expects a smooth transition to Arthur Brey, who in limited time in two seasons has been pretty good. In four appearances last year, Brey had a 2.08 GAA and a .935 save percentage. In his first career start against Penn State in 2015-16, Brey made 50 saves in a 2-2 tie.
"We feel that the three goaltenders we have are facing a great opportunity," Morris said. "We feel we have three guys that have things to prove and as a team, I feel we are rallying around that.
"(Brey) will probably be the guy in the early stages. Lots will be determined in the early going but Arty is such a positive and well liked person in the room. It is easy to play hard for a guy like that."
With all the changes, the Saints will certainly be different, but they shouldn't be far from where they have been in the last few seasons. St. Lawrence will be an interesting case of losing key players but still having a group of players that should provide stability.
"We don't need to do a lot different," said Sullivan. "We have just missed taking that next jump. We are hoping the freshmen coming in and the leadership group will make a difference in the locker room and the ice."