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College hockey: Tough weekend assignment ahead for Saints

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CANTON — With aspirations of a strong finish in the top four of the ECAC Hockey standings — which would result in a first-round playoff bye — the St. Lawrence University hockey team knows it will likely have to beat the best to achieve this, starting this weekend.

The Saints (13-11-4, 6-6-4), who have lost only one in their past eight games, will try and keep their momentum going this week on the road against two of the league’s top teams — No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac and Princeton — tonight and Saturday, respectively, at 7.

“That’s something our team has its eyes set on — finishing as a top four seed,” Saints junior defenseman Justin Baker said. “It’s definitely a huge advantage and it’s something we’re shooting for. This is definitely a huge weekend — both of these games are going to mean a lot as to where we finish in the standings. We really want to show Quinnipiac and Princeton what we’re made of.”

The Bobcats (21-3-4, 14-0-2) — who moved up to the top position in both national polls for the first time in school history in any sport — are unbeaten in their past 21 games at 18-0-3.

“We’re playing two teams that are playing very well,” Baker said. “It’s great to get a shot at a No. 1 team, so it’s exciting and it will be a big test for us.”

Quinnipiac, which cannot finish any lower than second place in the ECAC, can clinch the regular-season title — the Cleary Cup — this weekend by earning any combination of two points.

“They are a very good team,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said of Quinnipiac. “I’m actually excited for us to be playing them now. They’ve won so many games in a row ... we’ve got nothing to lose and I think the guys are going to be excited to play a real good team.”

St. Lawrence enters tonight in a sixth-place tie in the conference with reigning league champion Union, with both trailing Princeton by just a point. The Tigers sit in a deadlock for third place with Rensselaer and No. 17 Dartmouth.

“It’s a tale of two seasons, really,” Baker said. “The last time we played them (Quinnipiac) was the beginning of a tough stretch for us, but I think they’re going to see a different team this weekend.”

St. Lawrence, which will play four of their last six regular-season games on the road, is a long way away from its last encounter with Quinnipiac — a 6-2 loss on Nov. 17 in Canton.

“They came in and embarrassed us in front of our folks,” St. Lawrence senior captain Kyle Flanagan said. “We would like to get back at them, especially because they have a long winning streak. We know we’re playing well as a team, so we want to keep it up.”

Quinnipiac scored the game’s first six goals, including two each in the first two periods, to rout the Saints.

“We’ll come up with a game plan that we think will help us,” Carvel said. “Looking at our last game against them, we played very poorly against a very good team and hence a lopsided victory. But we’ve been playing well as a team lately — in our last eight games we’re unbeaten in regulation with our only loss coming in overtime.”

The Saints finished in a 3-3 draw in their last meeting with Princeton on Nov. 16, with Tyler Magueri scoring the tying goal for the Tigers with 8:20 remaining in regulation.

St. Lawrence is 5-1-2 over its past eight games, with its only loss a 4-3 overtime decision to RPI last Friday.

“I feel like the team is really starting to play real well right now,” Baker said. “It’s great when you can get come from behind wins in the third period and seal those games off. On the other hand, we have to make sure that when we have the lead in the third, that we finish those off.”

HUGHES ON THE RISE

St. Lawrence senior George Hughes leads all defensemen in the nation in assists with 22. He also ranks second in the nation among defensemen in points (26) and points per game (0.93).

An assistant captain, Hughes has 94 career points (17 goals-77 assists) at St. Lawrence and is within reach of becoming just the third SLU defenseman to reach the century club in career points.

“That’s a pretty impressive stat,” Carvel said of Hughes, “and George has really cranked up his game. He’s an elite player at this level with his skating and his hockey sense.”

NATIONAL LEADERS

Greg Carey, who is on a seven-game goal streak along with linemate Jeremy Wick, is tied for the nation’s lead in points (42), ranks first in goals per game (0.71) and is second in points per game (1.50). Carey also ranks second in the country in power-play goals (nine).

Flanagan stands third in both points per game (1.41) and assists per game (0.93).

In the ECAC, Carey (24) and Flanagan (20) stand 1-2 in points, with Carey leading in goals (12). The duo — Flanagan (14) and Carey (12) — also comprises the top two leaders in assists in the circuit.

POWER PLAY SURGE

The Saints have tallied three power-play goals in each of their past two games and with 20.1 percent efficiency (29-for-144), 16th-best in the nation.

St. Lawrence is tied for fourth in the country in power-play goals scored (29) with Western Michigan, led by Carey,

The Saints stand third in the ECAC while on the man advantage (22.0 percent) and ranks second in power-play goals scored (18).

Conversely, St. Lawrence allowed four power-play goals last weekend and its penalty killing has slipped to last place in the league at 73.3 percent (55 of 75, allowing 20 power-play goals), and overall has allowed at least one-man advantage goal in each of its past 12 games.

Sportswriter Chris Fitz Gerald covers St. Lawrence University for the Times. He can be reached at cfitzgerald@wdt.net

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