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Saints on the way up

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Although the St. Lawrence University hockey team’s campaign ended earlier than it hoped, there is reason for optimism for next season.

After all, the Saints will return a host of players, including Greg Carey, who still leads the nation in scoring.

Yet the program loses a talented senior class to graduation, including two-year captain and Kyle Flanagan and assistant captain George Hughes, the nation’s leading scorer among defensemen.

The Saints, who were eliminated from the ECAC Hockey playoffs in the quarterfinal round at Yale last weekend and finished at 18-16-4, still made strides this season.

“There were a lot of high points in the season for us,” St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. “And for the program in my first year as head coach, I’m very thankful for the effort that this group put in. It was led in a large part by Kyle, whose been a tremendous captain for us — he led in every regard. He’s as good a person as he’s a hockey player — I’m really going to miss him.”

Carey and Flanagan became the first pair of Saints to be selected as Hobey Baker finalists in the same season, and, along with Hughes, were each chosen as All-ECAC first-teamers.

“Individual accolades are nice, but our season didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” said Carey, who entered the weekend leading the nation in goals (28) and power-play goals (14) and stood second in points (51). “Last weekend is still fresh in our minds — Yale is a very good team and they beat us solidly two games in a row. It’s bittersweet — it’s nice for the team to have these honors, but its also bitter that we’re starting our spring training here while other teams are still playing.”

Flanagan, a Canton native who went on to turn pro when he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers this week (he assisted on a goal in his first pro game Saturday), finished with 147 points in 134 career games and his 101 career assists rank seventh all-time in the program’s history.

Picked to place sixth in the ECAC standings in both the league’s coaches and media polls, the Saints finished in a tie for fifth place at 9-9-4, an improvement from its eighth-place finish in the 2011-12 season.

“I think people said Greg Carvel had some pretty big shoes to fill when Joe Marsh retired from the program,” Carey said. “But I think Greg has done a great job this year.”

St. Lawrence opened its season by winning five of its first six games, including splitting a season-opening series at ranked Western Michigan Oct. 12-13 and then won two games at Maine Oct. 19-20. After the sweep of the Black Bears, the Saints were ranked for three weeks, moving up as high as No. 13 before slipping out of the rankings.

After their early season run, the Saints struggled through the middle portion of the season, and dropped as low as 12th place in the ECAC.

Sparked by a 3-2 victory over Yale on Jan. 12, St. Lawrence generated a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) and would go on to lose just once over an 11-game stretch (9-1-2), including a 2-1 win at top-ranked Quinnipiac on Feb. 15 to halt the Bobcats’ unbeaten streak at 21 games.

After losing its last three regular season games, the Saints finished tied with Dartmouth for fifth and were was seeded sixth in the postseason based on a tiebreaker. They went on to host Colgate in a first-round playoff series, and swept the Raiders by scores of 4-2 and 4-1, before they were swept by Yale in the next round.

“Looking back on the year we won 18 games and we got further than we did last year,” said junior goalie Matt Weninger, who has started for the team since the playoffs in his freshman season and holds the school record in career saves (2,668) and appearances (98). “We did some great things, and it’s unfortunate that we didn’t get it done against Yale. But I think we can be proud of this season and I think the future of this program is bright.”

The Saints struggled to find consistency throughout the season, particularly on defense. They scored 107 goals in 38 games but allowed 109. In ECAC play, they ranked fourth in goals scored (60), but finished last in goals allowed (67).

“We’re going to have to be a much better team defensive team,” Carvel said. “We were not a great defensive team this year, we gave up a lot of goals and a lot of shots. So as a team, that’s kind of our next goal — to be a harder team for teams to play against.”

Returning forwards also include Jeremy Wick, an assistant captain who set career season highs in goals (14), assists (14) and points (28) in his junior season and ranked fourth in scoring while skating on the Saints’ top line. Also returing are junior forward Kyle Essery (7-4-11) and sophomores Gunnar Hughes (7-16-23), Chris Martin (7-11-18), Patrick Doherty (9-4-13), Tommy Thompson (5-5-10) and Justin Bruckel (1-1-2), as well as freshmen Sean McGovern (0-8-8) and Alex Hagen (0-1-1).

Defensemen likely to return are current juniors Justin Baker (5-21-26), Riley Austin (2-2-4), Pat Raley (1-6-7) and freshman Ross McMullen, with freshman goalie Kyle MacDonald to return as well.

The Saints also will have a freshman-laden lineup as 11 recruits are headed to the school this fall in Carvel’s first full recruiting class.

“We lose a lot of key pieces to the puzzle, but we’re getting a lot of new players in,” Carey said. “We just have to train hard this offseason and come in to next season looking to redeem ourselves.”

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