CANTON Most college hockey teams, and St. Lawrence University is no exception, covet the opportunity to play at home in the postseason.
With one weekend remaining in the regular season, the Saints still have a chance to gain home ice for the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs, but to accomplish this, theyre going to have to play better at Appleton Arena.
St. Lawrence (12-16-4, 6-10-4) has been inconsistent at winning at home for much of the season as only four of its wins including one in conference play have come in Canton.
I think this will be a big test for us to see if we can get home ice, Saints senior goaltender Matt Weninger said. I think its important to play well at home, but I think its just as important to play well where ever we are. It doesnt really matter who we play in the playoffs, as long as we play well.
St. Lawrence, which hosts No. 8 Quinnipiac tonight and Princeton on Saturday night to close out the regular season, is 1-8-1 in its past 10 games in Canton.
We dont play bad at home, we just havent gotten the wins here, St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel said. Its different on the road ... I think were more focused in games maybe because we are on the road ... guys seem to be ready more to compete. But theres no excuse we need to win at home no matter who were playing.
Mathematically, the ninth-place Saints can finish as high as seventh place in the conference and as low as 11th.
But realistically, theyre hoping for a strong finish to pass eighth-place Brown and secure a home first-round playoff series for the third straight year.
This weekend is obviously huge for us, junior Chris Martin said. Obviously its a huge advantage to play at home in the first round of the playoffs, nobody wants to travel in the first round.
To accomplish this, St. Lawrence will have to reverse its recent fortunes on home ice.
In the beginning of the season we were on the road a lot, Saints senior captain Kyle Essery said. We adapted and won some big games. But if we get home-ice advantage, I have no worries.
While St. Lawrence is 4-9-2 at home, including 1-7-1 in the league, the Saints are 8-7-3 on the road (including 5-3-3 in conference play).
Im not entirely sure what it is, Martin said. Weve got to make Appleton a tougher place to play. ... but if it doesnt change soon, its not going to be good.
The Saints have generated recent success against ranked teams by winning two of their past three outings against top 20 opponents, including a 2-1 home win against Union on Jan. 31 and a 3-2 triumph at Quinnipiac on Feb. 8.
St. Lawrence is still in search of consistency. It has fared 2-5-1 against non-ranked teams in the second half of the season.
Its been the same all year long, Carvel said. Weve had the ability to beat really good teams, but we havent had the ability to bring the same focus and effort every night.
The Saints have generated success against Quinnipiac, going 6-1-1 over four seasons.
Weve made adjustments through the year, Carvel said. We had a meeting (Monday) as a team and discussed the focus part of our game and the consistency part of our game. I imagine coming into this last (regular-season) weekend well be ready to play a really good Quinnipiac team.
Martin, who has played on defense in recent weeks, including against Quinnipiac and Princeton, will again be called upon for duties on the blue line this weekend.
After skating on defense for a stretch of eight games, Martin played up front with the Carey brothers against RPI and Union last weekend, posting a goal and two assists in the win against the Engineers. Now Martin returns to defense.
We needed Chris up front to get some offense going, and he did that against RPI he really sparked us, Carvel said.
With three assists last weekend, senior winger Greg Carey established a personal career-high for assists in a season (36) and matched his career-high for points in a season (51). He now ranks sixth in all-time career points (179) at St. Lawrence and eighth in career assists (98). He also stands fourth in career goals (81).
Carey, a finalist for the Senior Class national academic award in collegiate hockey as well as a Hobey Baker Award candidate, leads the nation in assists and assists per game (1.12) this season and is tied for second in points while he is second in points per game (1.59).
St. Lawrences nation-leading power-play (28.5) percent went a collective 0-for-6 last weekend. Saints senior Jeremy Wick (12) and freshman Matt Carey (11) rank third and fourth in power-play goals in the country, while Carey (8) and Wick (7) stand 1-2 in man-advantage tallies in the conference.
Chris Fitz Gerald covers St. Lawrence hockey for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org