Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Scouting the enemy: Saint Lawrence Saints

For the second time in three weeks the No. 3/4 Quinnipiac Bobcats face off against the No. 19/16 Saint Lawrence University Saints. Its a match up of the top two teams in the ECAC with the Saints being in the top spot one league point ahead of the Bobcats. We have not yet hit the month of December in the college hockey season, but this may be one of the most important games of the season for Quinnipiac. Having already lost to Saint Lawrence on the road at Appleton Arena the Bobcats can ill afford to be swept against the Saints after giving up a home game to play them in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the Friendship Four tournament. A loss would not only put the Bobcats three points behind the Saints but they would lose any tiebreaker to them. The Saints (8-4-2, 5-0-1) are unbeaten in their last seven games after losing three straight to end October. This includes a 2-0 shutout of the Bobcats when the Saints put 34 shots on goal and blocked 19 Quinnipiac shots in the game. The Saints defense was excellent in that game, keeping a very good Bobcats offense at bay to get a rare shutout against Quinnipiac.

Gavin Bayreuther (photo by Tara Freeman/SLU)
Offensively, the Saints are on fire right now as one of only four teams in Division I to reach 50 goals so far. A weekend ago they scored 12 goals in a sweep of Yale and Brown. The Saints are currently averaging 3.57 goals per game on the season. They have three players averaging a point per game or more led by all league defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (5 goals and 11 assists). They also have five different players that have scored five goals or more. Juniors Mike Marnell and Joe Sullivan have seven goals apiece and 15 and 14 points respectively. Sophomore Jacob Pritchard has 13 points (5 goals and 8 assists) while senior Drew Smolcynski has 8 points (5 goals and 3 assists). They have gotten contributions from up and down the roster in players like Michael Ederer, Alexander Dahl, Michael Laidley, Ryan Lough and Carson Gicewicz who have all brought offense to the Saints this year. This is a team that also has five shorthanded goals on the season so they can bring offense even when down a man. One thing they are struggling with is their power play which is converting at a 9.76% clip (8-of-82). With the Bobcats penalty kill in the top ten in the country at 89.6% they will make it tough for the Saints to score on the power play.

The Saint Lawrence defense has been outstanding in its last seven games. Over that span they given up 1.28 goals per game with two shutouts. Overall for the season they are giving up 2.50 goals per game but the last seven games will be more of a reflection on the Saint Lawrence defense the Bobcats will see. This defense brings it lunch pail to the rink every night. They consistently get double figures in shot blocks in every game except one this season. They are averaging over 14 blocked shots per game which is outstanding and had a season high of 20 blocked shots against Union in a 2-2 tie. Bayreuther, Eric Sweetman and Ben Masella are the senior leaders back there and all play a huge role in the success of the Saints defense. Freshman Ben Finklestein is the lone draft pick on roster already has seven points (1 goal and 6 assists) while junior Nolan Gluchowski has nine points (1 goal and 8 assists). They are solid on the penalty kill at 84.8% (78-of-92) so they will make it tough for the Bobcats to score on the power play.

Kyle Hayton (photo by Tara Freeman/SLU)
Junior goaltender Kyle Hayton is an all league player who has played in 13 of the 14 games for the Saints this year. He got off to an up and down start in the month of October but in his last seven games dating back to October 29th against Minnesota he has been one of the best goaltenders in the country. He's given up nine goals in those seven games with two shutouts to boot. Not the biggest goaltender by any means he makes up for it with his great quickness and aggressiveness. He is playing with great confidence right now and it will be a difficult challenge for Quinnipiac to put many past Hayton especially with the defense he has in front of him playing at a high level.

The Bobcats need to really fore-check well in this game to put the Saints back on their heels and to create turnovers in the neutral zone and odd man rushes where the shot blocking ability of the Saints can be neutralized. Quinnipiac needs to a do a good job on its defense closing off passing lanes and blocking shots along with staying out of the penalty box. This is an important game for both teams as this game could determine who wins the ECAC regular season even with the majority of the league schedule still to play.

Jonathan Singer is a 2004 Quinnipiac alum. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathan_singer.

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