Entering Brown’s Meehan Auditorium and taking a look at St. Lawrence’s line chart on Saturday night, I was struck by one thing and one thing only- On that line chart, the Saints had just three forward lines and three D-pairs, which is something I had never seen before in my career of covering DI college hockey. It has always been normal to see a team missing maybe one on that chart and dressing 17 skaters, instead of the normal 18, but seeing a team short three bodies is something I cannot think of. I am sure it happened a lot in the old days, but today it just never happens that way.
In retrospect, the line chart had just eight forwards listed as Philip Alftberg was playing a wing and he is a natural defender. Going deeper, eight of the fifteen were freshmen and only two of the forwards were upperclassmen. The fact half the lineup were freshmen would cause any team to struggle, but coupled with the depth issues it is just a disaster.
Depth is so key in college hockey and not having it often times leads to even more problems, so to see a team have so many injuries is something that is just uncommon. On Saturday, I felt SLU was giving their all and Mark Morris was coaching enough to show there is hardly an issue with either of those aspects, but the numbers game just was not in their favor. In fact, I will go as far to say being so short is just not competitive and if the injuries are long term, it will be a long season in Canton. It is normal for a team to be missing guys, but to be down 7 of 15 forwards is just tough.
Morris didn’t want to talk on Saturday, understandably so. Morris called me on Monday, and called this season “one of the most challenging seasons I have ever experienced.” Those are strong words considering how long he has been coaching at a high level.
According to Morris the injuries have been cumulative throughout the season. It should also be mentioned the Saints had a brutal early season schedule that saw it face Michigan, Penn State, North Dakota x2, Wisconsin x2, Providence and Umass-Lowell. It wasn’t ideal, Morris knew that coming into the year, but the injuries have hampered any and all progress their may have been.
Michael Laidley entered the season with an injury, which was known, and that certainly didn’t help to start things off. Laidley has been out since week three last season and Morris thinks he might return sometime this year. It has only snowballed from there. Mike Marnell is the biggest name on the mend and he was injured coming out of the Wisconsin series. He has been out four games and given his injury riddled 2016-17 season, it should be a wonder if he will come back. Michael Ederer has been out since week two and has missed the last eight. Other names that weren’t in the lineup over the weekend included Ryan Garvey and Taggart Corriveau. SLU also lost Carson Gicewicz against Yale, which left it even more shorthanded on Saturday than it was on Friday.
“It has been a head-scratcher for me,” said Morris. “We started the year with 15 forwards, eight D and three goalies. It has been a parade to the training room so far. We had a tough schedule, that was very daunting, and I am still in the process of retooling this roster. I like the efforts I have seen but when you are so shorthanded it is extremely taxing.”
Now comes the hope that guys soon return, but Morris seems to think many of them are long term. The Holiday Break is coming and getting to it might just be what the doctor ordered. When asked if he would bring anyone in early, Morris answered “Anything is possible and every option is on the table.”
“We have had an extremely interesting first half and it doesn’t seem like it will slow down any time soon,” said Morris. “If we can get through we hope that we have a whale of a second half. I am proud of the guys. We will continue to reinforce all the things that need to happen for winning to take place. At this point we need bodies and we will continue to fight the challenges we are under. You got to have the horses to compete in this in league. If we can get through the first half and stay as healthy as possible, then hopefully the new year can bring us the team we foresaw at the beginning of the year.”
The one thing concrete, is that Morris is expecting to bring in a body from SLU’s club team to help with depth. He didn’t mention who, he just mentioned he watched the kid play for the first time before I spoke to him on Monday. It is certainly not the best option, but is one that is often used in college hockey.
I can clearly admit, I entered not realizing the dire straights the Saints were under in terms of its lineup and depth, my thoughts immediately turned to the why. It was my clear intention of entering Meehan wanting to see what had gone so horribly wrong for SLU, in a season I felt it had plenty of talent to at least put itself in the top half of the ECAC standings. At the end of the day, however, the numbers just don’t jive and won’t until more bodies enter the fray. That is the sad reality-if you don’t have 18 skaters, the depth just isn’t there.
“We like the kids we have, we have a lot of character in the room,” said Morris. “Yet, no one could have foreseen what has unfolded and what continues to unfold on us. I guess on the bright side, a lot of the newcomers are getting a trial by fire and no better way to learn than being thrown right in it.”