CANTON — The craziness of 2020 continued Thursday as the St. Lawrence University men’s hockey team canceled its opening weekend of games against Niagara due to COVID-19 cases on campus.
SLU, which is coming off of a 4-27-5 season last year, was scheduled to host the Purple Eagles at 5 p.m. Friday and then play a game at 5 p.m. Sunday at Niagara.
But the number of COVID-19 cases on campus grew to nine, which caused the school to change its alert level from green to yellow, which means a moderate risk. Clarkson now is scheduled to open its season with a game at Clarkson on Dec. 5.
“We are disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity to open our season this weekend, but we know how important it is to keep our campus community safe and healthy during this time,” Saints coach Brent Brekke said.
SLU’s schedule has changed many times in recent weeks. As of now the Saints have six nonconference games lined up before the ECAC Hockey portion of the schedule begins. The conference announced Thursday that it will consist of just four teams with Clarkson, Colgate and Quinnipiac joining the Saints. A conference schedule will be released within the next few days.
The Saints were supposed to play nonconference games against RIT, but the Tigers canceled their season last week when the Liberty League, which hosts RIT’s NCAA Division III teams, announced it was canceling winter sports. But RIT had a change of heart and is now playing in Atlantic Hockey again this year. However, it is too late in the process to bring back the games with SLU.
“There’s still a lot of day-to-day stuff we are trying to figure out,” Brekke said Wednesday. “I think (the team) has been pretty resilient the last three months.”
Practices started in October, around the usual time during a normal season, so Brekke had to get creative to keep things fun while still getting in the work needed to prepare for a season that started much later.
The Saints staged weekly competitions among the team every Saturday, where different players took turns being general managers and selecting a small team from among their teammates.
They skated in skills and game competitions and at the end of the day, Brekke awarded one of the teams a trophy, which happened to be one of his son’s old youth hockey trophies. The players responded by acting similarly to winning an ECAC Hockey title in Lake Placid, hoisting the trophy in the air and skating around the arena waving to imaginary fans.
“The guys had fun with it,” Brekke said. “For us it was a real focal point of this season to create more offense. It gave them something to really prepare for and gave them bragging rights at the end of the week, so it was fun.”
Training at SLU has been a mix of skill work, individual sessions with each player and also getting the team to learn the systems.
“We took some great strides individually and also as a team,” Brekke said. “You become a lot better when each individual gets better with his own skill level. You don’t want it to be monotonous coming to the rink and doing the same thing every day.”
SLU faced a lot of work heading into this season. Last year, in Brekke’s first season as coach, the team struggled on both ends of the ice. SLU scored only 64 goals in 36 games and gave up 130. The team also lost its top three expected returning leading scorers to transfer or early departure.
“I think we’ve been good (offensively),” Brekke said of practices. “Our returning guys have driven the pace of practice and the compete level. Our young guys have brought some good skill in on the offensive side, which we were lacking last year. We have some youth (on defense) as well. It’s been a new mix with new faces to try to blend them together and see what our defensive (pairings) are going to look like. (Defenseman Dylan Woolf) comes back and he will be in his third year (as a captain). To have that type of leader on the back end is important.”
SLU has rotated goalies the past few years and returns sophomore Francis Boisvert, who played in 15 games last year, along with junior Emil Zetterquist, who was in seven.
“Someone has to earn that net,” Brekke said. “We have three guys (including freshman Grant Adams) competing for it. You need to have guys who win hockey games. We had some great performances last year with our goalies, but lost a lot of close games. We have to find somebody to win hockey games.”