Rivalry still special

Rich Fyle column

From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:

It seems like the hill becomes steeper and steeper, or more specifically, the ice becomes slicker and slicker.

But new St. Lawrence University men’s head hockey coach Brent Brekke will accept all challenges, despite a mighty obstacle over the next six weeks. That’s what new head coaches do — start planning for the immediate future and then the beyond.

First, the Saints entered this season coming off a program-worst six wins from 2018-19, and Brekke was hired by the university heads to turn around a program that has gone a horrendous 14-56-4 overall (.216 winning percentage) over the past two years.

One small gain — or big depending on the university’s view — was accomplished Saturday night. The Saints, who lost in Brekke’s SLU coaching debut in overtime to Mercyhurst on Friday night, gave the new man his first victory behind the bench Saturday with a 3-2 victory over the Lakers.

Check that one off the program’s 2019-20 wish list.

With first victory in hand, Brekke and the Saints will now face an early-season, daunting challenge. The team’s home rink, Appleton Arena, remains under construction. SLU will not be able to play at its home until Nov. 29, forcing the team to play four “home” games down the road at SUNY Canton’s much-smaller ice arena, including two this weekend.

The Saints’ first 14 games this season will be played away from Appleton. Yikes!

However, Brekke’s mission in practices and the early going will be to stress strong consistent play in all three zones, stay upbeat, keep penalties at a minimum and avoid big discrepancies in shots on goal.

Once SLU settles into its renovated digs, the schedule becomes more favorable. The Saints play nine of 13 ECAC Hockey games at Appleton from Jan. 3 through Feb. 22, with only two weekend road trips in between.

It’s only two games into a new season, but Brekke’s staff has instilled a more positive energy into games. The power play went 1-for-4 overall, and the Saints killed a respectable eight of 10 penalties, an improvement over last season’s 74.2 kill percentage.

Along with more experienced players who should exude more confidence, the Saints will still be a second-division team, but there’s a reasonable chance for a double-digit win season for the first time since 2016-17. That would be a nice building block toward respectability.

n Richie Rich’s Top 10 rankings in the NFL: 1. Patriots; 2. 49ers; 3. Saints; 4. Seahawks; 5. Bills; 6. Vikings; 7. Packers; 8. Ravens; 9. Texans; 10. Chiefs.

Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at rfyle@wdt.net

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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