Clarkson and St. Lawrence will battle for the 194th and 195th times on Friday night at Cheel Arena and Saturday night at Appleton Arena in one of college hockey's best rivalries. The Golden Knights have a decided advantage in the all-time series with a career mark of 118-65-10 against the Saints.
St. Lawrence has not defeated Clarkson since December 10, 2011 when the Saints were victorious, 4-1. Clarkson won the first two meetings last season, 4-1 and 3-1, before rallying from a three-goal deficit to force a 3-3 tie in the third meeting of the campaign.
"There's definitely extra emotion even just around town. Everybody in Potsdam wants to beat St. Lawrence and everyone in Canton wants to beat Clarkson," said Golden Knights senior Matt Zarbo, a candidate for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award.
"When you go in the building there is just nothing like a Clarkson-St. Lawrence game. The game has been sold out for two months now. The building is just so loud. Usually our pep band does a "Gold-Out" so half of one end is just gold jerseys. It's just an unreal atmosphere so that fires up every player," added the Grand Island, NY native.
The two teams certainly play a contrasting style with Casey Jones' team more defensive oriented while Greg Carvel's Saints like to play an up-tempo offensive system.
When you have a player like Greg Carey on your side, who can blame St. Lawrence for thinking offense first? The senior from Hamilton, Ontario has 11 goals and 18 assists in 16 games. Carey brings an 11-game point streak into the weekend, and has only been held out of the box score twice all season. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalst last season and is sure to garner even more recognition this season.
The Saints offense starts with Carey, but certainly doesn't end with him. His younger brother Matt, a redshirt freshman, has nine goals and ten assists. Senior Jeremy Wick has potted seven goals after only netting 17 in his first three seasons.
The Saints blue line can step up and contribute offensively as well. Senior Justin Baker has five goals and 11 assists while rookie Gavin Bayreuther has four goals and eight assists.
St. Lawrence's team defense and goaltending have been suspect and extremely inconsistent to say the least. Senior Matt Weninger is the likely starter as he is the team's workhorse. He has a 3.41 goals against average and a .875 save percentage.
Clarkson is off to one of its best starts in quite a while thanks to a senior-laden team with good leadership. "I think our mindset and our focus has changed. It helps to have a big senior class. Last year we only had four seniors. This year we have seven. It really helps to have the experience and leadership of a senior class to guide some of the younger guys. Our freshmen this year have contributed a lot. They've been very good for us. Overall our team just has more depth," said Zarbo.
A vast improvement in team defense has been another key to the turnaround in Potsdam. Sophomore Greg Lewis started the season on fire between the pipes, and although his numbers have slowed down, he is still a capable goaltender. The Mars, Pa. native has a .912 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average.
The defense in front of Lewis and freshman goaltender Steve Perry has been a big reason for the improvement in the goaltending statistics and the overall ability to keep the puck out of the net. Junior defenseman James Howden has the best plus/minus (+6 ) on the team while sophomores Paul Geiger and Kevin Tansey are just one behind. Junior Sam Labrecque is also a capable blue liner for being undersized. Freshman James de Haas, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, has made some rookie mistakes, but his size has added some force to the defense.
Zarbo said one of the keys to keeping Greg Carey and St. Lawrence off the board is to cycle the pucks well in the offensive zone. "One of the things we need to do is work pucks down low in [St. Lawrence's] end. Keep the puck as far away from our net as possible. You have to take aware that a kid like Greg Carey who can really shoot the puck is on the ice and keep an eye out for him when you're out there. Keep him to the outside and limit his scoring chances as best we can."
Clarkson is not known for its offense, but the Golden Knights have some dangerous forwards. Boston Bruins prospect Ben Sexton leads the team in scoring with three goals and 10 assists. Senior Allan McPherson is tops in goal scoring with seven while junior Joe Zarbo has four tallies, including two game-winners.
Zarbo said that the team needs to be level headed and not get too far ahead of itself after such a good start, especially with rival St. Lawrence on the agenda. "It's pretty much about keeping our emotions in check. We've had a great start, but we have a tough schedule ahead of us," said Zarbo. "We've got to keep on it and keep working hard and keep focusing on the things that keep us successful," he added.
Keys to the Series:
- Clarkson, the fourth-most penalized team in the ECAC, needs to stay out of the sin bin. The St. Lawrence power play is lethal, connecting at a clip of 28.6 percent.
- Goaltending will play a huge role in this series for different reasons. Clarkson's defensive style lends itself towards relying on goaltending, and it will certainly be important for Greg Lewis to play well. No defense can completely contain Greg Carey and company all weekend so Lewis will have to make some big saves to steal a few goals from SLU. On the other hand, SLU's goaltending has not been up to par statistically. A big weekend from senior Matt Weninger could go a long way in securing St. Lawrence's first victory in the series since 2011.
- Expect the unexpected. It is usually a unsung hero who comes up with a big goal in a rivalry series.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.