Carvel, Flanagan look to make St. Lawrence contenders again
by Adam Wodon/NYHJ Writer
There’s a picture at St. Lawrence. It shows Greg Carvel speaking to a bunch of young school children in their classroom, doing some community service, as players tend to do. In that picture is a young Kyle Flanagan.
Today, Flanagan, now as a captain for St. Lawrence, is the one who speaks to the young kids. And Carvel, then a standout two-way forward for the Saints, is Flanagan’s new coach.
A pair of Canton, N.Y., natives, it shows how closely tied they were, are and will be, as they look to team up to turn the Saints back into ECAC Hockey title contenders.
If last season was a transition, with longtime head coach Joe Marsh stepping aside for a yearlong leave of absence, this season marks the official turning of the page. After a couple of years battling various physical ailments, Marsh officially retired during the offseason. As a result, St. Lawrence, which had been led by Marsh since 1985, has a new coach.
Last season, Carvel got re-acclimated to Canton by serving as co-coach with another former standout, Mike Hurlbut, who was a defenseman for St. Lawrence in the late 1980s. But Carvel, who was the ECAC’s first Defensive Forward of the Year Award winner, had a lengthy resume in the pro coaching ranks, and was thus in better position to take over the top spot.
“I feel fortunate I had that year to get involved,” Carvel said. “I laid some groundwork and got a foundation on how I’d like the guys to play. The guys know what to expect. With Flanagan and (senior defenseman George) Hughes, we have two potential first-team All-ECAC players. We didn’t lose a lot.”
Carvel brings in experience in playing modern systems, breaking down video, lots that most of today’s coaches do, through his years coaching in two Stanley Cup finals, with Anaheim and Ottawa. He’s a contrast from Marsh’s more old-school, coach-from-the-gut mentality.
And, while it will be difficult replacing someone as beloved as Marsh, for Flanagan and his teammates, the emotion of losing the longtime coach was felt more last season. This year feels more like a fresh start.
“Last year was the transition year,” Flanagan said. “It was tough because Joe’s our head coach and he couldn’t be there when he wanted to. This year, we already knew what would happen. This is more of a we-can’t-wait-to-get-going kind of year.”
Flanagan was second on the team last season with 14 goals, tied for first in points with 37 and among the nation’s leaders in power-play goals with nine. This season, he is expected to top those numbers and lead the Saints back to the top half of the league standings.
“I don’t see it as a weight on my back at all,” Flanagan said. “I like the challenge and worked real hard this summer for it, and I plan on having a big year. I’m still working, looking at video and trying to improve. I don’t see it as a burden at all. It’s my responsibility as a senior captain to put up points.”
While Flanagan could be a Hobey Baker Award candidate, his linemate, Greg Carey, is considered the more purely talented of the duo. For Carey, entering his third year, it’s a matter of more productively harnessing his thoroughbred nature.
“He worked hard this summer to get in better shape,” said Flanagan, whose father, Paul, was an assistant for Marsh for many years and now coaches the women’s team at Syracuse. “There’s no doubt he can play at the next level. He can be a dominant force in this league and the country.
“I always go to the corners and grind. He’s more of a guy that finds that soft area, space. … It’s always positive. It’s a pretty good relationship. We have a good chemistry.”
Carvel is hoping that chemistry pays off with yet another level that the duo hasn’t even seen yet, especially Carey.
“We have to have some expectation for ourselves,” Carvel said. “The last couple years St. Lawrence has been middle to low (in the standings). We have to be top half. That might be lofty expectations, but with Flanagan, if he stays healthy, you might see him as one of 10 Hobey finalists. With Carey, we’re trying to address with him some deficiencies. If he does, you might see him take off.”
Carvel expects it to be a balanced team, with room for improvement on both ends.
“I wouldn’t say offensively we’ll score a ton, and I don’t think we’ll shut down teams either,” he said. “We have some guys that are game-changers that I think can be counted on to score big goals. If we just play solid hockey on both ends, we’ll find ways to win games. We have enough size, speed and grit. We have to be better defensively and the goaltending (has) to be better.”
St. Lawrence has tried to address the goaltending issues by bringing in Kris Mayotte as the second assistant coach. Mayotte, a former goaltender at Union College, received rave reviews from Cornell head coach Mike Schafer during his time working with the Big Red as their volunteer goaltender coach.
Matt Weninger got the most playing time last season and is back for his junior year, but he had just an .896 save percentage a year ago, which will not cut it.
“I like Matt. He sees the puck well. His rebound control is his biggest issue,” Carvel said. “But he’s athletic; he competes. I think he’s got the fundamentals to be a good goaltender.”
Said Flanagan: “We have a lot of guys back. Our top scorers are back. Young guys that got experience last year. I’m real excited to get going. We’re going to surprise a lot of teams.
“I think it all comes down to how fast can we get to our potential. Obviously, you’d like to get there sooner than later, but it’s going to have to be everybody. We can’t just rely on two lines and a couple defensemen.”
Flanagan has the added weight of being captain, something he, again, embraces. He has, after all, grown up in this environment, from the time he was a young boy, sitting in that classroom, listening to Carvel, like he is now.
“Some things were tricky being a junior as a captain,” Flanagan said. “But now as a senior captain, it becomes second nature, getting the guys going. We’re starting this new culture because the last two years were rough. The tradition at St. Lawrence has always been so strong. We want to get back to where Joe had the team, when ‘Carvy’ and ‘Hurls’ played here. That’s the slogan right now is to get back to where we were.
“I want to be a part of that. I grew up watching this program, and I want to leave this program better than when I came in.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.