Student-athletes are making the most of their summer in Canton.
Head Women’s Hockey Coach Chris Wells ’92 was keeping a close eye on the national college hockey landscape during summer 2020, uncertain if there was going to be a season due to the pandemic. At the same time, St. Lawrence students were asked to provide the University with their preferred academic schedule, selecting two from among three modified semesters—fall, spring, and summer—to reduce the on-campus population to a safe and allowable limit.
The women’s hockey team is benefiting from recent renovations at Appleton Arena, as ice was kept in the rink through June 11, giving the team the opportunity to skate later into the year than ever before.
“The new compressors and LED lighting system have made a huge difference in our ability to keep ice in Appleton as our days and nights get warmer here in the North Country,” says Wells. “We got to keep skating well into June, and that combined with the fitness levels that the players have attained with all their hard work this summer is going to have a huge impact on what our baseline will be when we start back up again this fall.”
Wells had been thinking about asking the players to stay home over the fall semester and enroll during the spring and summer terms when, on July 8, the Ivy League (which includes six institutions that compete in ECAC Hockey) announced that it would not permit intercollegiate athletics competitions during the fall semester. Losing half of the league for the fall semester sealed the deal for Wells.
“At the time, we didn’t know how much hockey was going to be played in 2020 and felt like waiting and seeing what played out could be a big advantage to our student-athletes,” says Wells, who will enter his 14th season as the Saints head coach this fall.
The first women’s college hockey game of the season was played on November 20 (the season typically starts in late September), and there were only 68 women’s college hockey games played in all of NCAA Division I before January 1, 2021. Unfortunately, the delayed arrival of the student athletes for the spring term put the Saints a few weeks behind the rest of their competitors, and their January 20, 2021, 8-1 loss to Clarkson made it clear there was some catching up to do.
Despite the lopsided score in the opener, the Saints closed the regular season with three straight wins over Clarkson, then beat the Golden Knights 4-3 in overtime in the ECAC Hockey semifinals to advance to the league championship game.
“It took us a bit to get up to speed with the other teams, but by the end of the season, we were playing our best hockey and came up one goal short of a championship,” says Wells. “Beating Clarkson four times in one week will be something that we will all remember.”
The real genius behind Wells’ plan, however, is the use of the summer term. Thanks to a one-time change in NCAA rules, coaches can work with student-athletes for a total of 114 days this year, with no restrictions on when those days can be. The women’s hockey team has been able to train and practice together through the months of April, May, and June.
“Most of our team for next season have been on campus this summer, and with the COVID-19 vaccine readily available, we have been able to train weekly under NCAA guidelines, and we have seen significant improvement in all our student-athletes,” says Wells. “With such a young team, it has been perfect. It really has given us a great lead-in to the next season."
While women’s hockey is the only team that had a full squad of players on campus this summer, several other teams have been able to organize small group practices and individual student-athletes have been working out on their own.
“If they were at home, they would be playing with a club,” says Head Men’s Soccer Coach Mike Toshack, who had eight student-athletes taking classes during the summer term.
“So we’ve tried to make sure they’re on track on the fitness side of things when they get back here in August. Being able to do conditioning with the ball and work on individual skill development has been really nice, and with the group of players that we have here over the summer, we’re able to work on situations from a tactical standpoint as well.”
The practice sessions have also offered student-athletes a break from a demanding, compressed academic schedule.
“I see practice as a mental break from the stressors of academia,” says senior men’s soccer captain Bobby Reynolds ’22. “Soccer practice is something that I look forward to because it provides me with a sense of normalcy and structure in my day and allows me to play the sport I love.”
Connor Lambert ’22, a member of the Saints’ indoor and outdoor track and field teams, is using the summer term to rehab after pulling his hamstring while competing in the decathlon at the All-Atlantic Region Track and Field Conference Championships in late May.
“Right now, I’m rotating through a rehab schedule of exercises and rest to be able to run ASAP,” says Lambert. “At home, I have access to a gym, an athletic trainer, and a track, but all of these things range from a 10- to 40-minute commute. On campus, it has been easy because it’s all right here. If any sort of athletic injury arises, it was easy to get into the training room and get it taken care of.”
With the hopes of a return to a more recognizable practice and competition schedule in the fall, the St. Lawrence student-athletes enrolled in the summer term are taking advantage of their time on campus to prepare.