Men’s Hockey goes 1-0-1 in Western New York

Last weekend, the Colgate men’s hockey team opened the 2009-2010 season with a road trip to Western New York. The Raiders tied Niagara University, located in beautiful Niagara Falls, by a score of 4-4 and defeated the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers 3-2 in front of a record crowd of 7,421 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY.

This weekend was highlighted by the return of redshirt sophomore defenseman Kevin McNamara, who had not played a game since the 2007-2008 season after undergoing hip surgery the following summer.

“I had been itching to get back on the ice and in a game for Colgate since I had the surgery last August and found out that I would have to sit the year out,” McNamara said. “It was very exciting to get the season started and it felt great to be back on the ice with my teammates.”

On Friday night, Colgate started slowly, enabling the Niagara Purple Eagles to control the puck early on and generate the better scoring chances. Therefore, it came as no surprise when the Purple Eagles scored the first goal of the game on a breakaway at the 3:15 mark of the period. After the goal, Niagara kept the pressure on the Raiders’ end and scored their second goal of the period a little over three minutes later. Colgate seemed to wake up after falling behind 2-0 and started taking control of the puck and getting the better scoring chances. Their efforts were rewarded at the 17:34 mark when junior assistant captain Brian Day scored the Raiders’ first goal of the year, assisted by senior co-captain David McIntyre. It was Day’s first out of three he would score on the weekend.

“After a long summer trying to get back from hip surgery, I was really hoping to get out to a quick start and help contribute to the team’s success,” Day said. “Playing with a great center like David McIntyre makes my job easy and I feel like when our line is clicking there is no one in the country that can shut us down offensively.”

The second frame of the contest was similar to the first, as Niagara took advantage of their rivals’ slow start once again, scoring two unanswered goals. The first goal came at the 8:12 mark, and the second one at the 11:24 mark. From then on, the game belonged to Colgate. Having fallen behind, the Raiders had to rally in order to get themselves back in the game. A ray of hope appeared for Colgate towards the end of the period, at the 18:57 mark, when a shot by sophomore Nick Prockow went off junior Fran?cois Brisebois’ skate to cut the Purple Eagles’ lead to 4-2.

The third period of the game was different to the other two, as this time it was the Raiders who took the initiative. Colgate came out strong, desperate to cut the lead and tie the score. The boys from Hamilton put pressure on Niagara’s goaltender, but were unable to capitalize on their chances. The minutes were quickly running by and it seemed as if the Raiders might start the season with a loss, when Colgate’s prayers were finally answered and they cut the lead to one with Day’s second goal of the evening, assisted by sophomore defenseman Corbin McPherson and senior co-captain Ethan Cox with less than for minutes left to play. It appeared as if the Raiders would have to pull senior goaltender Charles Long in order to attempt sending the game to overtime; yet Colgate would once again come through. This time it was junior assistant captain Wade Poplawski, coming off a season ending injury last year, who scored the tying goal of the game with a little over a minute left to play in the contest, assisted by McNamara. Poplawski had strong feelings about the goal.

“I was really excited,” Poplawski said. “Anytime you score a goal it’s a good feeling, but given the circumstances, that there wasn’t much time left, it just added to the emotion.”

Neither team was able to score in the overtime period, although the Raiders came close with a few opportunities, and both squads came off with a tie in their first game of the season, in a game that could have been won by either team.

“Against Niagara we dug ourselves into a hole early on in the game and had to play from behind the entire game,” Day said. “We need to come out and play with the intensity we had in the third period from the start of every game to be successful. We had a lot of turnovers in the game and we need to do a better job supporting the puck.”

Saturday night’s immediate start was completely different to Friday’s. Colgate scored on its first shift, 22 seconds into the game as Day put the puck in the net for his third one of the weekend, assisted by McIntyre and first-year Kurtis Bartliff, who picked up his first collegiate point. After the Raiders scored, their opponents seemed to quickly wake up and it did not take long for them to knot the game at one at the 2:54 mark of the period. The Tigers went on to dominate the rest of the period, outshooting Colgate 15-5.

One of the strongest points of the Raiders’ play throughout the weekend was their penalty kill, which successfully overcame every one of the ten penalties they committed throughout the weekend.

“When it comes to team defense, hard work and communication are two of the most important factors,” Poplawski said. “So far we’ve done a pretty good job of being in shooting lanes and taking away time and space out there, but even though our penalty kill statistics look good, we can definitely still improve in that aspect of the game.”

While the Colgate power play did not generate goals this weekend, it did create a lot of offense and managed to maintain the puck on the opposing end throughout most of the two-minute stretches.

“The more we practice and gel as a unit, the better the power play will be,” McNamara said. “We’re starting to move the puck quicker, and it should lead to goals this weekend.”

The second period of the contest was similar to the previous four; the Raiders came out a step behind their opponents and allowed R.I.T. to take advantage of it. The Tigers took the lead at the 5:34 mark of the period, but they would not hold on to it for very long as, a little less than three minutes later at the 8:22 mark, sophomore forward Austin Smith scored his first goal of the year. He was assisted by linemates Prockow and Brisebois. At the end of two frames, the game was at a stalemate with the score 2-2.

The last period was different to the previous two, as Colgate came strong out of the game, determined to leave Rochester with a win and ruin the party for the 7,421 Tiger faithful. The Raiders controlled all aspects of the game, outshooting their opponents 16-7. Colgate’s game-winning goal came at the 7:05 mark of the period, when Smith scored a short-handed goal, assisted by first-year Thomas Larkin. The last 17 seconds of the game proved to be the most crucial of the game, as the boys from Hamilton were forced to stop the Tigers’ three-man advantage, as they had pulled their goaltender. Sophomore goaltender Alex Evin stood on his head throughout the entire night, but especially in the final seconds of the game. Evin stopped 29 out of 31 shots faced.

Coverage of Colgate’s Friday 1-1 tie and Saturday 4-1 loss against 15/16 University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks will appear in the October 22 edition.