After Disappointing Season, Men’s Hockey Looks to Build



Jaime Heilbron

Tomorrow night, the Colgate men’s hockey team will begin the 2009-2010 season when they visit College Hockey America (CHA) opponent Niagara University. The following night they will face the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, a member of the Atlantic Hockey Conference, at the Blue Cross Arena. The hosts expect a crowd of 9,000 people to show up for their home opener. This will be a difficult start to the season for Colgate, since both teams have played hard against the Raiders the last few times they have faced each other. When they last faced the Purple Eagles in the 2006-2007 season, Colgate lost two out of three games played, including a 3-2 defeat at Starr Rink. They last played R.I.T. in the opening weekend of the 2007-2008 season, taking a 6-5 decision at home.

“Both of these teams can really skate,” Head Coach Don Vaughan said. “We expect two fast-paced, in-your-face hockey games this upcoming weekend.”

This year the Raiders return fifteen skaters and all three goaltenders from the 2008-2009 season. Colgate returns its top four scorers from last year: first team All-American and ECAC senior captain David McIntyre, sophomore forward Austin Smith and junior forwards Brian Day and Fran?cois Brisebois. The rest of the returning forwards are also expected to increase their production this upcoming year.

The Colgate blue line is highlighted by the return to the ice of sophomore redshirt Kevin McNamara and junior Wade Poplawski. McNamara sat out all of 2008-2009 after having undergone hip surgery the summer before. Poplawski was out after twelve games last year when he left the game against Colorado College over Thanksgiving Recess with a torn ACL and meniscus. Sophomore defenseman Corbin McPherson also returns after a solid first-year campaign and is expected to build upon it as one of the three veteran defensemen on this year’s squad.

As stated before, all three goaltenders return from the 2008-2009 season. Senior goaltender Charles Long earned the starting position at the end of last year, but sophomores Alex Evin and Bryan Bessette also got a taste of what it means to be the starter. Since it is a new year, all three have an equal opportunity at gaining the starting position for this campaign.

The Class of 2013 is another talented group of hard-working skaters. After graduating four defensemen from last year’s squad, it will be up to first-year NHL draft picks Jeremy Price and Thomas Larkin, along with Mike Leidl and Nathan Sinz, to replace them and start contributing from the start. The Raiders have also gained four new forwards in Kurtis Bartliff, Robbie Bourdon, Christian Long and Billy Rivellini who will be adding to the Raider offensive threat from the day one.

Last Saturday, Colgate hosted an exhibition match against the University of Waterloo from Canada, which it defeated by a score of 6-3. Three of the Raider goals were scored on the power play. Two were scored by returning students Smith and McIntyre, one by Poplawski, who just returned from injury, while Bartliff and Bourdon added one and two, respectively. Vaughan was pleased by the balanced offense demonstrated in the game.

“In order for us to be successful, we need to have a balanced offensive attack,” Vaughan said. “We relied too heavily on a couple of guys last year. We have the potential to score goals but to actually do it takes a lot of hard and unselfish work.”

It was a solid outing for the Raiders, who outshot the Warriors by a 42-27 margin. Vaughan, however, gave valuable feedback on what the team needs to work on before the upcoming weekend’s contests.

“We really need to do a better job of getting the puck out of our own end cleanly,” Vaughan said. “We will continue to work on puck support in all areas of the ice. I liked how our young defensemen handled the pressure, but our forwards need to help out more in our own end, especially now that the regular season is starting and the pace and tempo pick up.”

Last year, Colgate finished 10th out of 12 teams in the ECAC and were eliminated by the Quinnipiac University Bobcats in the first round of the conference playoffs in a hard-fought three-game series, in which every game went to overtime. The Raiders, however, were close in most of their games, having played an NCAA-record 19 overtime games. If some of those ties or overtime losses would have gone Colgate’s way, the story might have been different. The Raiders hope to use last season as a learning experience in order to be more successful this year.

“We will need to play consistent hockey in the ECAC,” Vaughan said. “There is a very fine line between winning and losing in this league and one goal or one bad shift can be the difference between getting the first round bye and playing at home in the playoffs or having to travel. The statistics will tell you that finishing in the top four of the league, gives a team the best chance to advance the Albany Final Four. When I say consistent I mean that we have to be consistent in our effort, focus, attitude, special teams and goaltending.”

Colgate’s first seven games will be non-conference matchups against Niagara, R.I.T., two against the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the UMass-Lowell, Army, and Niagara once again. The Raiders open ECAC Hockey play on the weekend of November 6, hosting the Harvard Crimson and the Dartmouth Big Green.