Raiders’ Cinderella Story Comes to a Disappointing Close

Ruben Leavitt

It was a heck of a run. Colgate’s men’s ice hockey team came into last Saturday’s game against No. 15 Princeton in the ECAC Tournament semifinals well-prepared and with high hopes after beating No. 7 Clarkson in dramatic fashion. In the first round of the ECAC tournament, Colgate defeated St. Lawrence at home in a gritty three-game series after losing game one, 5-2 in a game that the Raiders were never in. Then, Colgate traveled up to Potsdam and upset the Golden Knights, the one-seed in the tournament, in another grueling three-game series. Every game was decided by one goal, and yet again, Colgate came back after losing game one. Would the Cinderella continue its run in the ECAC semifinals in Albany? Although they executed their systems as perfectly as their coaching staff could have asked them to, Colgate’s hopes for a spot in the NCAA tournament were dashed with a 3-0 loss to the Tigers. All three Princeton goals were scored in the third period, two on breakaways and an empty-netter. Senior forward Tyler Burton and sophomore forward Ethan Cox had excellent chances during the game to break the scoreless tie, but Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba stood on his head and made some miraculous saves. The Tigers’ Matt Arhontas took advantage of a turnover in the Raiders’ defensive zone to score the first breakaway goal, and after Kalemba stoned an Cox shot attempt on goal, Princeton’s Kevin Lohry went in on net to score the second breakaway goal.

“We came in with a game plan and just could not find the back of the net,” Colgate assistant coach Brad Dexter said.

“I hate to bring it down to that, but that’s exactly what happened,” Raiders head coach Don Vaughan affirmed. “We played the game we wanted to – we limited their chances, which is difficult to do against [Princeton]. We hounded the puck and didn’t give them any grade-A scoring chances. Their goaltender [Zane Kalemba] made some spectacular saves. With what we’ve been through, and playing six games in ten days – four of them elimination games – I couldn’t have been more pleased [with our effort].”

“I think we played very well as a team this past weekend, although small mistakes obviously cost us,” Raiders’ starting goaltender Mark Dekanich commented. “We played great throughout the playoffs for the most part, and I am pretty proud of our guys for coming through when it mattered most.”

Amongst those who really came through for the Raiders during the playoffs were Burton (four goals, two assists), senior captain Jesse Winchester (two assists), Cox (two goals, one assist), and last, but certainly not least, sophomore David McIntyre. Coach Vaughan said that the Clarkson series was a “coming out party” for McIntyre, who netted four goals and a helper. One of those goals was notched in double-overtime of game three of the Clarkson series, which sent the Raiders on to the semifinals.

MacIntyre lifted the puck over the blocker of ECAC all-second team goaltender David Leggio at 7:36 of the second overtime, stunning the Cheel Arena faithful and sending the Colgate bench into a frenzy.

“That game was one for the ages!” Coach Vaughan said. “It was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever coached at Colgate.”

“Scoring the game-winning goal was more of a relief than anything,” McIntyre remarked about his heroic goal, “just because we were all getting so tired in the second overtime. All and all it was a team effort, and we were all extremely excited to beat the No. 7 team in the nation. For me, the most exciting part was seeing my teammates rush off the bench towards my linemates and I after the puck slid by Leggio [Clarkson’s goaltender].”

McIntyre followed up later saying, “We thought beating Clarkson was the start of a great playoff run. Clarkson was the best team in our league all year, and we felt that by taking them out, it gave us a great chance to win the ECAC tournament.”

“It’s difficult to know that you played well enough to win,” Coach Vaughan admitted, “but honestly, there was a fine line where we were in the standing compared to Clarkson. If it weren’t some losses toward the early part of our season we’d be talking about an at-large bid.”

“We had played so many clutch elimination games in such a short period of time, with the St. Lawrence series going to three as well as Clarkson, we treated the Albany final four just like the key games we were in the past two weeks,” senior Ben Camper noted. “We knew how solid Princeton was, but at that point we felt like we could play with anyone in the country. We beat Clarkson, a team going to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, after losing game one and coming back to win games two and three in their building. We were extremely confident coming into Albany, things just didn’t bounce our way.”

The Raiders closed up their season playing Cornell for third place in the ECAC. Three seniors recorded points (Burton, Camper, and Mike Werner) and sophomore Sean Carty put in his first career collegiate goal in a 4-2 losing effort. Burton’s goal, his 83rd of his career, gave him 155 points in 158 career games. His 155 points tie him with Andy McDonald for 16th on Colgate’s all-time scoring list, and his 158 career games played is a school record. The Raiders finished their season with an overall record of 18-18-6 and 8-9-5 in league play.

So what lies in store for the Raiders’ future?

“You don’t immediately replace a senior class like we had,” Vaughan replied. “It’s difficult to look ahead because [all those seniors made major contributions] to this program. Some [class] years have more impact than some other years, but that’s the cycle. That’s college hockey. We have to rebuild. We have great talent coming back. Our young guys got some quality minutes this season, which bodes well for them and us. The cupboard’s not bare.”

It was a season full of ups and downs, trials, tribulations and excitement. It is truly disappointing to see it come to an end. The silver lining forever remains – there’s always next year.