Raiders Overcome New Year’s Struggles

Although the Raider men’s hockey team began winter break on the wrong foot, a battered, bruised and tired Colgate squad grinded out a three-game winning streak and, in the process, launched itself into sole possession of first place in the ECACHL. On Saturday night, the Raiders’ overtime victory over then tenth-ranked St. Lawrence earned them their eighth victory of the season at Starr Rink.

“There’s a lot of hockey left; this is barely the halfway point of the season,” head coach Don Vaughan said after his team’s thrilling win. “We’re not going to just sit on this one point lead. Standings are funny things; we can’t focus on them. We need to focus on the next game ahead of us, and take each game one at a time.”

After a brief respite from the fall semester, the men set out for Providence, where they participated in a weekend tournament on December 21 and 22. The team opened the tournament with a demoralizing 7-1 loss at the hands of the host Friars. The defeat snapped the Raiders’ six-game unbeaten streak and was also the most goals allowed by the defense this season.

Nevertheless, the Raiders returned the next evening and tied conference rival Brown. Although Colgate did not notch a victory, this game was significant because the Raiders were trailing 3-0 to open the final period. The team rallied all the way back, yet could not fully complete its comeback, falling just short in the waning minutes of the game. Although it was a disappointing way to get back on track, the Raiders began to shake off some of their rust.

While the Raiders were seeking to begin the new year with a much-needed victory, Bowling Green had other ideas. Colgate carried its Rhode Island woes down south to Kentucky and was shut out for the first time this season. Sophomore goalie Mark Dekanich made 27 stops, but received minimal assistance from his offense.

Hoping that a return home could solve Colgate’s new year difficulties, the Raiders returned to Hamilton to face off with St. Cloud State. Vaughan made a change in net in an attempt to spark his defense, placing sophomore Justin Kowalkoski between the pipes, but the visitors still came away with a victory and a tie. The Inability to preserve substantial leads doomed Colgate against St. Cloud State and, despite the awakening of the offense, it just was not enough to prevail.

“We’re banged up,” Vaughan admitted, citing causes for the team’s lack of face-off wins and tiring out towards the end of games. With injuries to sophomore Jesse Winchester and juniors Dustin Gillanders and Liam Huculak, the Raider bench was left short. To compensate for this, Vaughan suited four defensive lines, giving first-years Mark Anderson, Nick St. Pierre, Jason Fredericks and David Sloane a lot more playing time at the point, and also gave Kowalkoski a couple of starts during the break.

The losing streak continued after the team’s trip to Princeton, where the players never seemed to get set and fell to the underdog Tigers. The Raiders recovered from a two-goal deficit and pull the score to 4-3 after first-year Peter Bogdanich’s first collegiate goal, but a late tally by the Tigers put the Raiders away, 5-3.

Colgate, however, kicked its game into gear when it played 24 hours later against Quinnipiac. Although the Raiders trailed once again midway through the first period, they responded with three consecutive goals for the win.

Last Friday, Colgate took the ice against Clarkson, a team the Raiders had not beaten at Starr Rink since 1999. Sophomore center Tyler Burton scored the game-winning goal on a fluke play as the team edged Clarkson, 4-2, at Starr Rink. All Burton could do was shrug his shoulders after he notched his 11th goal of the season. The sophomore took a pass from senior captain Jon Smyth behind the net and threw a pass in front. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, the puck ricocheted off a Clarkson defenseman’s stick-blade and into the net.

“Its hockey,” Clarkson head coach George Roll reluctantly admitted after the game.

The following evening, Colgate battled for the top spot in the ECACHL against St. Lawrence. The Raiders seemed to have the game in hand midway through the third period, until a good two-on-two effort by the Saints’ top forward line tied the game at three. During the break before the overtime period, Vaughan sensed a pensive silence on the Raider bench.

“I told the guys to make sure to keep a third guy high, but they didn’t want to play reserved,” he said. “The guys wanted to win.”

Colgate proved to have the stronger legs in the overtime period, and eventually senior Ryan Smyth worked the puck free from a group of bodies behind the Saints’ net and found junior Marc Fulton sneaking unmarked towards the goal. Fulton received the pass and wristed one that barely squeezed through the goaltender’s arm.

“Throughout the weekend, the coaches made a point of telling us to ‘disappear,'” Fulton said after the game. “If you get ‘lost,’ the defense has a hard time covering you. I was just trying to get open in the slot and get the shot off as quick as I could.”

The first-place Raiders return to action this weekend hosting ECACHL foes Yale and Brown tonight and tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Two wins would put some cushion between the Raiders and the rest of the conference heading into next week’s huge games against Cornell.