Despite Semifinal Loss, Men’s Hockey Team Still Wins

Alex Clark

Colgate is dancing. With a victory against Vermont in the consolation game of the ECACHL Tournament in Albany, the Raiders secured themselves a ticket to the NCAA Tournament and a match-up with #3/4 Colorado College this afternoon in Grand Rapids, MI.The third-seeded Raiders reached the ECACHL semifinals thanks to a quarterfinal sweep of Brown on March 11-12. Arriving in Albany, Colgate knew it needed at least one victory to gain an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. A pair of victories would crown the team ECACHL champions and automatically send them to the Big Dance.Colgate met Harvard last Friday night in a thriller. The teams played a physical game through two periods, with the Crimson gaining a 1-0 lead heading into the third. The Raiders tied the game just 27 seconds into the frame on junior Jon Smyth’s rebound goal.The contest remained knotted until four minutes remained in the period. At that point, a fury of action ensued. Harvard regained the lead with a redirection goal under the pads of senior goaltender Steve Silverthorn. Only 45 seconds later, Colgate senior defenseman Joey Mormina deflected a puck that came careening off of the boards behind Crimson goalie Dov Grumet-Morris into the net to tie the score at two.Harvard responded with yet another go-ahead goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Once again, Mormina answered with a goal, firing a neat pass from senior tri-captain Darryl McKinnon past Grumet-Morris a mere 36 seconds after the Crimson tally. “At that moment in that game, Joey Mormina refused to let it end,” Colgate head coach Don Vaughan said. “He took the game over. It’s really fun to watch on videotape, because he wasn’t ready to go home. He took the game to another level.”The two teams battled through a full 20-minute overtime period without finding a winner. In the unusually warm Pepsi Arena, Colgate’s players began to suffer physically from the drawn-out affair.”The guys had lost a lot of fluid, and they were cramping,” Vaughan said. “We got down to three defensemen in the first overtime, so we had [senior] Adam Mitchell back on the point for a few shifts. I don’t think anyone realizes just what was happening on our bench.”I think the MVP of the weekend was Steve Chouinard, our trainer,” Vaughan added. “He did a great job keeping fluids in guys, running back and forth from the locker room, and trying to work muscle cramps out.”Unfortunately, Harvard scored the game-winning goal 16 minutes into the second overtime, marking the end to the third longest game in ECACHL Tournament history. Colgate’s nine seniors returned the locker room as losers of yet another first game of a tournament. Over the last four years, the Raiders have gone winless in seven tries on the opening night of a tournament. The consolation game, which normally is relatively meaningless, took on nearly as much importance as the championship game, however, as while both Harvard and Cornell were already safely in the NCAA Tournament (the Big Red won the ECACHL Tournament championship game, 3-1, over the Crimson), Colgate and Vermont each needed a victory to reach hockey’s third season.”For us, thinking ahead was the easiest part of the whole evening after the Harvard game,” Vaughan said. “We knew that our next game was our season. We had to beat Vermont to get in, and once the guys heard that you could see the spark come back into their eyes.”Emotionally I felt that we could rally our guys and get them to be there mentally. But I really had my doubts if we could be there physically. Muscles were still very sore.”Colgate jumped out to a very important 2-0 lead on the Catamounts, however, thanks to power play goals from first-year Tyler Burton and Mormina. While Burton banged home his team-leading 19th goal on a rebound, Mormina connected on a neat back-door pass from Burton while running a play that the Raiders attempt in nearly every game while on the man advantage.”People know that it’s coming, but it’s still very hard to defend,” Vaughan said. “To get the puck cleanly on Joey’s stick requires perfect timing. It’s a good system in terms of X’s and O’s, but it’s still all about execution.”Mormina’s three tournament goals earned him the honor of being named to the ECACHL all-Tournament team, the only member not on Cornell or Harvard’s roster.Despite allowing Vermont to cut the 2-0 lead in half, Colgate held on thanks to grit and a determined penalty kill unit. The Catamounts scored only once on 12 power play opportunities, and the Raiders even stymied Vermont while down two men for over 90 seconds. “You almost will yourself to get it done,” Vaughan said. “Our guys stepped up and refused to give it up. It wasn’t like we were tired and we kiddie-barred the door and didn’t have to worry about them pressing. We gave up some opportunities, and the guys really stepped up.”With the 2-1 win over Vermont, Colgate felt sure that it would be named to the NCAA Tournament the following day during the selection show on ESPN. After two of the four regional sites had been announced, however, many of the Raiders began to squirm, having barely missed out last year.”I had to keep reassuring the guys,” Vaughan joked. “I had the most to lose in terms of credibility, because I had told the guys that they were in. But you never know what the committee is going to do. The deeper into the show, the more antsy I got.”Finally, Colgate was announced as the NCAA’s 14th-seeded team and was assigned to face Colorado College in Grand Rapids. The Tigers lost, 1-0, to Denver in the WCHA championship game, but have been ranked first in the polls for many weeks throughout the season.”I’ve been watching them on film, and they’re dynamic, exciting and all around the puck,” Vaughan said. “We’ve got to find a way to slow them down. If we give them ice through the middle of the rink, they’re extremely dangerous.”Colgate faces off against Colorado College at 5 p.m. tonight. The game can be seen in Central New York on Time Warner Cable (Channel 26). Should Colgate advance, the Raiders will face either Wisconsin or Michigan tomorrow.