Clarkson Tops Men’s Hockey… Again

Alex Clark

Another home weekend split cost Colgate its top spot in the ECACHL this week, but set the team up for a chance to leapfrog their archrival Cornell with this weekend’s home-and-home series.The Raiders began last weekend with a slim one-point lead in the league standings over the Big Red. With Cornell playing well of late, Colgate knew it would need a solid two games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson in order to maintain this edge.Colgate’s effort on Friday night proved more than solid. The men in maroon came out flying, attacking St. Lawrence in its own zone and not allowing the Saints significant possession time. The Raiders out-shot the Saints, 15-3, in the first period, a differential that actually appears closer than the actual play itself.”In terms of playing as a group defensively, it may have been our best game,” coach Don Vaughan said. “We didn’t give up a lot of chances in our end. Senior goaltender Steve [Silverthorn] may not have had a lot of shots, but he had three or four key saves at critical times in the game.”The Raiders got on the board first with a two-man advantage late in the opening frame. Senior tri-captain Adam Mitchell slid a perfect pass through traffic to find first-year Tyler Burton wide open on the Saints’ backdoor. Burton, who currently leads the team in goals scored, tapped the puck into the wide open net, giving his team a 1-0 lead. The second period exhibited a spunkier visiting team, but more overall dominance from the home squad. Colgate padded its lead when sophomore Liam Huculak sent a beautiful wrist shot over the right shoulder of St. Lawrence goalie Mike McKenna. After failing to score in his first season with the Raiders, Huculak has four tallies this year and has figured more prominently in generating scoring chances.”There’s a lot there,” Vaughan said. “It took him a little while last year to adopt to the speed. The big thing for Liam has been building his confidence. He can shoot the puck and he’s got good offensive instincts. It’s just a matter of getting him to believe it.”Burton extended the Colgate lead to three just 49 seconds into the third period with a rebound goal, putting the game well out of reach for the overmatched Saints. While St. Lawrence finally managed a power play goal, it could not find the answer to Silverthorn, who turned aside 28 shots in the victory.The following night went less smoothly for the Raiders. Clarkson, who entered the contest having surrendered no goals to Colgate in its last three contests in Starr Rink, appeared determined to keep the streak alive right from the start. The Golden Knights shut down any semblance of a Colgate offense in the first period, and jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Raiders began to break their opponent’s stifling trap. One example of the Raiders’ offensive woes can be found in their power play conversion rate. Colgate finished the night 0-for-6 on the man advantage, as it struggled finding consistency, especially on its ever-changing second unit. While the first line has experienced much success this year, with Burton and junior Jon Smyth leading the way with a combined 11 power play goals, a formidable second line has yet to develop.”We’re trying to get something to work on that unit,” Vaughan said. “Our other unit is moving the puck around nicely and capitalizing on its opportunities. We are just trying some different personnel to develop some chemistry.”The only other Raider to record five or more power play goals, sophomore Marc Fulton, was a healthy scratch last weekend. Fulton, along with junior Zac Tataryn, watched from the press box, where Vaughan relegated them after recent struggles and foolish errors.”We all know that a lot of offense is being generated on the power play,” Vaughan explained. “Zac lost his discipline in a game and as a result he sat out a weekend. You have to understand that an untimely penalty can be the difference. Marc’s a great goal scorer, but he got a little bit away from doing the other stuff. We’ve got to pay attention to detail defensively.”Colgate came to life late in the second period and throughout the third period, and even drew within a goal of Clarkson. First-year defenseman Matt Torti’s first collegiate goal snapped the scoreless curse against the Golden Knights at Starr Rink at a little over 233 minutes and sliced the visitors’ lead to one. But the Raiders failed to cash in on multiple prime chances as the clock wound down, and fell one point behind Cornell with the 3-1 loss to Clarkson.”We had a couple of tough bounces,” Vaughan said. “I thought we had a couple of great opportunities to tie that game, but their goaltender played great. I’m not faulting our effort. There have been nights where we didn’t skate hard. That wasn’t the case on Saturday.”Tonight, Colgate faces its archrival in a game with tremendous playoff implications as well. The Raiders host the Big Red with a chance to jump back into first place before traveling to Ithaca for yet another battle with Cornell. With the atmosphere sure to be charged, Vaughan remains confident that his nine seniors will find a way to calm the nerves and emotions of their club.”When you have an experienced club like ours, it’s a matter of having them lead the way,” he said. “When the puck drops on Friday night there’s going to be a lot of energy. But if the older kids and the coaching staff are keeping their composure, that will translate to the younger guys on the team.”Colgate is holding 1,000 tickets for exclusive distribution to students in the hopes that a large turnout, like that of last year, will help shut out the visiting Cornell fans. Students can only pick up their tickets between 4-6 p.m. on Friday afternoon. After 6 p.m., all tickets will be available. Also, free food and music will be provided beginning at 5 p.m. at Starr Rink. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.