Silver Puck Weekend A Sweeping Success For Men’s Hockey

Alex Clark '05

After struggling through choppy waters for a couple of weeks, the Colgate men’s hockey team found smooth sailing last weekend as it embarked on its journey towards reclaiming the ECAC crown.

The Raiders welcomed Brown and Harvard last weekend, the squad’s first two league foes of the year. Having dropped two of its last three contests, Colgate seemed off course and out of sync. But a sweep of their New England opponents vaulted the Raiders back into the polls and to high spirits once again.

Brown entered Friday night’s contest having beaten Colgate only once in the last 12 matches between the two clubs. This particular Bear squad seemed superior to those of years past, however. The visitors executed a trapping style that clogged the neutral zone and impeded the speedy Raider forwards.

Without much room to maneuver, Colgate tried to take advantage of the open ice afforded it during power plays. But the Raiders managed only one goal in eight chances with the man advantage.

“We struggled to capitalize on our chances,” head coach Don Vaughan said. “When we didn’t score on our power play chances, I thought it was going to be similar to the Army game where we had an opportunity to put the game away and didn’t.”

Despite taking an early lead thanks to a goal from senior tri-captain Dave Thomas, Colgate once again found itself in a late hole, down 2-1 with less than five minutes remaining in the third period. With prime scoring chances all but nullified by the Brown trap, the Raiders used a lucky break to jump back in the game.

“We talked all week about creating traffic in front of the net,” Vaughan explained. “Our tying goal was just a result of [sophomore] Dustin Gillanders going hard to the net. [Senior] Eric Main threw a weak backhand towards the goal, and it went off of Dustin and went in. Once we got that we came back to life.”

After killing off a Brown two-man advantage in the final minute of regulation, the Raiders drew from the energy of the home crowd and stole both points from their opponent. Colgate junior Jon Smyth, who leads the team with six goals and 10 points, scored his second overtime game-winning goal of the season after hacking a beautiful centering feed from classmate Kyle Wilson past Brown goalie Scott Rowan. Smyth led the Raiders in points last season and shows no signs of slowing in this new campaign.

“You need your best players to be your best players,” Vaughan said of Smyth and the other leaders on his club. “You want your top guys to be better than the other team’s top guys.”

In the last few years, Harvard’s top players have not only outplayed those of Colgate, but they have dominated the men in maroon. The Raiders had defeated the Crimson only once in nine tries, with the goal differential during that time standing at an appalling minus-31. Senior goalie Steve Silverthorn kept a Harvard runaway out of the cards on this night, however.

Silverthorn, whose two-victory weekend pushed his season record to 7-1-0, stopped 21 shots on Saturday night, including some acrobatic saves both early and late in the contest.

“I thought he controlled his rebounds better on Saturday night against Harvard,” Vaughan said. “Like with many goalies, if he gets the shots early he has a tendency to get in the game quicker. In fairness to Steve, he hasn’t had a lot of work early in games this season.”

The Raiders leapt out to yet another early lead on Smyth’s second tally of the weekend. The Crimson crept back into the game with a game-tying tally early in the third period. Refusing to fall behind, however, Colgate senior tri-captain Darryl McKinnon buried a two-on-one rush just 90 seconds after Harvard’s goal, deflating the visitors and springing the Raiders to a tie for first place in the ECACHL.

“He’s got tremendous passion for the game,” Vaughan said of McKinnon, who stands only 5’9″ tall. “A lot of times this passion will make up for his lack of natural size and ability. Other times it’s just his head for the game. He’s probably the smartest player I’ve ever coached in terms of how he’s able to process things in the middle of the battle. He’ll turn around and say something to me that you don’t expect someone out on the ice to see.”A backhand goal from junior Ryan Smyth and an empty net notch for sophomore Marc Fulton finished off an impressive 4-1 dousing of Harvard. Colgate’s 7-2-0 start to the 2004-05 season caused USA Today and US College Hockey Online voters to rank the Raiders as the nation’s 14th best team. With another chance to showcase their skills against a non-conference foe this weekend, the Raiders hope to prove to their critics that they are for real.

“There’s a long way to go,” Vaughan concluded. “It’s a long season. The challenge for this team is going to be maintaining focus. When there are expectations placed on a team like the one we have this year, the intensity that you have to play with every night rises. We’re not sneaking up on anyone this year. Everyone is going to play their best game against us.”

The River Hawks of UMass-Lowell welcome Colgate tonight at 7:00 p.m. The Raiders hope to pick up their first victory against a Hockey East opponent this season before returning to conference play the following week.