Fire On Ice Skates: Men’s Hockey Off To Best Start Since 1990

Fire On Ice Skates: Men's Hockey Off To Best Start Since 1990

Alex Clark

Last season, the Colgate men’s ice hockey team won the ECAC regular season title for the first time since 1990. This year, the club succeeded in another task not completed by a Raider team since 1990: winning its first four games. A weekend home sweep of Lake Superior State brought the fans to their feet and the team’s record to 4-0-0 against Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) opponents. The senior members of the 2004-2005 Colgate squad had yet to win even their first game in each of their first three seasons. Last weekend the team jumped out to its best record in 14 years, defeating Lake State 3-2 on Friday night and 2-1 in a Saturday overtime thriller. The Raiders improved to 3-0 in one-goal games this season. “We can take something from winning games without playing our best hockey,” head coach Don Vaughan said. “The message has to be that we did it, but we have to find a way to start playing our best every night. We know that the play is going to be continually elevated every week.” Colgate, picked to finish second in the ECAC, struggled to find room to maneuver against the oversized Lakers. The Raiders’ offensive chances were limited despite facing a team expected to end up at the bottom of the CCHA pile. In the first game, the home team fell behind, 1-0, in the second period. The squad knotted the score at one late in the middle frame, however, on an Eamon DelGiacco breakaway goal. After returning to the ice from the penalty box, the senior defender snuck behind the defense and roofed a backhander past Laker goalie Jeff Jakaitis. The goal marked the Fairfield transfer’s first tally in a Colgate uniform. The Raiders snatched the lead from Lake Superior State in the third period when senior tri-captain Dave Thomas banged home a rebound off of a Marc Fulton shot. The sophomore improved his game over the summer and is beginning to show signs of why Colgate made him its first scholarship athlete in school history last season. “It was difficult for Marc to come in halfway through last year,” Vaughan said. “The team was just starting to play well, so it was hard to change the lineup so he could do much. He never got into a rhythm. He’s had a great summer. He’s a very bright guy. He knows his game and he has figured out what he needs to do to be effective.” Other Colgate scholarship athletes are showing signs of potential as well. First-year Tyler Burton came down with the flu and was unable to play, but continues to impress coaches and teammates alike in practices. Meanwhile, while not factoring into the weekend’s scoring, classmate Jesse Winchester looked sharp and wowed fans with some nifty stick-handling and big hits. “He’s a pretty good first-year,” Vaughan said of the 21-year-old Winchester. “He’s a big guy and he plays a big man’s game. For a first-year to come in and do that is exciting. He’s a little bit older, but there’s still an adjustment, and he’s playing beyond his years.” Colgate failed to put the visitors away, fanning on multiple opportunities throughout the contest. This allowed Lake Superior State to tie the score at two with a power play goal late in the third period. “I was a little concerned about a lack of intensity around the opposition’s net,” said Vaughan, who watched his club go 1-for-10 with the extra man during the weekend series. “We weren’t fighting though the traffic in front of the net. We’ve got to find a way to get more shots off.” But junior Jon Smyth, Colgate’s leading scorer from a year ago, buried a one-timer just one minute after Lake State tied the game. The Markham, Ontario native, marked as a preseason all-ECAC team member, snapped home a pass from sophomore Mike Campaner that had deflected off of senior tri-captain Adam Mitchell’s skate. The Raiders held on to their one-goal advantage and collected a 3-2 victory. The next night scoring chances flowed, but neither team could find the back of the net. Senior goaltender Steve Silverthorn, also picked as a member of the preseason all-ECAC team, turned aside 22 of 23 shots he faced on the night en route to his 35th career victory. “Coming into the season he knew he was going to be the guy,” Vaughan said. “I made it clear to him at the end of last year that it was his job to lose. I’m sure he prepared a little differently knowing that, and he’s done very well.” Thomas scored his second goal of the weekend on a nice redirection of a Fulton pass. The goal marked Colgate’s only score on the power play. Lake Superior State then tied the contest with a fluke tally. A shot from the blue line kicked off of a defender’s stick, leaving Silverthorn out of position to stop the second effort. When the final horn of regulation sounded, fans buzzed nervously, afraid that their team might come away with a tie or even a loss to a younger and less talented club. No one on the Raiders bench panicked, however, as the squad, led by nine seniors, calmly discussed its game plan. Even Vaughan stood aside, allowing his senior captains to lead the huddle and gather the men. “We’ve got a veteran club,” Vaughan explained proudly. “Every guy on the ice has been there before. There was sort of a quiet resolve because they knew what they needed to do and how to do it. I didn’t have to say much, and that’s a great feeling as a coach.” Sure enough, Colgate proved it had been there before and could do it again. Campaner, who leads Colgate with seven points in only four games, created a turnover deep in the Lake State end and centered to Mitchell, who was floating through the high slot looking for a one-timer. The senior buried the shot, sending the crowd into hysterics. The 2-1 victory kept the Raiders tied for the best record in college hockey. The 4-0 Raiders play host to Hockey East opponent Northeastern tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. The Huskies have already knocked off then top-ranked Michigan this season and are looking to continue their fine play against Colgate from last year, when they went 1-0-1 against Colgate.