Last weekend, the Colgate men’s hockey team welcomed the Rensselaer Engineers and the No. 8 Union Dutchmen to Starr Rink for Senior Weekend. On Friday night, Colgate lost 4-2 to RPI and the following evening 5-3 to Union. The top line of senior Austin Smith, sophomore Chris Wagner and first-year Joe Wilson continued to roll, responsible for three of the five goals scored in the two games. Smith reasserted himself as a leading candidate for the Hobey Baker Award with a three-point performance off a goal and two assists on the weekend, becoming the first Raider since current NHLer Andy McDonald ’00 in 1999-2000 to reach 50 points in a season, while Wagner became the first Colgate skater to reach the 30-assist plateau since McDonald did it that same year.
Even though they lost both games, the Raiders managed to finish in fourth place in ECAC Hockey due to overall league records, and therefore earned an automatic spot in the tournament’s quarterfinals.
“It is a huge advantage to get a bye in any situation, but particularly in a league like the ECAC in which every single team is competitive,” senior forward Matt Firman said. “There are no easy first round games and we were able to earn a weekend off while eight other teams in our league are fighting to stay alive.”
Friday’s game could not have had a worse start for Colgate. The visiting Engineers came out with more energy and took the game to the hosts in the first period. After a while, ‘Gate seemed to wake up and evened out the game a bit, but the Raiders found themselves unable to figure out Rensselaer’s stingy defense. Despite being outplayed throughout most of the period, Colgate still managed to outshoot its opponents 18-6 in the frame.
Early in the second stanza, the Raiders were awarded a power play opportunity. It was the Engineers, however, who cashed in on the special teams opportunity, scoring a short-handed goal at 5:05. The disadvantage seemed to wake up Colgate, as it began to apply pressure in the offensive zone, yet the team found itself unable to beat RPI’s Scott Diebold. The Raiders finally came through and tied the game at 15:47 when Wilson scored off assists from Smith and Wagner. A little less than two minutes later, Colgate took the lead when first-year defenseman Spiro Goulakos scored his third goal of the year at 17:43 assisted by Wagner and junior defenseman Jeremy Price. Just when it seemed like Colgate was about to go into the second intermission with the lead, a questionable penalty was called on the hosts with six seconds left in the period. The Engineers did not take long to take advantage of the situation and scored at 19:58 to make the score 2-2 heading into the final 20 minutes.
The third frame was completely dominated by the Raiders. While RPI did score two goals, one 15 seconds into the period and the other at 18:02, Colgate had the visitors on their heels throughout the entirety of the stanza. The Raiders simply ran into a goaltender that stood on his head, stopping 49 of the 51 shots that Colgate poured on him and thus ‘Gate ended up losing the game.
“We ran into a hot RPI goaltender on Friday and we weren’t able to put it in the net despite having tons of grade-A scoring chances,” Firman said. “Also, our team defense was a little loose at times and we allowed them too much time and space with the puck. They played a hard game and showed how deep the ECAC is. Anybody can win on any given night.”
The following evening, Colgate came out with fire in the first period, determined to defeat Union and secure a top four spot on its own. The Raiders controlled the first few minutes of the game, yet it was the Dutchmen who opened up the scoring at 5:35. Colgate answered soon after with a power play tally by junior forward Robbie Bourdon at 7:11, assisted by Smith and Price. A little less than four minutes later, however, Union retook the lead at 11:03.
The Raiders once again outplayed the Dutchmen in the second stanza, although not by much, yet they found themselves on the short-end of the stick. At 7:36, senior forward Austin Mayer gave Colgate its second goal on the man advantage, yet only 18 seconds later, Union capitalized on an odd-man rush to take a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
At the 1:06 mark of the third frame, the Dutchmen scored once again to take a seemingly insurmountable two-goal lead. The Raiders fought hard throughout the entire period, yet found themselves facing a tough goaltender for the second night in a row. Colgate managed to cut Union’s lead to one when Smith scored his 34th goal of the year in as many games on the power play at 15:38, off assists from Goulakos and Wagner. The Raiders had several golden opportunities to knot the game at four, yet the Dutchmen’s Troy Grosenick stopped everything that came his way. Union scored an empty-net goal at 19:32 to seal a 5-3 victory. After having struggled throughout the past few games, ‘Gate’s power play woke up on Saturday, as the hosts scored three times on the man advantage.
“It is huge to take advantage of the power play situations in the playoffs because even strength goals are hard to come by,” Firman said. “The energy in a playoff game is heightened, which makes goal-scoring tough. Hot power plays tend to be the difference in tight, hard fought playoff games.”
Colgate will now rest for a week and await its opponent in the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals, which will take place at Starr Rink on the weekend of March 9-11. The Raiders will take on the highest remaining seed.
“We just need to remain focused and let the bottom eight teams beat each other up,” Firman said. “We will spend some time looking at last weekend and correcting the mistakes that were made. Being at home will be nice because we have played well at home this year and no team will be comfortable coming into our building.”
Each quarterfinal game is set for a 7 p.m. start.
Contact Jaime Heilbron at