Men’s Hockey Triumphs in Duo of Big Red Defeats

When all is said and done, last weekend may very well prove to be a turning point for the Colgate men’s hockey team. After going 0-5-1 throughout the first three weeks of January, the Raiders have regained the confidence that they carried throughout the first half of the season. On Friday, Colgate defeated Cornell in Ithaca for the first time since 2004 by a score of 2-1 and repeated the same feat the following evening at Starr Rink with a 5-3 win over its travel partner in front of an over-capacity crowd of 2,414, the biggest seen at Starr in over a decade.

The Raiders’ top line consisting of senior forward Austin Smith, sophomore forward Chris Wagner and first-year forward Joe Wilson was once again a determining factor in the team’s success as each player collected several points over the weekend and the trio accounted for five of Colgate’s seven goals throughout the weekend.

“The sweep against Cornell is a confidence booster, especially after dropping a few games as of late,” junior defenseman Nathan Sinz said. “But we have to move forward from last weekend and start focusing on Friday night.”

On Friday evening, the Raiders stepped into Lynah Rink determined to end their seven-game winless skid and did so by making a statement in the first period. At the 4:03 mark and while kill­ing a penalty, Colgate drew first blood. Wagner scored his second short-handed goal of the sea­son, after setting up a nice two-on-one situation with Smith, who got the primary assist. Junior defenseman Jeremy Price received the second­ary assist after having fed the puck to Wagner in the neutral zone, thus starting the play. That was the Raiders’ ninth short-handed goal of the year. Throughout the rest of the stanza Colgate com­pletely dominated play, something that was not reflected in the scoreboard as Cornell’s Andy Iles robbed the Raiders on several occasions. Towards the end of the period, Wilson added to Colgate’s lead at the 17:16 mark, with helpers going to ju­nior forward Kurtis Bartliff and senior forward Nick Prockow.

In the second stanza it was the Big Red’s turn to control play and for the Raiders’ Eric Mihalik to stand on his head and make several inspiring saves to preserve Colgate’s lead. After several min­utes of incessant pressure and a relentless fore­check, Cornell cut the Raiders’ lead to one tally at 13:50. The ensuing minutes proved to be the most crucial ones of the contest, as the Big Red usually feeds off the raucous crowd after a goal and once they score at home, another one usu­ally follows. Colgate, however, clamped down defensively and was able to preserve the 2-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

The third frame of the contest was arguably the Raiders’ strongest defensive effort of the season and of the past several years.Colgate held Cornell to a single shot on net and played a smart road game, dump­ing the puck whenever a skater hit the red line. The Raiders played as a team and each skater and player, from Mihalik to the six defensemen to the 12 forwards, had a role in coming away with the victory. Colgate was forced to kill two questionable penalties in the last five minutes of the game, and did so with poise, stopping a Big Red power play that has been strong throughout the years, especially at home.

“We knew the crowd was going to be in it and try to shake us, but everyone did a good job of blocking it out and taking care of business on the ice,” Sinz said. “After the second period, we knew that we would have to win an ugly game by making smart plays with the puck, not turning it over and putting it deep in Cornell’s zone.”

The following evening, it was the Raiders’ turn to play host to Cornell and at­tempt to defeat them at home for the first time since 2007. The first period did not begin the way Colgate was hoping, as the Big Red dominated play throughout the first few minutes. Cornell got on the board first at 7:32, but the Raiders quickly drew even when Smith scored his NCAA-leading 25th goal of the campaign at 10:37. The Big Red retook the lead at 16:17, but Colgate had started to impose its will on its opponent once again.

The second stanza saw the Raiders take over puck possession and dominate Cor­nell, but the Big Red’s goaltender frustrated Colgate and its forwards every chance he had. Cornell added to its lead late in the period, scoring its first power play goal of the weekend at 15:55, which gave them a two-goal lead entering the last 20 minutes.

Traditionally, the Big Red has been one of the best teams in the country at protect­ing third period leads, thus the task that the Raiders had at hand was huge. Colgate entered the final frame with a determination to end a streak of frustrations against Cornell at Starr Rink. Wilson sparked the comeback with his seventh tally of the year at 4:39. A little over a minute later, Smith scored his NCAA-leading sixth shorthanded goal of the year and the Raiders’ 10th, which also leads the country, to knot the game at three, assisted by Wagner and junior tri-captain Thomas Larkin. Several minutes later, at 14:54, Colgate broke its streak of three games without a power play goal, when junior forward Robbie Bourdon tallied the game-winner off assists from Wagner and first-year defenseman Spiro Goulakos. With 43 seconds left in the contest, junior tri-captain Thomas Larkin scored his first goal of the year, an empty-netter to seal the sweep for ‘Gate.

“The comeback was a great group effort starting in goal,” Sinz said. “We played a smart game and took advantage of a few key turnovers. Joe Wilson’s effort to score our second goal was tremendous and really gave us a spark. The team did a great job on the penalty kill and we capitalized on a big power play as well.”

With the two wins, the now No. 20 Raiders improved to 14-9-3 on the season and 8-5-1 in ECAC Hockey play. This upcoming weekend, Colgate will travel to the Capi­tal District to take on No. 11/12 Union, who currently sits at the top of the league standings, on Friday and Rensselaer on Saturday.

“The ECAC standings are really tight, and from here on out we’ll have to continue to win one shift at a time,” Sinz said. “When we take care of the puck in our zone, limit turnovers and work it below their goal line, we’re tough to beat and we are looking forward to doing just that starting this Friday night.”

Both contests are slated for 7 p.m. puck drops.

Contact Jaime Heilbron at [email protected].