Last weekend, the Colgate men’s hockey team traveled to New York State’s Capital District to take on the Union Dutchmen and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers for the first time since last March’s ECAC Hockey playoffs. On Friday evening, the Raiders dropped a heartbreaker to Union by a 3-1 score. Senior forward Mark Nasca scored his first goal of the year in the game. The following evening, Colgate ruined Rensselaer’s Alumni Weekend by blasting it 8-3. Senior forward Austin Smith was the star of the evening, scoring a career-high four goals to become the first player in college hockey to reach 30 goals this season. Smith also became the fourth player in the history of Colgate’s program to score 30 in a season and the first since 1988. He has now posted a career-high 45 points in 28 contests.
“It’s an honor to be recognized among some of the all-time Colgate greats,” Smith said. “I had big expectations for myself coming into the season, but I didn’t know I was going to be averaging a goal per game at this point of the season. I am having fun, and playing with great players like [sophomore forward] Chris Wagner and [first-year forward] Joe Wilson, and ultimately those two factors have been key in my success thus far.”
During Friday evening’s first period, the Raiders came out firing from all cylinders. Colgate took the game to the Dutchmen from the start and dominated play at the beginning. It was therefore no surprise when Nasca opened the scoring at 3:11, assisted by junior forward Billy Rivellini and sophomore forward Mike McCann. A little under nine minutes later, at 11:52, Union knotted the game at one and both teams would go into the intermission with a goal apiece.
The second stanza began with the Dutchmen taking the initiative and putting the Raiders on their heels. After the first few minutes of the period had passed and Colgate had withstood Union’s pressure, the Raiders regrouped and transformed the contest into an entertaining back-and-forth affair. Neither team got the better out of the other and the game remained tied heading into its last 20 minutes.
Early in the final frame, Colgate was called for a penalty and the Dutchmen cashed in on the power play to take a 2-1 lead that would stand throughout the rest of the contest. Union added an empty-net goal with 19 seconds left to make the final score 3-1 in its favor. Sophomore goaltender Eric Mihalik stopped 19 of 21 shots faced.
“There wasn’t much more we could have done,” Smith said. “It was a great hockey game with good scoring chances and team defense at both ends of the ice. At the end of the day, they got the bounce they needed on a power play to win the game. We had some great scoring chances, and their goalie made a few key saves. That’s hockey.”
The following evening, the Raiders came out with fire in their eyes, determined to spoil Rensselaer’s Alumni Weekend and salvage a split on the weekend. From the moment the puck was dropped to start the first period, Colgate dominated the Engineers in every aspect of the game. The Raiders executed their game plan to perfection. Colgate first got on board at 9:37, 10 seconds into a man advantage, when Smith scored his NCAA-leading 27th goal of the year assisted by junior forward Robbie Bourdon and junior defenseman Jeremy Price. Almost eight minutes later, at 17:09, Bourdon scored his 10th of the year to give Colgate a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. He was assisted by Price.
Early in the second stanza, Rensselaer came out buzzing, hoping to feed off the energy brought forth by the 4,800 fans present. It seemed to work, as the Engineers cut the Raiders’ lead to one at 3:06, but Smith once again came through for Colgate soon after, tallying his second of the evening at 4:40 after a spectacular feed from Wagner. Wilson was credited with a second assist. From then on, the floodgates opened, as the Raiders would add two more goals before the end of the period. Senior forward Nick Prockow made the game 4-1 at 16:44, assisted by Price and junior forward Kurtis Bartliff. A little under two minutes later, at 18:40, Smith completed his third career hat trick, scoring off assists from junior tri-captain Thomas Larkin and Wilson to send Colgate to the second intermission holding a commanding 5-1 lead.
The final frame brought more of the same as the Raiders made the game more of a blowout. Larkin made it 6-1 on a power play at 6:07, assisted by senior tri-captain Corbin McPherson and first-year forward John Lidgett. A little over a minute later, at 7:36, Smith scored his career-high fourth goal of the evening, assisted by Wagner and Wilson to make it 7-1 as fans began leaving the building. At 14:17, Bourdon completed his third career multi-goal night off assists from senior forwards Matt Firman and Austin Mayer to make it 8-1. Rensselaer finally broke the string of six consecutive tallies by the Raiders at 15:53. After a questionable call by the game officials, two Colgate players were sent to the penalty box at 17:55 to give the Engineers a two-man advantage for two full minutes. Rensselaer was finally able to score a third one at 19:01 to make the final score of the shellacking 8-3 in the Raiders’ favor. The most important thing to take from the game is the manner in which Colgate’s offense awoke from one night to the next.
“There wasn’t much difference at all in our offensive effort except for the fact that we converted on our scoring chances,” Smith said. “We executed the same game plan, and ultimately wore RPI down. Consistent efforts from everyone helped us explode offensively and cap off a big night.”
This upcoming weekend, the Raiders will play host to Ivy League opponents Yale University on Friday and Brown University on Saturday in what will be a crucial weekend towards seeding in the postseason. Colgate will be looking to avenge a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Yale back in November and to sweep the season series against Brown.
“We have been extremely consistent in our play throughout the last four games and we are looking to build off it,” Smith said. “Everyone has committed to playing team defense and making big plays at crucial junctures of the game. We want to play a full 60 minutes on both nights, and bring more energy and jam than our opponent. We also love the fact that we are playing at home.”
Both contests are slated for a 7 p.m. start.
Contact Jaime Heilbron at [email protected]