Men’s Hockey Wins Three Straight Over Break

Jaime Heilbron

Over the past couple of weekends, the Colgate men’s hockey team has reaffirmed itself as a force to be reckoned with in NCAA Hockey. On Friday, November 18, the Raiders defeated the Quinnipiac Bobcats, 3-1, in their ECAC Hockey home opener. The following evening, Colgate completed the weekend sweep by taking down the Princeton Tigers with a score of 4-1. Six days later on Black Friday, the Raiders increased the winning streak to three by winning at Vermont, 4-1.

Senior forward Austin Smith was stellar for ‘Gate over the stretch, scoring five goals in the first two games and adding an assist in the last one, to put himself at the top of college hockey in goal scoring. Sophomore forward Chris Wagner has also maintained his strong play, obtaining four points off a goal and three assists during the stretch. Senior goaltender Alex Evin and sophomore goaltender Eric Mihalik were both fantastic in net, combining to allow only three goals in 98 shots.

“I would have to credit to my line mates and teammates who push me every day in practice to get better,” Smith said. “It all comes down to hard work and focus around the net. Scoring chances are generated through outworking your opponent and committing to wanting it more than anyone else.”

The first period of the contest against Quinnipiac was arguably Colgate’s weakest of the season thus far. From the initial puck drop, the Raiders found themselves being outplayed and outhustled by the Bobcats in every facet of the game. It came as no surprise, therefore, when Quinnipiac drew first blood at 15:50. A little less than three minutes later, however, Colgate was able to knot the score at one with Smith’s first tally of the evening at 18:25, assisted by junior defenseman Jeremy Price and junior tri-captain Thomas Larkin. The Raiders were outshot 14-6 in the period and only Evin’s strong goaltending separated them from a temporary deficit.

The second stanza was similar to the first. The Bobcats seemed to simply want the game more and kept outhustling Colgate and winning the battles along the boards. The only goal of the period came after a great individual play by Smith, who quickly skated around the net and put the puck in on the wraparound at 18:10 for his 12th of the season, assisted by Wagner and first-year defenseman Spiro Goulakos.

The third frame saw the Raiders playing to protect the lead. Colgate came out and played a smart brand of hockey that consisted of getting the puck deep, working it down low and being responsible on its own end. Quinnipiac was eventually forced to go for the extra skater, which left the net open and gave Smith the chance to complete his second career hat-trick – both against the Bobcats – and seal the deal at 18:42 to give his team a 3-1 victory.

“We didn’t play our best game against Quinnipiac, but we found a way to win,” Smith said. “Good teams find a way to win, and on that night, we got a couple key saves from Evin and we buried on our scoring chances and that was the difference.”

At the beginning of Saturday’s first period, it appeared as if the Raiders had learned their lesson from the previous evening and came out the hungrier team, determined to win its second straight game. Colgate completely dominated the first 20 minutes, but impressive play by Princeton’s goaltender kept the Raiders off the scoreboard until senior forward Austin Mayer scored his fourth power play goal of the year at 14:17, off assists by senior tri-captain Kevin McNamara and Larkin. A few minutes later at 19:34, Smith scored his fourth of the weekend, assisted by Larkin to give his team a comfortable 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

The second stanza came and went without much fuss. Only one penalty was called, against Princeton, and Colgate was unable to capitalize on it. The Raiders once again controlled the pace of the game but the Tigers’s Sean Bonar made some incredible saves to keep his team in the contest.

Mihalik’s shutout bid ended at 1:46 of the third when Princeton cut the Raiders’s lead to 2-1. The goal seemed to inject life into the Tigers, as they proceeded to control the game throughout the first half of the frame. First-year forward John Lidgett gave Colgate an instrumental tally when he scored his first intercollegiate goal at 9:50 on the man advantage, assisted by Mayer and McNamara. His tally regained a two-goal advantage for the Raiders and gave them insurance, which helped them release some of the tension. Smith capped off a phenomenal weekend adding his fourth short-handed goal of the year a little over two minutes later at 11:56 to seal a 4-1 victory for Colgate.

“On Friday, we didn’t play our best game and we knew Princeton would be coming in desperate for a win,” Smith said. “We focused our game plan on out-competing and winning all of our battles. Since we are a good skating team, energy is key for us. Whenever we are jumping, we are hard to beat. Ultimately, the desire to get better and the urge for the sweep propelled us to victory on Saturday.”

Six days later, the Raiders took the road for the final time in the calendar year, traveling to Burlington, Vermont to take on former ECAC Hockey rival the Vermont Catamounts. In the first period of the game, the Raiders came out flat. Colgate was severely outplayed by Vermont, who outworked and outhustled the Raiders for every puck. The Catamounts opened the scoring at 11:26 and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room, forcing Evin to make 14 saves throughout the first 20 minutes.

From the beginning of the second stanza, it seemed as if a different Colgate team had taken the ice. This time it was the Raiders outworking their opponents and winning most battles along the boards. Wagner knotted the game at one, with his fourth goal of the year and the first short-handed one of his career at 1:10 assisted by Smith. Towards the end of the period, first-year forward Joe Wilson gave Colgate the lead by sniping one past the Catamounts’s goaltender at 19:25, receiving assists from Wagner and McNamara.

In the third frame, the Raiders came out to play smart hockey, with the goal being to preserve the lead and take home another important win. Vermont’s desperation gave way to mistakes on its own end, which Colgate capitalized on. Senior forward Matt Firman scored his second goal of the season at 6:06 to give his team an insurance tally. He received helpers from junior defenseman Nathan Sinz, who returned from injury, and Larkin. Firman sealed the game with another goal at 18:34, assisted by senior forward Nick Prockow and Mayer, to give the Raiders their third straight victory.

“Last Friday was important to keep the momentum going,” Smith said. “It was a good opportunity to beat a Hockey East team, and it was another chance for us to grab a road win. In essence, it was really nothing more than that. It was a game in which we knew we had to come out and bring our best, and in the end, we found a way to get another win.”

This upcoming weekend, No. 14/15 Colgate will host Clarkson on Friday and St. Lawrence on Saturday in ECAC Hockey play and a week later, the Raiders will welcome top-ranked Merrimack to Starr Rink on Saturday, December 10.

“We need to take it one game at a time,” Smith said. “We will be hosting a very talented Clarkson team on Friday night that will be hungry to beat us. We need to set the tone early and play a full 60 minutes to come out on top. The next night against St. Lawrence will be a huge game for us, because we are 0-8 against them in my time here. We will be particularly determined on that night to break the winless streak. Lastly, it won’t be hard to get up for the Merrimack game seeing that they are currently ranked number one in the country. It will be a good opportunity for us to dethrone an unbeaten team and prove to ourselves that we can beat anyone.”

All three games are set for 7 p.m. puck drops.

Contact Jaime Heilbron at [email protected]