Men’s Hockey Starts Season with a Bang

Jaime Heilbron

The Colgate men’s hockey team could not have asked for a better start to its season. The Raiders defeated the Robert Morris University Colonials 3-1 on Friday night to avenge last season’s two defeats to them before upsetting the fourteenth-ranked Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks 4-3 to take the Mutual of Omaha Maverick Stampede off their hands. Senior forward Austin Smith had a goal and two assists throughout the weekend, while junior forward Kurtis Bartliff scored twice and added an apple in the two-game slate. First-year Joe Wilson scored his first two intercollegiate goals over the weekend, one in each game, including the game winner against Nebraska-Omaha and was chosen ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week. Senior tri-captain Corbin McPher­son, sophomore goaltender Eric Mihalik and Bartliff were all selected to the All- Tournament team. McPherson also earned the Tournament MVP Award and Mihalik was chosen ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Week.

“Everyone contributed to the success of the team last weekend,” McPherson said.

The Raiders came strong out of the gate in their first contest of the young season, peppering the Robert Mor­ris goaltender with six shots in the first three minutes of play. An untimely pen­alty shortly after, however, led to Col­gate losing all the momentum it had gathered when the Colonials opened the scoring at 3:59. That early goal seemed to throw the Raiders off their groove, as Robert Morris gained confidence and made what had been a one-sided affair to start with an entertaining back-and-forth game. Colgate eventually recovered and, at the 18:46 mark, managed to knot the score at one with junior forward Robbie Bourdon scoring the Raiders’s first goal of the year, assisted by first-year forward John Lidgett, who picked up his first career point.

In the second stanza, Colgate came out strong, just like in the first. The Raiders worked the cycle and disconcerted the Colonial defensemen with their passing. Eventually, Colgate found the net again as Bartliff picked up right where he left off last year, tallying the eventual game winner at 6:17, assisted by Lidgett and Bourdon. Neither the Raiders nor Robert Morris did damage throughout the rest of the period. Colgate entered the second intermission holding a 2-1 lead.

The Raiders continued to control the pace of the game early in the third frame. Feeling confident in earning its first win of the season, Colgate played with poise, careful not to make any mistakes. At 8:15, Wilson scored his first career goal, assisted by Smith and sophomore forward Mike McCann, thus ensuring for his team a 3-1 victory. Senior goaltender Alex Evin stopped 16 of 17 shots in the triumph, including 16 unanswered after allowing a goal on the first shot he faced. The most important aspect of this win, however, is that the Raiders came from behind to obtain it, something that they did not ac­complish until February in the previous season, thus marking a clear distinction between both teams.

“This year’s team is unwilling to let a game slip away just because of a one goal deficit,” McPherson said. “We won’t accept defeat as easily this year.”

The following evening Colgate took on a more formidable opponent in the cham­pionship game of the Mutual of Omaha Maverick Stampede, the No. 14 hosts Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. From the be­ginning of the contest, one could tell that pulling the upset was not going to come easily for the Raiders, as just 36 seconds into the contest, Colgate was whistled for a penalty. The infraction would prove costly, but not for the Raiders. 70 seconds later, at the 1:46 mark, Smith tallied his first goal of the season, a shorthanded one, assisted by line mate sophomore forward Chris Wagner. The Mavericks quickly recovered and evened the game at 4:34 before taking their first lead of the contest 31 seconds later. Colgate would show its grit towards the end of the period; however, when it managed to knot the game at two at 19:31 when senior forward Nick Prockow scored his first of the campaign assisted by senior forwards Austin Mayer and Matt Firman.

Nebraska-Omaha regained the lead, early in the second stanza off a power play blast. The Raiders refused to give up, how­ever, and kept working until finally, at the 7:53 mark, Bartliff found the net for the second time in the weekend, catching the puck on the air after a scrum in front of the net to tie the game at three. From then on, the contest became a back-and-forth affair with both squads displaying their speed and puck handling abilities to the crowd of 3,831 that was witness to this battle. Contribution from the newcom­ers would prove to be a recurring theme throughout the weekend when Wilson re­corded his second goal of the tournament at 18:00 off assists from Smith and junior defenseman Jeremy Price after a beautiful tic-tac-toe play. The tally, however, result­ed from a complete team effort, as in the minutes leading up to the game-winning goal the Raider forecheck proved funda­mental in keeping the puck in the Mav­ericks’s defensive zone, thus tiring them out, and allowing Colgate to take a lead it would not relinquish.

The third frame was one filled with emotion, as on one side the hosts had the pressure to repeat as champions in their tournament for the fourth consecutive year, while the Raiders were hoping to go home with the trophy and play the role of spoiler. While both teams fought hard throughout the period, with the Maver­icks desperate to tie the game and Col­gate working to conserve its lead, both goaltenders – especially Mihalik – stood tall and protected both nets to perfection throughout the last 20 minutes, which allowed the Raiders to capture their first trophy of the year, earning a quality win against a high-caliber opponent in a hostile arena.

“A win early on builds confidence and so long as we continue to work hard we should be able to continue to build that confidence and hopefully maintain it throughout the season,” McPherson said.

This upcoming weekend Colgate will host national powerhouse and preseason No. 1 Miami University Redhawks in its home opening series on Friday and Saturday. As of Monday afternoon, the Redhawks are No. 4/5 in the nation.

“The team will need to continue to work hard in practice to prepare ourselves as best as we can for the games this week­end,” McPherson said.

Both contests are slated to begin at 7 p.m.

Contact Jaime Heilbron at [email protected]