The series that opened Colgate's and Cornell's ECAC Hockey slate last season witnesses its first installment at the close of the first semester this season. Cornell traveled to Starr Rink for its second weekend of play in the 2012-13 season. The Big Red was red hot off of a home sweep of Colorado College. Cornell looked to continue its momentum. The maroon-and-red throngs that filled Starr Rink watched as Colgate played far better than expected with then-unknown commodities like the Spinks and Kyle Baun beginning to shine. Andy Iles stood tall and gave Cornell the chance to win. Dustin Mowrey scored less than one minute into regulation, but Colgate seemed to dominate the contest. Greg Miller gave the Red the go-ahead marker against the maroon. The next evening, Lynah Rink hosted the two Central New York foes. The Colgate team that felt robbed of a victory the evening before was determined to silence the toothpaste box-hurling crowd. Kyle Baun and Spiro Goulakos gave the Raiders a two-goal lead before the first intermission. Colgate continued to dominate the contest, but the margin remained the same. The final ten minutes of regulation saw Cornell come to life. Within a 3:49 span, the game was tied behind goals from Bardreau and D'Agostino. Apparent goals from Madison Dias and John McCarron that would have decided the contest were waived off. Cornell felt robbed of a victory after overtime. Colgate felt it deserved better than one point after two stellar outings. The Cornell camp that views Colgate as one of Cornell's main rivals gained support at the end of the contest as a fight broke out between the two squads during the handshake.
Colgate began its season earlier than is usual. The Raiders began competition the first weekend of the season with a series against Ferris State. The Bulldogs outscored the home-standing Raiders five goals to seven goals, but split the series. Eric Mihalik delivered a tremendous performance to preserve one goal as the deciding tally. A midseason undefeated streak continued with a dominating performance at formidable Ritter Arena, a 4-1 win, and a tie against Bowling Green, behind a one-goal-allowed effort from Mihalik. Colgate earned a 1-2-1 record against two teams from the new WCHA. Those teams have gone for a combined 14-5-3 in their conference. Ferris State has not lost a new WCHA game. Colgate's win against Ferris State seems poised to become a newly minted quality win later in the season.
A lull and losing skid followed the series against Bowling Green. Four losses against Bowling Green, St. Cloud State, and Quinnipiac preceded Colgate's next win. St. Cloud State leads the NCHC and has a lone loss on the season. Quinnipiac's success should be well known to WAFT's readers. The two teams combine for a current record of 23-3-5.
Colgate accumulated fives wins over its next seven contests. The losses came against then-highly ranked RPI and defending national champion Yale. The wins equally impressively included a sweep of the difficult North Country. Furthermore, Colgate's skilled forwards toppled the Dutchmen at Messa Rink in one of the Raiders's most commanding performances to date. Colgate took control in the third period and exploded the game with three unanswered goals. As much as Rick Bennett was annoyed with his team's effort, he was impressed with the determination and skill of Don Vaughan's squad. Darcy Murphy and Tylor Spink contributed two goals in an offensive tidal wave. Three Raiders, Darcy Murphy, Tyson Spink, and Mike Borkowski, tallied three points in the 5-3 contest.
Colgate is one of the most offensively deep teams in ECAC Hockey. The Raiders have five skaters who have notched ten or more points. However, only Kyle Baun and Mike Borkowski average at least one point per game. Kyle Baun, Darcy Murphy, and Tylor Spink each have seven goals. Noteworthy is that behind top-end contributions, Colgate presents threats fairly evenly throughout its line-up. Nearly 35% of Colgate's goal scoring comes from outside of its top-five point producers.
This Colgate team is not as dominant as last season's team at either end of the ice. This is an unpopular and oft-neglected fact, but when comparing the Colgate team that took the ice most of last season to the one that Colgate is currently icing, last season's team was stronger on defense and more prolific on offense. The graduation of defensemen like Jeremy Price and Thomas Larkin took its toll. Colgate is allowing 26% more goals this season than it was last. This correlates to 0.72 more goals allowed per game. The Raiders are surrendering 30.5 shots per game or 1.9 shots per game more than last season.
The attention that Colgate's offense receives is well deserved. However, it was more potent last season. The Raiders have scored 11% fewer goals per game this season than last season. That amounts to approximately one-third of one goal per contest. So, how is the record of this season's Colgate team, 7-7-1, nearly identical to that of last season, 7-7-2, at the midpoint of the season?
Colgate has found ways to win. It is not scientific. It is not statistical. But, by almost all important metrics, Colgate is not performing at the level it was last season. Colgate's special teams are modest this season. Colgate's penalty kill ranks in the bottom half of the country. It kills off 79.7% of opponent's power-play opportunities. The Raiders's power play fares worse. It ranks in the bottom 12 of the nation with a conversion rate of 14.7%.
Don Vaughan has given the nod to three netminders this season. Spencer Finney and Eric Mihalik saw ice time last season. Charlie Finn, a freshman newcomer, has tended Colgate's crease on three occasions. One marked improvement from last season is the play of Eric Mihalik. The junior netminder has elevated his game from a goals-against average of 2.83 and a save percentage of 0.901 last season to a 2.46 and 0.915 this season. This improvement in itself may unravel the mystery of why Colgate seems more potent this season than last.
What to Expect:
Passion. Colgate will bring with it the motivation that only a rivalry clash can bring. The Raiders are determined to win this season perhaps more than most because they were deprived of a victory in a series that they dominated last season. Cornell found ways to win in last season's series, but the beginnings of a mid-season lag that began to emerge after the Colgate-Cornell series betrayed the reality that Cornell's winning record was living on borrowed time.
Most commentators agree, including this writer, that Don Vaughan likely will give tested goaltender Eric Mihalik the start in net. That choice gives Colgate the best chance to win rather than chancing that Spencer Finney, a freshman, will be daunted by the crucible that is a game at Lynah Rink. Mihalik has proven that he is among the best netminders in ECAC Hockey and defeating him will require a great effort from Cornell's offensive role players.
Cornell's power play will be looking for redemption after it was shutout for only the third time this season in its last outing. Colgate's just-below-average penalty kill should give Cornell ample opportunity to finds it power-play groove again. The neglected storyline from Red Hot Hockey IV is that it was the first game this season when Cornell scored without scoring a goal on the power play. Those goals were scored against one of the best goaltenders whom Cornell will meet this season. Against stout defenses like that of Clarkson, Cornell scarcely could muster a threatening goal-scoring effort, but at Madison Square Garden, Cornell found its offensive swiftness and creativity. One storyline to follow is if Cornell has relapsed or if it remains as threatening as it was throughout most of Red Hot Hockey. If the latter is the case, it could become quickly a long night for Colgate.
Coach Schafer has emphasized that there will be no preferential treatment of elder players if a younger or less seasoned player can help the team win more, he will play. Some unanticipated openings may have emerged after some acharacteristic and below mean efforts at Madison Square Garden. These may put Schafer's alleged principles to the test. Awaiting the line-up before this Colgate-Cornell contest will be interesting because some players have earned a right to prove themselves.
A team that allowed three goals on a mere 11 shots against Boston University cannot underestimate a team as offensively talented as Colgate. The Spinks, Kyle Baun, Mike Borkowski, Darcy Murphy, and inspirational captain Spiro Goulakos pose challenging threats. None of them can be underestimated. The depth of Colgate's offense goes well beyond even these instantly recognizable names. The Terriers that hung three goals on Cornell ranks 11 places behind the Raiders in terms of offensive production this season. A repeat lackluster performance behind the Red's blue line quickly would produce a shooting gallery that would be difficult for Cornell to win.
Cornell will need to pay Colgate the respect it deserves. It is a fast team with rapidly maturing talent in its sophomore class. The Raiders will want a win at Lynah Rink badly. Mihalik is 1-1-1 at Lynah Rink and has not lost since his freshman season. The transition game will be essential for both teams. Colgate wins off of its speed while Cornell can exploit its swiftness to capitalize on a shaky Raider defense.
Colgate is coming off of a bye week. The Big Red should look early to make a big statement. If the Red cannot make that statement, the maroon will settle in for the slug fests that have become expected of Colgate-Cornell games over the last two seasons. Cornell's power play can help the Red put the game out of reach, but over-reliance on it will prove disastrous against a Colgate squad that Cornell narrowly defeated last season. Expect the lesser-sung heroes of Cornell's line-up to reappear in big ways after so many near misses at Red Hot Hockey IV.
Colgate hockey should be poised to enjoy a renaissance this season and into the near future. The University announced that the hockey program will relocate to a new rink in the next two seasons. Additionally, it is a program that is becoming more immersed, appropriately so, in its rich and proud history. The highest peak that Colgate reached in the modern college hockey world was the 1990 NCAA Championship Final. The Raiders fell short of national glory but claimed a Whitelaw Cup in a spectacular win over RPI at Boston Garden.
Colgate's reinvestment in its history is in no small part a result of The General. The General is a documentary that tells the story of Terry Slater and the 1989-90 Colgate season. It chronicles one of the greatness moments in ECAC Hockey and Central New York sports history. The film was produced by Grant and Todd Slater, sons of the legendary coach, and created by film maker Kenny MacBain, a native of Hamilton, NY. I made the trek up to Hamilton, NY to watch the film's premier. Any fan of ECAC Hockey should make an effort to see the film when it is more widely available. The film captures Colgate hockey's and that improbable run's importance to the community of Hamilton. A glimpse of the emotional investment of the Hamilton community captured in the film is articulated in the comments of the film's creator about making the documentary.
The General captures an inspirational and moving story about the connection between Hamilton and its hosted hockey program. It captures what this writer wrote earlier in the season makes ECAC Hockey great. So, while this weekend's series may highlight Colgate's and Cornell's difference, at their purest essence, the programs are very similar.