Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

The final installment of "Know Your Enemy" deals with one of the biggest headscratchers of last season. Widely picked to be one of the better teams in the ECAC, Colgate instead was one of the worst from October through February - also known as the regular season. In March, you will recall, they did a practical 180, sweeping through the Capital District in 6 games to reach the ECAC semifinals.

Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2005
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (19th season)
2010-11 Record: 11-28-3 (4-15-3 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 56-55-3
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY)
Last RPI win: March 4, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: March 6, 2011 (Troy, NY)

2011-12 games: February 4, 2012 (Troy, NY); February 24, 2012 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Austin Mayer, sr.; D Kevin McNamara, sr.; D Corbin McPherson, sr.; F Nick Prockow, sr.; F Austin Smith, sr.; F Kurtis Bartliff, jr.; F Robbie Bourdon, jr.; D Thomas Larkin, jr.; D Jeremy Price, jr.; G Eric Mihalik, so.; F Chris Wagner, so.; D Brendan Corcoran, fr.; F John Lidgett, fr.; F Joey Wilson, fr.

Key losses: F Francois Brisebois, F Brian Day, D Wade Poplawski

Previous KYE installment:
It was only said about 20 million times last season - "wow, Colgate has an awful lot of draftees." That only seemed to increase the shock when the Raiders started their season 3-22-2, not picking up their first ECAC victory until the first week of February (including a stretch of 13 losses in 14 games from December to February). Everything was a mess in Hamilton from the beginning of the year through their late resurgence. They couldn't score. They couldn't keep the puck out of their own net. Their power play was awful. Their penalty kill was awful.

That said, Colgate seemed to "get up" for RPI, as they usually do. The Engineers finally ended a long drought at Starr Rink last year, but it took Chase Polacek scoring on a penalty shot, in overtime, during a five-minute penalty kill (something I guarantee you'll never see ever again). The Raiders earned the season split with a victory in Troy in early February (their second league win of the year, and in a row) and then, of course, upset the Engineers in the first round of the playoffs. It has been noted that Colgate appeared to modify their game in February in order to find success, essentially playing the same way Brown did late in the 2010 season and accomplishing the same as the Bears - a first round upset of RPI followed by a quarterfinal upset of the Cleary Cup winners.

The late season surge despite a last place finish for the first time since 1978 begs the question: which Colgate is the real thing - the one that looked horrendous for four months, or the one that looked was accomplishing more of what had been expected from the beginning of the season in the last six weeks? And which one are we going to see this year?

It's hard to say. At the end of the day, you have to look at the hard statistics, and there just weren't an awful lot of guys contributing for much of the year. Of the ones that were, Brisebois and Day are not returning due to graduation. That means Colgate will lean on guys like Smith, Bourdon, Bartliff, and Wagner even more. Can they produce? Probably. Remember all those draftees the Raiders had on their roster? They're all back with the exception of Day and Andrew Hamburg, who left the team after the first semester last year and doesn't appear to be coming back.

Question marks remain in net. Mihalik was the go-to guy for much of last year, but he didn't start impressing really until he seemed to put the team on his back in the playoffs. Is he ready for an Allen York type breakout season? If so, his numbers are going to have to improve significantly over last season.

It's hard to imagine Colgate being anywhere nearly as bad as they were last season, but on paper they don't seem primed to make a giant leap back up the ECAC table unless those drafted players turn into the panacea they were supposed to be last season. Of course, when it comes to RPI, Colgate has been a bit of a stumbling block for years, and that could well continue based on the results of last season - or perhaps, as with Brown, the Engineers will be inspired to turn the screws on what may well be a weaker team. We won't find out until February, since both games between RPI and Colgate come at the end of the year.

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