Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

Few teams have been harder to draw a bead on before the season over the last couple of years as Colgate. Expected to do well two years ago, they instead flopped to the bottom of the table before leading an inspired run to Atlantic City. Expected to be a middling team last year, they instead got out of the gate fast and was one of the most consistently solid teams in the league until they faltered down the stretch. What does the future hold for the Raiders? It's still hard to tell.

Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2005
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (20th season)
2010-11 Record: 19-17-3 (11-10-1 ECAC, 4th place) 
Series: RPI leads, 57-56-3 
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY) 
Last RPI win: February 24, 2012 (Hamilton, NY)
Last CU win: February 4, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2012-13 games: January 18, 2013 (Troy, NY); February 23, 2013 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Kurtis Bartliff, sr.; F Robbie Bourdon, sr.; D Thomas Larkin, sr.; D Jeremy Price, sr.; D Nathan Sinz, sr.; G Eric Mihalik, jr.; F John Lidgett, so.; F Joe Wilson, so.; D Spiro Goulakos, so.; F Michael Borkowski, fr.; D Ryan Johnston, fr.; D Kevin Lough, fr.; F Tylor Spink, fr.; F Tyson Spink, fr.

Key losses: F Austin Smith, F Chris Wagner, F Austin Mayer, D Corbin McPherson, F Matt Firman, F Nick Prockow

Previous KYE installments:
The offensive drivers of the Raiders' success last year were Hobey finalist Smith, who pumped in a nation-leading 36 goals in 39 games (more than anyone else in the nation by six), and linemate Wagner, who frequently fed Smith to rack up 34 assists to go with 17 goals of his own. Smith and Wagner were one of only two sets of teammates in the country to both achieve 50 point seasons last year (Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly and Travis Oleksuk also managed the feat). Unfortunately for Colgate, both men are now gone, with Smith graduating and Wagner choosing to forego his final two years of college eligibility to sign with the Anaheim Ducks.

Throw in the graduations of Mayer (23 points) and Firman (15 points) and the Raiders are losing four of their top six point producers from last year, players who combined for 146 total points, which approaches half of their total team scoring output and represents over half of their goal scoring output from last season. For a team that depended so heavily offense last year, that can't sit terribly well. In league play, Colgate loses  a whopping 2.22 goals per game from last season, far beyond what any of the other 11 squads need to make up, and they rank dead last for what does return.

It's not that Colgate doesn't have players who can fill the void - Bourdon (12), Wilson (10), and Lidgett (5) are the top returning goal scorers - it's just that it's always a little easier knowing who your go-to guys are coming into the season. Just ask the Engineers last year.

Defensively, the Raiders were a mixed bag. There was a period from mid November through the end of 2011 in which the team looked positively unstoppable, holding opponents under 3 goals in each of seven consecutive contests, outscoring them 27-10 and going 6-0-1. Unfortunately, the defense managed the feat only seven more times in its final 21 games, forcing the offense to pick up the slack - and after mid-February, the offense started to show problems.

Colgate's eight-man freshman class arrives exclusively from Ontario junior leagues, though five of them (all listed above) were all-stars last season in the CJHL, including three former teammates of Jacob Laliberte with the Cornwall Colts. Two of those teammates, the identical Spink twins, were Laliberte's linemates two years back and were for a time rumored to have been pursued by the Engineers. They could fill some of the offensive gap, but as last year's RPI team illustrated, it's never easy having to rely on freshmen for goals.

The Raiders will likely benefit from an experienced defensive grouping, including a pair of NHL draftee seniors in Larkin and Price, but Mihalik needs to continue the slow improvement he displayed last year and the Smith-Wagner gap needs to be filled in a hurry. The Raiders always present RPI with a challenge and should provide a pair of challenging games nonetheless. A bottom four finish would probably be classified as a disappointment for this team (though not outside the realm of possibility), so look for a middle four finish with an outside shot at competing for a bye if everything (and we do mean everything) falls into place.

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