Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

When your team is powered by freshmen - and you're not a Minnesota or North Dakota - chances are pretty good you're in for a tough season. Colgate last year looked like they were defying that logic during the first four months of the season, but February can be very hard on teams without a lot of crunch-time experience, and the Raiders petered out in a hurry. From where we are now, however, it's more of a building block than a stumbling block going forward.

Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2005
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (21st season)
2012-13 Record: 14-18-4 (6-13-3 ECAC, 11th place) 
Series: RPI leads, 59-56-3 
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY) 
Last RPI win: February 23, 2013 (Hamilton, NY)
Last CU win: February 4, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: November 9, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 4, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN - possible); February 14, 2014 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Mike McCann, sr.; G Eric Mihalik, sr.; F John Lidgett, jr.; F Joe Wilson, jr.; D Spiro Goulakos, jr.; F Kyle Baun, so.; F Michael Borkowski, so.; G Spencer Finney, so.; D Ryan Johnston, so.; D Kevin Lough, so.; F Darcy Murphy, so.; F Tylor Spink, so.; F Tyson Spink, so.; F Emilio Audi, fr.; F Andrew Black, fr.; F Tim Harrison, fr.

Key losses: F Robbie Bourdon, D Jeremy Price, F Kurtis Bartliff, D Thomas Larkin, D Nathan Sinz

Previous KYE installments:
At 13-9-2 when January ended, Colgate's season was looking like a qualified success - they weren't near the upper reaches of the league, but considering the very young forwards who were called upon to lead the team, things were looking pretty decent overall.

Then, on January 29, Spiro Goulakos left the team and the school to begin chemotherapy treatment to battle Hodgkin's lymphoma - a battle, thankfully, it appears he is winning, especially since he was able to make a return to the team on February 16, having missed only five games.

There's probably no direct causality here, but after Goulakos left the team, the Raiders went 1-9-2 to finish out February and March - late in the season certainly looking distinctly like a team that had thrown in the towel prematurely. They had their close calls - beating Union and taking highly-ranked RPI and Yale to overtime in the last two weeks of the season - but they were outscored 13-4 in the final three games of the season, including two playoff games at St. Lawrence.

Ignoring the ignoble end, however, there's plenty to look forward to in the future when it comes to Colgate. The dynamic Spink twins combined for 58 points playing on the same line, with Tylor leading the team in points, Tyson in assists, and linemate/classmate Baun in goals. Raider fans have to be salivating at the prospect of that impressive line staying around for three more seasons.

The trio were not even the only solid freshman forwards - Murphy scored 10 goals as well in his freshman year, while Borkowski picked up 14 assists working for much of the year with Bourdon, the top senior scorer on the team. All told, 12 players reached double-digits in points last season, 8 of which are back this season, another year wiser.

Defense is the place where Colgate still needs to improve, and losing three senior starters is not going to be helpful there. For much of the season, Finney was part of the success of the youth movement, though the Raiders turned to Mihalik, who Finney had displaced, down the stretch as the difficulties mounted. Finney's numbers were certainly acceptable for a freshman, Mihalik's needed to be better. Whichever goaltender the Raiders decide to ride this season will need to turn in better numbers for the team to be successful. Goulakos returns as the team's captain, but he's also the team's most experienced defenseman as a junior - sophomore Lough has the second most college games under his belt on the blueline after appearing in all 36 games his freshman year.

This is still a very young team, and Colgate could still be a year out from being competitive at the very top - although a run like RPI made last year isn't out of the question, since, with the exception of the goaltending situation, this team is probably going to be led by its sophomores (though RPI had a more solid freshman class last year than Colgate appears to be gaining this year). As early last season proved, the Raiders can be a dangerous team to contend with when the top forwards are clicking. Scoring early is going to be key against this team for anyone, including RPI.

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