Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

Every once in a while, you get a team that underwhelms and it makes you scratch your head at just how unexpectedly bad they turned out to be. The 2014 Engineers were certainly one good example, but Jason Kasdorf's early season-ending injury was an obvious cause of that disappointing result. Chosen fifth in both preseason polls as a contender for a first-round bye with one of the program's best classes in decades reaching their senior year, the Raiders instead sputtered on defense all season long and ended up closing Starr Rink on the last weekend of the regular season instead of in the playoffs.

Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (24th season)
2015-16 Record: 11-24-2 (6-14-2 ECAC, 10th place) 
Series: RPI leads, 61-57-4
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY) 
Last RPI win: January 16, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: February 26, 2016 (Hamilton, NY)

2016-17 games: February 3, 2017 (Troy, NY); February 25, 2017 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Emilio Audi, sr.; D Brett Corkey, sr.; G Charlie Finn, sr.; F Tim Harrison, sr.; D Jake Kulevich, sr.; D Anthony Sanniti, sr.; F Mike Panowyk, jr.; F Evan Peterson, jr.; F Sebastian Weberg, jr.; D Willie Brooks, so.; D Ken Citron, so.; F Adam Dauda, so.; D Rory McGuire, so.;  F Hunter Racine, so.; F Jared Cockrell, fr.; F Bobby McMann, fr.; D Nick Quillan, fr.

Key losses: F Tyson Spink, F Tylor Spink, F Mike Borkowski, F Darcy Murphy, D Kevin Lough

Previous KYE installments:
The quintet of the Spink twins, Borkowski, Murphy, and Kyle Baun (who signed a pro deal after his junior season) will certainly go down in history in Hamilton. They were the effective engine of the Raider offense throughout their entire tenure at Colgate. One of the Spink twins led the team in scoring each of the four years (Tylor as a freshman, Tyson the other three years), and at least three of the group figured in the top four scorers each season (and they were the complete tally of the top five in their sophomore campaign).

But it was defense that by and large let the Raiders down last year. Last in the ECAC (3.23 team GAA) and in the bottom 10 nationally (3.57). RPI, Union, and Clarkson were the only three teams in the league who weren't able to hang three goals on the Raiders in at least one of their meetings - in fact, Princeton and Brown were the only other ones who didn't do it twice (although Brown did do it a second time in a non-league game in Vermont). Dartmouth was five-for-five in scoring three or more against the Raiders, which was helpful in the Big Green getting past them in the playoffs.

So while Finn returns for his senior season on a squad where he's been the undisputed starter since his arrival on campus, you've got to think freshman Colton Point, a fifth-round selection of the Dallas Stars back in June, will get more than ample opportunity to unseat him. At the very least, expect Colgate's clear netminder of the future to get plenty of playing time even if he doesn't fully displace Finn as the starter as Finn did to senior Erik Mihalik as a freshman.

And of course, on top of needing to find a way to keep the puck out of their own net, the Raiders need to replace four forwards who have been beyond crucial for their offensive structure for the last four years. They comprised the top four scorers last season, combining for 114 of Colgate's 253 total points last year - four players notching 45% of the offense, and now all gone.

The effort begins with Panowyk, the leading returning scorer (18 points) and Harrison, a Calgary draft pick who tied with Peterson for the goals lead among returning players (8 each). Dauda (9 points) deserves some recognition as well - he arrived midseason last year after initially expecting to defer his arrival to this season due to medical concerns, so with a full year he'd probably have been right up there with Panowyk.

All of it is for naught if the Raiders can't get back on track on defense, though. Along the blue line, Colgate had three freshmen suiting up regularly last season, so look for growth in those same three sophomores - Brooks, Citron, and McGuire - as keys to success. The whole scope seems to peg the Raiders as a work in progress this coming season, which undoubtedly will be a difficult one building more toward a much stronger 2017 and/or 2018.

RPI will be the last ECAC team to play its first game in Colgate's new digs, the Class of 1965 Arena, as they close out their league schedule on the final day of the regular season in Hamilton - and as with Harvard and Dartmouth, there's a lot of hockey that both teams will play before they finally link up in February (twice). On paper from September, more than four months out, it seems that RPI's defensive edges might certainly give the Engineers a leg up, but don't forget that while Colgate finished 10th in the ECAC last season, they won the season series against RPI in the process. There's certainly no room to overlook this team, at least not from Troy.

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