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March 18, 2008 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Golden Gate: Colgate Looking to Continue Spoiler Role

Raiders stun Clarkson to advance to ECAC Final Four

by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer

Talk about a bracket buster.

Not many people are picking No. 1 seeds North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, or Memphis to lose in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament this week. Then again, not many people would have picked No. 1 Clarkson to lose in the ECAC quarterfinals this past weekend, either.

The Cinderella story in the ECAC, at least for now, is that of the Colgate Raiders, a team that finished the regular season in eighth place with a .500 overall record. After overcoming ninth-place St. Lawrence in the first round, the Raiders had the tall task of facing the top-seeded and NCAA-bound Golden Knights in New York's North Country — where Clarkson had gone the entire season without losing two games in one weekend.

It's even more stunning when a heavy favorite wins the first one, then loses the next two.

But this is a month when Madness happens.

Colgate rallied to win Games 2 and 3, including a thrilling decisive game in double overtime, to punch a ticket to the ECAC championships this weekend in Albany.

"I was really proud of our team," said Colgate coach Don Vaughan, two days removed from the series win. "We played St. Lawrence in a really challenging series the weekend before and then went up to Clarkson and lost the first night in a game where we had a number of scoring opportunities and they just didn't go in. I think we could have easily become frustrated on the road and maybe had a bit of a letdown emotionally. But we didn't. We responded.

"Our leadership did a great job — guys like [Tyler] Burton, [Jesse] Winchester, and [goaltender Mark] Dekanich really stepped up for us on Saturday night. And David McIntyre had a bit of a coming out party [with four goals and two-game winners over the weekend]. He played incredibly well the weekend before and carried that into this weekend as well. It was a battle. All the games could have gone either way. I was just pleased with the effort we put forth under do-or-die circumstances. It was a series that I'll remember for a long, long time."

Perhaps the fact that the series with Clarkson was close shouldn't have been too much of a surprise in the first place. In two regular season meetings this year, the Raiders and Knights skated to a pair of ties, with final scores of 0-0 and 1-1.

Did the earlier success against Clarkson give Colgate some confidence headed into last weekend?

Said Vaughan, "It did a little bit for sure. We knew we played them well — not only this year, but in years past. For whatever reason, we're two teams that matched up pretty evenly and battled to two low-scoring affairs. And a lot of that had to do with two goaltenders who played extremely well."

That goaltender for Colgate was Mark Dekanich, who won the Ken Dryden Award for best goaltender in the league as a sophomore. Dekanich, now a senior, has been the model of consistency for the Raiders, posting a save percentage of .924 as a sophomore, .923 as a junior, and .926 so far this year. And in Sunday night's dramatic double overtime win, the North Vancouver native stopped 52 of 54 Clarkson shots.

Dekanich is also part of one of the winningest classes in the history of Colgate's hockey program, one that gave Colorado College a run for its money in the NCAAs during his freshman year. His classmates include Tyler Burton and Jesse Winchester, arguably the most ECAC's most dangerous duo because they center two different lines. Burton and Winchester are first and second on the team in scoring and have combined for 268 career points. Over the weekend, Burton reached the 40-point plateau for the third straight season.

Needless to say, Dekanich, Burton and Winchester form a core that isn't quite ready for their college careers to end.

"In the locker room [over the weekend], Tyler and Jesse did a good job," said Vaughan. "We're a team that feels we play much better when we're loose. I wouldn't say we're 'Boston Red Sox-loose,' but we're a team that, if we get too serious or too tight, it doesn't seem to work for us.

"I think the big thing for us, though, and the area where I've been so pleased with our club this year, is that we've been able to really focus on the task at hand and not let a tough loss, a bad play, a bad shift get in the way of the next shift. We've really been able to stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand."

The task at hand, now, is a semifinal matchup on Friday afternoon against Princeton at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. — a venue where Colgate played in the Governor's Cup earlier this season, ultimately losing to Rensselaer in the final.

Princeton won both meetings with Colgate this year, by scores of 2-0 and 7-2.

"We know we also have a very good opponent in front of us in Princeton," said Vaughan. "I can't speak enough about what [head coach] Guy Gadowsky has done and how that program has turned around and how well they're playing. They are not a fluke, and they took it to us this year. Our preparation this week is more mental than the X's and O's part — getting our guys to believe that we can beat this team and getting focused on that."

Colgate, which won its only ECAC championship in 1990 on its way to being national runners-up, is returning to the ECAC final four after a year's hiatus, when last year's squad struggled to a 15-21-4 overall record and was swept by St. Lawrence in the quarterfinal round. Luckily, the senior and junior classes have been to the ECAC Final Four before. And that experience, says Vaughan, will help tremendously.

"Everybody deals with things differently," said Vaughan. "Clearly our captains and the leadership who's been there before — I'll call on them to talk to the other guys. But it's not even just about when the puck drops. These guys are Division I hockey players. There's just a lot of other stuff that surrounds an event like this — there's more media coverage, there's a banquet, you've got family coming in from all over, and guys are concerned about all of that other stuff. And that, to me, is where the older guys can help the younger guys who haven't been through it."

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©2014 Avash Kalra. All Rights Reserved.