Colgate Bows Out With Optimism for Future
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. A seven-win regular season was not what anyone was expecting out of Colgate this season, let alone the players and coaches who reside in Hamilton.
But after winning four of seven playoff games, ending with Friday's 4-0 loss to Yale in the ECAC semifinals, Colgate has plenty to look forward to next year.
"A big part of our success down the stretch was our goaltender," Vaughan said, referring to freshman Eric Mihalik, who started slowly this season before eventually wresting away the starting job from Alex Evin. "It starts in goal and we get most of our 'D' corps back again. The cupboard's not bare."
"I think (the run will help for next year). I think there's a lot of confidence in our goaltender. We could certainly draw on a lot positives. We did that down the stretch — we didn't look at any negative video. There's a lot of good there we can build on for sure."
Even most of those seven wins regular-season wins came late, with the team not winning its first league game until February. Senior captain Brian Day was a healthy scratch at one point, and it was part of the kitchen-sink mentality Vaughan had in trying to shake up — and wake up — his team.
"I think we got fragile after so many one-goal losses. It was tough. We had to do a lot of soul-searching, a lot of mental stuff; we tried a little bit of everything. That's why I'm so proud of them for sticking with it, because it so easily could've gone the other way."
Against Yale, Colgate was certainly in the game. It was scoreless after one period, and early in the second, Colgate looked like it may have taken the lead — but the goal was waved off for being kicked in. Yale eventually started burying some chances, and Colgate was unable to do anything on the power play.
"I think we could've been better, but you do have to give a lot of credit to Yale. They're on the puck quickly. They don't give you a lot of time and space with it, and as a result, we got rid of it quickly. In the last couple weeks, I wouldn't say we're a big puck possession team, I maen we like to get it deep, especially against this team, chip it in the corners. We had a couple shifts where we were able to do that, but the tough passes I just think were a little rough just because of the pressure they were putting on us."
No competitor is happy with a loss, but Colgate could go out holding its heads high.
"It was tough both physically and mentally, probably more mentally," Day said. "It definitely took a toll mentally when we were struggling to get wins. We were trying so hard, and it seemed the harder we tried, the more we fell. But we stayed positive in the locker room, and we knew we had the talent and we could do this. We never gave up that hope and we were able to turn things around.
"Obviously we would've liked to do that earlier in the season, but I think it shows the character on our team and the coaching staff and captains to come back from that and have this run. It's unfortunate it didn't come earlier, but better have it come at the end of the season than never."
Another senior, Francois Brisebois, agreed.
"The college schedule is different," Brisebois said. "You only play Friday and Saturday. So it seems if you lose two in a row, you have the whole week to dwell on it. It's not like the NHL (where) you can have a 10-game losing streak and all of a sudden, still be on top when you win a couple. But we knew, if you really looked at our games, we just struggled to put 60 (minutes) together. ... It was definitely a fragile team. But we try to remember these last couple weeks more than the past."
Vaughan was at a loss to explain his team's struggles most of the year. At times, he seemed bemused or resigned to a bad fate.
"There was a lot of that," Vaughan said. "The one that's (most) profound ... was RPI. We get a 5-minute major in overtime, and we have to haul down one of the best players in the country." Colgate lost that game on Chase Polacek's overtime penalty shot shorthanded goal.
"'Is it ever going to happen?' ... We got a couple bounces that got us going, the Dartmouth game, the Clarkson game, and we didn't get a lot of that (early). I know you have to work for them, but we didn't get much."
Senior defenseman Wade Poplawski was great down the stretch for the Raiders, but he's the only loss on the blueline. Up front, the team loses three seniors, including Day and Brisebois, but Vaughan expects junior NHL Draftee Austin Smith to be back.
"I expect everyone to be back," Vaughan said. "We have reason to be optimistic."