Team of the Week: Colgate
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
A trip to Europe this summer helped in more ways than one.
Colgate was coming off a horrid 2010-11 season, in which a team expected to do well, finished just 11-25-3. Most of those wins came near the end of the season, including a freak run to the ECAC final four.
The odds of carrying over the vibes from that strong finish were improved by Colgate's summer trip, something that's allowed once every four years. Returning players can participate — not recent graduates or incoming freshmen — and the team is allowed 10 practices together before heading to the trip.
"The timing couldn't be better," Vaughan said. "We spent 11 days in Italy and Switzerland. We had a chat about how the season ended and how to carry some of the positives forward. ... We went back to work in the middle of August."
That, combined with the late-season run last March, has helped Colgate get off to a 2-0 start, as it won the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb., last weekend, defeating the home-town Mavs in the final game.
"A lot of times people say, 'last year was last year,' but frankly, it had an impact," Vaughan said. "We learned how to win again. The senior class was a big part of that, but there was only three of them."
That European trip was also helpful for Vaughan to sort out his penalty kill, which struggled for much of last season. He had a conversation with Italian national team coach Rick Cornacchia, a former college coach in Canada and someone Vaughan has known for a long time.
"We don't have a problem sharing information. We sat down before the second game over there," Vaughan said, discussing how the two shared tactics. "Our penalty kill is substantially better than last year already. They're buying into what we're doing. We have the personnel to play more aggressively."
The penalty kill allowed one goal on the weekend, but it also got a shorthanded goal from Austin Smith in the first period of the final game.
"The first night was a little sloppy, especially early," Vaughan said, talking about a 3-1 win over Robert Morris. "It was first game jitters for everyone. It was an entertaining game. I'm not sure it was well executed. But we found a way to win, which was good considering we didn't do that last year.
"The next night, the energy was elevated. We capitalized on their mistakes. We stuck to our game plan. That spoke to our maturity."
While the PK has improved, the power play is still searching for answers.
"Our power play has to get better, there's no two ways around that," Vaughan said. "We're very aware of that. We moved it around effectively but there weren't a lot of opportunities.
The top line of Smith, sophomore Chris Wagner and freshman Joe Wilson combined for three goals and six points on the weekend. The senior Smith, in particular, embodies Colgate's attempts to turn around its fortunes. After scoring 33 goals in his first two seasons in Hamilton, Smith had just 10 last year.
"He's more of a playmaker than goal scorer," Vaughan said. "He's a smart player. It's tough to take any individual off last year and say he had this or that wrong. We couldn't get it done collectively for the better part of the year. But he's still a talent, and him and Wagner have something going. You watch them in practice ... and they always seem to find each other."
Wilson, meanwhile, jumped right out with a pair of goals, including the game winner Saturday.
"We knew he could skate. He's just a beautiful skater," Vaughan said. "We needed someone who was going to keep up with the other guys. It was a pretty easy combination for us to put together. And they seem to be working well right now. He loves the game, he plays with a smile on his face."
Vaughan has seen a lot of ups and downs in 20 years behind the Colgate bench. With St. Lawrence's Joe Marsh out on an indefinite medical leave, Vaughan and Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet are now the league's elder statesmen, though Vaughan has gone longer at one school. Each is closing in on 300 wins, with Gaudet at 299.
Vaughan is now at 296, and with Dartmouth idle until November, he has a chance to get to 300 first. But the schedule won't be easy, especially this weekend, when Miami comes to Hamilton for a pair of games.
But Vaughan welcomes the challenge, particularly because of how meaningful it is to get a team like Miami to come to Colgate.
"Scheduling is, in terms of wanting to get in the (NCAA) tournament, is every bit as important as recruiting," Vaughan said. "We have our challenges to get enough quality opponents, to get Miami in here is great. Not only for our program and the ECAC, but because of the way things are changing."
Vaughan said he became friendly with Miami coach Rico Blasi after serving on some committees together, and things evolved from there.
"I kept hounding him," Vaughan said. "Finally, he called me up two years ago and said we should do it. That's who it came about."
Vaughan hopes big programs will travel for road games once the whole college hockey landscape changes in two years.
"It's been a pet peeve of mine for a number of years," Vaughan said. "I understand the dynamics of it, the big building revenue. But I'm not sure it's in the best interests of the game. If we can find a way to balance it, that would be good."
As for how the changing landscape effects Colgate, Vaughan said he doesn't see any effect.
"The conversations that we're having (with recruits), I don't hear any of that," Vaughan said.