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February 1, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Colgate

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Sometimes a high-risk, high-reward posture will go your way, and sometimes it won't. Such is the nature of the beast.

But sensing an opportunity, Colgate had that mindset in the back end of a weekend home-and-home with Cornell on Saturday, and it paid off.

Of course, it helps when Austin Smith is the one finishing the job.

Colgate trailed 3-1 against Cornell at home Saturday, one night after defeating the Big Red at Lynah Rink. But a giveaway led to Colgate's second goal, which fired up the crowd and the team. That energy led to a Colgate penalty, but instead of backing off, the Raiders continued to press — and why not, with Smith, who leads the nation in shorthanded goals.

With Cornell's John McCarron trying to escape the zone, Colgate defenseman Thomas Larkin pinches in to poke it away from him. Chris Wagner then fed Smith in the slot, and Smith wristed in his nation's-best 26th goal of the season to tie the game.

"At that point, we're pretty high-strung, trying to get back in it," Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. "We were feeding off that second goal. We took some chances. It's OK in some cases, not usually when you're trying to kill a penalty, but that's how you get those shorties. ... If our defenseman misses (on the pinch), it's a 4-on-1 the other way."

The game winner came on a power play, and this time, Smith was integral to the play without touching the puck. Three Cornell defenders collapsed around him, and that allowed Wagner to find a wide open Robbie Bourdon on the back door, who buried the game winner.

"It was a good game. We made a couple minor mistakes early," Vaughan said. "They had a good power-play goal on a one-timer. I give them credit; they're a good team and they're trying to win too. But the energy in our building was beneficial after we scored the second goal."

Colgate got off to a hot start this season, but had cooled before entering this past weekend. The wins bumped the Raiders to third in the ECAC, and just on the bubble of the NCAA picture.

"We did play well, and we expected we would against that team," Vaughan said. "It's still never easy. I knew our energy would be good and our compete level because of the rivalry and the energy in both buildings. I thought we played with really good intensity for the better part of both games."

Friday was a much different game than Saturday, with Colgate getting out to a 2-0 lead, then protecting a one-goal edge in the third period. In all, Colgate limited its Central N.Y. rivals to 17 shots, in Ithaca.

"Something we haven't been effective at as of late is protecting the lead, and not taking care of the puck effectively. That was the message between the second and third (period on Friday), we have to find a way to do things that are necessary to hold the lead, make them come 200 feet, not turn it over in the gray areas ... and we were able to execute."

Though many Raiders can be credited for this season's success, of course, the buzz remains centered around Smith — particularly the chances of him winning the Hobey Baker Award. The last ECAC player to do it was Lane MacDonald of Harvard in 1989. Since going to the format where a "Hobey Hat Trick" — the top three vote getters — is announced prior to the announcement of the winner, no ECAC position player has been in that top three.

There have been three goaltenders in it — Dave LeNeveu, David McKee and Yann Danis — thanks to some very gaudy numbers. But while those efforts were discounted in the eyes of many voters because of the defensive-oriented (or offensively-challenged, if you will) nature of the ECAC, you cannot apply the same discount to a goal scorer like Smith. After all, there's usually a goaltender in the league putting up great numbers, but there is not usually a forward putting up the kind of numbers Smith is. The last ECAC player to surpass 30 goals in a season was Clarkson's Todd White in 1997. Martin St. Louis had 29 in 1996, and Jeff Halpern had 28 in 1998.

"It's been a special year," Vaughan said. "I just hope that the fact that our league seems to get looked upon in a negative light doesn't hurt him. But he's very deserving to be in the finals of that race. He has 26 goals, and those aren't secondary assists. He's played great against good teams — Cornell, Omaha, Miami."

More wins like last weekend will help too.

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