New Rink, Fresh Start for Colgate
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Change is inherent in college hockey. Players graduate and leave early, while the dynamics around teams are constantly evolving. But this year in particular marks a vast change for Colgate — it not only has to replace franchise players on the ice but it also has started playing in its brand new Class of 1965 Arena.
For Colgate, its new arena was a much-needed investment to replace the historic Starr Rink that was probably two, or more, decades past its viable life as a college hockey rink. But investments such of these take time and that is why it is extra special to those who have spearheaded the whole project, like Don Vaughan who has been the men's hockey coach since 1992.
“The day was really special,” Vaughan said after the team's opener against Army, a 2-2 tie on Oct. 1. “It was important for a lot of reasons, but most importantly it was the culmination a lot of work by a lot of different people. For those that have been working on this for the better part of 15 years, it was emotional to actually just step into the building for the first time. It is something that we can all feel proud of, not just the six sports that are in the building.”
The new building, despite not being as flashy as some of the more expensive ones that bigger programs have, will open up a world of opportunities for the small Division I university in central New York. Its capacity is a modest 2,222, but it will fit the small town of Hamilton that Colgate is a part of. With its $37.8 million price tag, it is a huge investment for not only the current classes but the past and more importantly the future.
The ice surface in the rink also has significance; it is named for Steven J. Riggs, who was a member of that 1965 class. Riggs was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1968.
“We had a big group back from that '65 class,” Vaughan said. “They were able to honor one of their classmates and teammates that was killed in Vietnam. They had a big dinner on their own on Friday night, which was quite emotional. There was just a lot emotion over the weekend.”
Facilities are a must these days to please fickle college-bound kids that are looking at Division I schools. With many like-minded institutions in the Northeast, it is often what sets a program apart.
You can look for examples like Quinnipiac and even RIT to realize the opportunities that these new facilities can have on recruiting. In a sense the thing that is often missed is that they show a prospective student-athlete that the program matters to them and that they are on the cutting edge of training.
“It was frustrating to not get the win,” Vaughan said about the opener. “You never want to give away a two-goal lead. The game itself, we were all adjusting to the standard of play, there were a lot of penalties. It is going to take the guys a while to figure out things. You can talk about it, show them video and the NCAA rules video as much as you want, but until you actually get out there it is hard. It isn’t a win, but also not a loss.”
This year’s team is a far cry from the ‘legacy’ classes that have recently graduated. In 2013-14, the Raiders came out of nowhere to be one of the better teams in the nation. That year it lost to a strong Union team, that went on to win the national championship, in the ECAC championship game. It also lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Ferris State.
In 2014-15, Colgate was expected to win the ECAC championship, but it made the final and dropped to upstart Harvard. Last year should have been the year but early departures, such as Kyle Baun and Ryan Johnston, left a talented team that lacked depth. Johnston’s loss in particular was one the Raiders were never able to recover from, and they won just 11 games.
“Last year was really disappointing, quite frankly,” Vaughan said. “It was disappointing for all of us, including that senior class. They had much higher expectations. In hindsight we may have done some things differently. At the end of the day, though, we just didn’t have the depth. It effected everything that we did. We had to scale practices back to 45 minutes to conserve guys.”
If anything, it should have been the class that got Vaughan his first conference title, but two near misses and a lost year because of early departures will sting. Now the real challenges begin for Vaughan and his Raiders.
This year, the rebuild will get deeper as the remainder of that talented class departed, with the graduations of Tyson and Tylor Spink, Mike Borkowski and Darcy Murphy. The four of them had a combined 420 career points and 170 goals in their four years.
“We don’t replace those guys right away,” Vaughan said. “That group had a huge impact on our program, from the day the stepped foot here. They left their imprint on this program for a long time, because they were such a dominant group.”
In a way it is rather unfortunate that these players missed out on playing in the new rink, but Vaughan hardly sees it that way.
“There is no question I would have liked to see that group play in the new rink,” Vaughan said. “At one point when those guys were being recruited and even when they were freshmen, there was better than an outside chance this new facility would have been ready and completed last year.
“They not only are a big part of it, and at one point anticipated playing in it, but that new facility doesn’t get built if it isn’t for people like them and some of the other great players that have gone through our program. They certainly can take pride in the fact that the building got done because they were such great people and great representatives of this university.”
This year’s class includes talented goaltender, Colton Point and forward Bobby McCann, but the Raiders expect that others that may have been in the shadow will step forward to provide offense.
“We have a very talented freshmen class and we have a group of guys that have been here that will find themselves in totally different roles,” Vaughan said. “Not only are we young with nine freshmen, but we have our returning guys playing in different situations that they haven’t before. There is a pretty steep learning curve, but from a coaching perspective that is what we do and it is great.
“We will probably take some bumps early on, but I like what I have seen out of the younger guys and some of the returners that will step up to contribute in different. We are certainly not pushing any panic buttons, but it will be a bit of a process.”