Exactly a year ago tonight, the 2002-03 men’s hockey team headed to Hamilton, N.Y. as the No. 4 team in the nation. Amidst a six-game winning streak, the Red was atop the ECAC standings and firmly solidifying itself as one of the premiere programs in America. Colgate, its opponent that night, was headed in the opposite direction. Winners of one of its last nine games, the Raiders were looking for answers.
The stat sheet appeared as expected. Cornell had 32 shots on goal, eight of which either hit the crossbar or posts, and six power play opportunities. Yet, denying opportunity after opportunity, Colgate hung around and forced the game into overtime. The Raiders eventually won on a controversial goal which the referee initially waved off. Cornell was stunned by the loss and actually wouldn’t lose again until the Frozen Four.
This year’s No. 13/14 Red (8-5-6, 6-3-3 ECAC) will get its first opportunity for payback at Starr Rink this weekend as it plays a home and home against the Raiders tonight and tomorrow. Both contests start at 7 p.m. with the action beginning tonight at Lynah Rink.
“Every year things are different,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 of the opportunity for revenge. “Half the guys on the roster weren’t even there. It’s a brand new year and things start all over.”
The 2003-04 season has certainly brought a new era to the Colgate hockey program. A new coach and a new outlook have propelled Colgate (13-8-3, 8-4-0 ECAC) from the doldrums of the ECAC to a current second-place standing in the ECAC.
The most obvious difference has come in Colgate’s remarkable ability to get to the net. The Raiders have won four straight at home and five of six overall. In those five wins, Colgate has outscored its opponents by a remarkable 22-8 margin.
“They’re going to be tough, extremely physical,” said senior captain Ryan Vesce. “We’re going to have to try to slow them down a little bit and play our game.”
Unfortunately, slowing down this machine is no easy task. The potency of the Raiders’ attack has resulted in a conference-best 3.58 goals per game mark. The average also puts Colgate into the top 15 nationally.
Colgate’s pressing, physical offense is led by junior forward Adam Mitchell and sophomore winger Jon Smyth. Mitchell has dished out 10 assists in ECAC play, good for fifth best in the conference, and added six goals.
Smyth, however, is undeniably Colgate’s catalyst, as evidenced by his second career hat trick last weekend against Vermont. Smyth’s 12 goals in 11 games are a conference-best and the Cornell defense must shut him down if it hopes to be successful this weekend.
While the Colgate offense has certainly been the biggest reason for its newfound success, the consistent play of its defense cannot go unmentioned. The conference’s fourth-best defense allows just 2.25 goals per game and kills 83.3 percent of the shorthanded situations it faces.
“We know we’re going to come out and battle for every loose puck and we’re going to have to bury our opportunities because we know they won’t give us many,” said senior assistant captain Ben Wallace.
The Colgate defense is backed up by the steady play of junior goaltender Steve Silverthorn. Silverthorn’s 1.99 overall GAA is eighth-best nationally, while his .911 save percentage puts him in the top echelon of conference netminders.
Colgate has revamped its program from red line to red line and its beginning to pay off.
“They’ve got a very, very solid team up front, their scoring is spread out. Silverthorn’s playing great in net. They’re on a roll right now,” concluded Schafer.
While the challenge of a streaking conference opponent certainly looms large, Schafer’s team is more concerned with its own condition coming into this crucial weekend. The Red has won just one of its last five games and has scored just five goals during that streak
“Up to today, we haven’t talked a lot about Colgate at all, it’s all been about us and getting our game in order