Colgate coach Don Vaughan went against his instincts at the start of the year — and it has paid big dividends so far for the Raiders.
Freshman Kyle Baun and twins Tyson and Tylor Spink have been Colgate’s most productive line to date. But that they’re even together goes against what Vaughan has done during his 20 seasons at Colgate.
“I’m not a huge fan of freshman lines. I can’t remember last time we had one,” Vaughan said following the Raiders’ 6-4 win at Massachusetts last Friday. “Clearly, the twins were going to play together. I thought maybe we’d put some experience alongside them, at least initially. But we started it right from training camp and they’ve responded.”
It helped that the three played junior hockey together with the Cornwall Colts of the Central Canadian Hockey League before coming to Colgate. That trio, along with classmate Mike Borkowski, another former Colts teammate, also play on the Raiders’ top power-play unit with sophomore Spiro Goulakos.
But those four aren’t the only freshman playing a large role for the Raiders this season.
Spencer Finney has started five of the last six games in net, posting a 4-1-1 mark in that span. Vaughan said Finney has been a bit of a surprise, as the coaching staff didn’t think he would come in and play a lot of minutes right away.
Forward Darcy Murphy skated on Colgate’s second line and penalty kill last Friday night, while defenders Ryan Johnston and Kevin Lough have combined to play in all but one game this season.
Baun, Borkowski, Murphy and the Spinks factored in eight of Colgate’s 11 goals at Massachusetts last weekend.
“We have no choice,” Vaughan said of playing so many freshmen right away. “We’re not a program with a lot of depth. Any coach with such a young team [would] want to try and put them out there in situations where they have an opportunity to succeed, and that hasn’t been a luxury afforded to us simply because we don’t have big numbers [in the program].”
While it’s a new environment, the familiarity with one another has helped the four former Cornwall players throughout their first semester at Colgate.
“When we came here, coach just kind of told us to do our thing,” Tylor Spink said of the power play. “He’ll tweak it here and there depending on the team that we’re playing.”
The four roomed together last year, while the twins live together this season and Baun and Borkowski are roommates.
It’s worked so far. Tylor Spink leads the Raiders with 16 points, while Baun’s seven goals top the team. Both are also in the top 15 in national leaders for rookie scorers. The Spinks and Baun have been on the same line for all but one game this season, and that was when Tyson sat out due to a game disqualification.
Borkowski points to Colgate’s seniors for helping integrate the incoming freshman to the college game. “They’ve done a really good job since day one,” he said of the Raiders’ eight seniors. “The adjustment can be pretty difficult, but they’ve been pretty good at bringing us along.”
Vaughan said Colgate had been looking at the Spinks, who played in Cornwall from 2008 to 2012, for several seasons. Baun played for the Colts from 2010 to 2012, while Borkowski was traded from the Cumberland Grads and spent his final junior season with Cornwall.
“I knew Tylor and Tyson from playing in minor hockey,” said Borkowski, who was the first of the four to commit to Colgate. “When I heard Colgate was interested in all three of these guys I pushed pretty hard and obviously they made their own decisions, but it’s great that all of us had an opportunity to go to the same school.”
The four have certainly given Colgate a different look from last season, when the Raiders had two 50-point scorers in senior Austin Smith and sophomore Chris Wagner, both of whom are currently playing professionally.
“Austin Smith was a top-three Hobey Baker guy and I don’t think too many freshman can replace that. I think we’ve just been trying to play within our own game and I think it’s working so far,” Baun said.
“It’s reinvigorated me,” Vaughan said of having a young team. “They’re wonderful people and have a great passion for the game, which is contagious, and I think that has spread to us as a coaching staff even. It’s been fun.”
Four players have left the Harvard team, assistant director of athletic communications Jeff Selesnick confirmed Tuesday. Defenseman Max Everson, Patrick McNally and Mark Luzar are no longer with the program, while head coach Ted Donato said earlier this week that goaltender Steve Michalek left for Cedar Rapids of the USHL.
Selesnick said he believed the players were eligible to return, although the university was unsure of their intent at this time. Everson, McNally, and Luzar’s departures were first reported by The Harvard Crimson.
Selesnick offered no further information, saying it was a team issue. Donato was not available for comment Tuesday and was relatively tight-lipped about the matter following Harvard’s 5-0 loss to Massachusetts-Lowell on Monday.
“I think our guys felt that the focus was on the guys that were playing,” Donato told USCHO’s Jim Connelly after the game. “The margin for error might be a little bit smaller [missing three defensemen], but we can play a lot better.”
McNally is the most notable loss for the Crimson. The sophomore and Vancouver fourth-round pick had six goals and 22 assists last year, including four power-play goals for the nation’s top unit. He was a member of the ECAC Hockey all-rookie team as well, and had a goal and two assists in seven games this season.
Luzar missed all of his freshman year last season with an injury and had yet to play this year. Everson is the younger brother of forward Marshall Everson and a seventh-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The sophomore had four assists in 34 games last season and one assist in seven games this year.
Michalek, a sophomore, began last year as Harvard’s primary goalie before losing time to Raphael Girard down the stretch. The Minnesota sixth-round pick did not appear in a game for the Crimson this season, and has played in four games for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL since joining the team last month.
Harvard currently has six defenders listed on its roster.
While the university would not give a reason for their departure or even confirm all four were related, Girard suggested it might have something to do with a school-wide academic scandal that was revealed over the summer.
“Some guys had to take a year absent,” Girard told the Crimson. “I won’t say any names, but like any other team, we might have some problems with the academic scandal. Some of them just want to take leaves to get more playing time and come back later because they were younger guys. Some other guys were just injured. But overall, they’re going to come back; they’re still part of our family and still part of our team.”
Player of the week/rookie of the week — Kyle Baun, Colgate: Baun swept both skater awards this week after posting six points in last weekend’s sweep of Massachusetts.
Goalie of the week — Greg Lewis, Clarkson: The Clarkson freshman stopped 59 of 61 shots last week in a pair of games against North Country rival St. Lawrence.
Wrapping it up
This week’s column is the last of this format before the holiday break. I’ll have the picks up for this weekend’s games, and Brian Sullivan will have a more comprehensive look back at the first half next week.
What are your biggest surprises as the semester ends? Leave them in the comments below. Personally, I’d have to go with Dartmouth and Colgate. I had the Big Green seventh in my preseason poll, while picking the Raiders last.
I remember thinking maybe I had Dartmouth too low — the Big Green had numerous injuries last season, but also a lot of points from their freshman class. Health and continued production from this year’s sophomores have been essential for Dartmouth, as has solid goaltending from Cab Morris and Charles Grant.
As for the Raiders, the numbers looked ugly heading into the season. Colgate lost 78 of the 121 goals from last season, a whopping 64 percent. How much any incoming freshman will contribute can be hard to predict. Junior statistics and recruiting rankings are nice, but I’m a big believer that the real test comes when a player steps onto a college rink for the first time. It’s only one semester, but so far, so good for the Raiders freshman class.
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.