HAMILTON, N.Y. — Picked to finish eighth in the ECAC by hockey pundits, Colgate proved its doubters wrong, holding the Cleary Cup high after a 3-2 win over St. Lawrence on Saturday night at Starr Rink.
The Raiders entered the weekend needing only two points to clinch first place in the league. After Clarkson upset Colgate with a 1-0 blanking on Friday night, however, the ECAC regular-season championship remained in jeopardy.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Colgate captain Rob Brown. “We’ve been working so hard throughout the year to get this far, and to finally clinch it was amazing. After last night we thought, ‘Oh, geez, we’d better pick it up.’ We did, and we came out on top. It’s a great feeling.”
Colgate (19-10-5, 14-6-2 ECAC) reversed fate on Saturday night and finished with a victory on Senior Night. The senior class has come full circle from its first year, when the Raiders finished with only 10 wins and out of the ECAC playoffs.
“I came in here and we didn’t even make the playoffs,” said Brown. “We’ve just been building up ever since then. I’m looking to put the icing on the cake in the playoffs here and take it all.”
Held scoreless by the Golden Knights the night before, Colgate failed to find twine in the opening period against St. Lawrence as well. The Saints controlled play for most of the period before surrendering a few chances in the waning minutes of the opening frame. Goaltender Mike McKenna kept the Raiders off the scoreboard and his team’s fading home-ice hopes alive.
“The key is to keep at it and stay on the grind,” said Raider Jon Smyth. “That’s what we did in the second period and we just kept working on it. We knew it was going to be a long night with a lot of battling, and we just tried to hang in there.”
Eerily resembling the previous night, Colgate allowed St. Lawrence (11-19-6, 7-12-3) to score first. T.J. Trevelyan buried a rebound power-play goal to give his team a 1-0 lead three minutes into the middle period. The Raider bench flashed back 24 hours when Clarkson scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in much the same fashion.
“The mood was better than against Clarkson,” said Brown. “We knew we could come back. Everyone just had to relax and play our game. We pulled together and pulled through.”
“Everyone on the bench felt we had to find a way to adjust and turn the tide,” head coach Stan Moore added. “Last night I think there was an air of despondency, and that really prevailed throughout the night. We were wishing and praying for goals instead of getting behind it. Tonight we got stronger earlier and forced St. Lawrence to lose their composure a bit.”
Sure enough, the Raiders and ECAC leading scorer Jon Smyth tallied their first goal of the weekend to tie the game. Adam Mitchell sprang Smyth on a breakaway with a seeing-eye lead pass which the sophomore deposited between the legs of McKenna.
“It was a tremendous pass by Adam. I saw it coming, but I didn’t think it would get to me because there were a lot of sticks in the way,” said Smyth. “When it finally did I just tried to get my feet moving. I made a move, noticed he opened up his legs a little bit and just slid it through.”
Jon Smyth, who finished the night with a pair of goals, continued his surprise season. The sophomore, who scored only two goals in his freshman year, reached 21 goals and 39 points on the evening.
“Jonny puts the puck in the net,” said Brown. “He’s one of our big scorers, and I don’t know how he does it. He uses his wheels, he has great vision… he’s got everything.”
Ryan Smyth’s power-play goal late in the second period gave the Raiders a 2-1 lead after two. Colgate entered the game 15-0-0 when leading after two frames, and extended its streak against the Saints. Jon Smyth’s second goal of the night, again coming on a breakaway, put the game out of reach for St. Lawrence.
Stace Page’s extra-attacker goal was part of a comeback attempt that came up just short for the Saints, and the Raiders earned the Cleary Cup for the first time since 1990.
“Everyone talks at the beginning of the year about winning a championship and being in first place,” said interim head coach Moore, who will be considered for his second ECAC Coach of the Year honor in three years. “I believe that this year we worked really hard at getting our players to adhere to a step-by-step process.
“It’s always been about the process. The process is critical to any product you produce, and our process has been maintaining a level of consistency equal to the level of play that we wanted to play at.”
For St. Lawrence, the loss eliminated the chance for a first-round home playoff series. The Saints will travel to Yale next week as the ECAC second season kicks into gear.
Colgate, meanwhile, faces a week off with a bye. Like most teams at the end of a long season, the Raiders suffer from injuries and must deal with midterms and other considerations.
The players are anxious to get some rest before preparing for their quarterfinal opponent.
“The first thing is to get healthy,” said Smyth. “It’s been a grind for the last couple of weeks, and we’re looking forward to the rest. Once we get the video going hopefully we’ll be nice and relaxed and set to go.”