Large returning cast from NCAA tournament team puts high expectations on Colgate

Colgate hopes to get leadership from Spiro Goulakos (photo: Melissa Wade).

There are some steep expectations facing Colgate this season, and it’s hard to argue that those elite standards should be even moderately diminished.

To the point, Colgate finished (an albeit distant) second in ECAC Hockey last season and lost just two players from a team that lost a soul-crushing 1-0 first-round decision against Ferris State in the NCAA tournament.

The Raiders return 94 percent of their 2013-14 goals (graduating seven of 108) and 96 percent of their total offensive production. Of the two players to graduate, one was goaltender Eric Mihalik (10 starts last season); the other was 37-game, seven-goal forward Mike McCann — the 10th-highest scorer on the team.

“We anticipated this might happen,” coach Don Vaughan said of the sky-high speculations, citing a similar situation entering the 2006-07 season. That fall, the Raiders also were coming off a strong second-place finish. By March of 2007, Colgate was 7-12-3 in league play and in eighth place.

In case younger observers need a more recent comparison to table premature parade plans, just look to last year’s Rensselaer Engineers: A persuasive second-place 2012-13 campaign and a boatload of returning talent sputtered to an 8-9-5, seventh-place 2013-14 finish following the early season-ending injury of starting goalie Jason Kasdorf.

That said, there are few reasons to doubt Colgate’s capabilities entering this season.

“I feel good,” Vaughan said. “We’re healthy, the guys have a great attitude, they’re working hard, and we have great leadership.”

Senior co-captains Joe Wilson and Spiro Goulakos have faced their share of struggles, especially Goulakos’ well-documented battle with — and recovery from — Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Wilson has averaged 38 games in each of his first three seasons; Goulakos — who sat out a year with a medical redshirt — averaged 32 appearances over his first three full seasons.

“He has been through so much, and we’ve been through so much with him,” Vaughan said of Goulakos.

“This year, he’s finally healthy,” he added, with a healthy and productive summer of training behind him.

In net, upcoming sophomore Charlie Finn will have a tough time improving on last year’s 2.35 GAA and .918 save percentage, but if he could handle 29 appearances as a rookie, the sky may be the limit.

By the way, of Colgate’s top five scorers last season, all of them — twins Tyson and Tylor Spink, Darcy Murphy, Mike Borkowski and Kyle Baun — are juniors this year. Let that one sink in.

About the Raiders

2013-14 overall record: 20-14-5

2013-14 ECAC Hockey record: 13-6-3 (second)

2014-15 predicted finish: First in both the coaches and media polls

Key losses: G Eric Mihalik

Players to watch: D Spiro Goulakos, F Darcy Murphy, F Tylor Spink, F Tyson Spink

Impact rookies: F Mike Panowyk

Why the Raiders will finish higher than predicted: Can’t get much better than first place, but if the Raiders hope to make a deep run on a national scale, the defense and goaltending will have to elevate from “great” to “exceptional.”

Why the Raiders will finish lower than predicted: Did too many players overachieve last season? It’s either that or injuries that would most probably scuttle Colgate’s dream season.