Colgate was riding high coming into the final nonconference series of the season this past weekend against UMass Lowell.
The Raiders started the new year on the right foot as they came back from behind to defeat then-No. 5 Quinnipiac and then Princeton, the defending conference champions, the following night.
Momentum was building in Colgate’s direction and then the struggles of the 2018-19 season hit them right back in the face, suffering a weekend sweep to the River Hawks, losing 2-0 and 4-1.
Colgate finished the regular-season nonconference slate with a 3-9-0 record.
“We came off a nice weekend two weekends ago with the sweep on the road against Quinnipiac and Princeton,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “Thought we turned the corner and had our goal scoring drought solved against two pretty good teams. We came into a weekend series against a really good Lowell team that’s really stingy. They are really patient, Norm (Bazin) got them playing his game. They are hard to play against.”
That nine-goal outburst against Quinnipiac and Princeton is 28 percent of the goals the Raiders have scored the entire season. Scoring once this past weekend has been closer to the norm as they are 59th in the nation in goals per game at 1.45.
While there’s frustration with the lack of goal scoring this season, Vaughan said it’s not for lack of effort, and that the pucks haven’t bounced their way.
“That’s something I am really proud of this group — we haven’t rolled over,” Vaughan said. “There’s been some opportunities to do that with the injuries early on and there were some games that we got behind, couldn’t find our way out. They are coming to the rink every day, competing hard, buying in to what we are trying to do. Their attitude has been great.”
Could that be some coach speech? Sure, but stats back that statement up. Colgate is 1-2-1 when scoring first, but are 5-1 in one-goal games. Both of their ties this season came after they were blown out the night before.
The outlook of the season all changed on the opening of NHL free agency last July. While all eyes were on where John Tavares was going to sign, the team that was probably hit hardest by that day wasn’t the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars or the Tampa Lightning, the teams that met with Tavares, but Colgate.
The Stars signed Colgate’s star sophomore goalie Colton Point, their fifth-round pick in 2016. Obviously, it left the Raiders in a pinch as he was going to be the only upperclassman goalie on the roster and a mentor to incoming freshman Mitch Benson.
“As a first-year, for someone for all intents and purposes until July 1, (Benson) was expected to ease himself into Division I hockey,” Vaughan said. “He would have been playing behind Colton Point, but that all changed, obviously. He had to change his mindset and he was prepared to do that. He came in super prepared to be the guy, and he’s being pushed by our other two goaltenders (Andrew Farrier and Will Friend). He has given us an opportunity most nights to be competitive and certainly, we haven’t helped him offensively. We did last weekend, which was great. I was happy for him because he made the saves he needed to make at the right time. That’s all you can ask from your goaltender.”
Benson has been in net for five of the Raiders’ six wins this season as he’s 5-10-2 with a 2.94 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Farrier, who’s the other goalie to see regular-season action, is a freshman, as is Friend.
Vaughan’s focus is the game on Friday against Dartmouth, but knows if the team wants to turn around their season with just conference games remaining, defense will be the key.
“To me, it starts on the back end for us with our defense,” Vaughan said. “Nick Austin and Trevor Cosgrove have been really good for us, two sophomores that played a lot of minutes for us as freshmen and continue to do so as sophomores in all situations. Some nights, it may be a little too much. You look back to the Quinnipiac game on the road, the offense came from the back end. The nights where we had success, that’s where it started for us, with our defense.”