Picked to finish 11th in the coaches’ preseason poll, Colgate enters the final month of the regular season in contention for a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey playoffs.
The Raiders are two points out of fourth place and the final bye position entering this weekend’s home-and-home series with travel partner Cornell. Colgate is in that position despite some injuries to key players and a power play that has struggled for much of the season.
“We’ve some got some guys playing injured and some guys really stepped up [Saturday at Quinnipiac] who probably shouldn’t have been in the lineup,” Raiders coach Don Vaughan said.
One of those injured played is defenseman Nick Austin, who hasn’t played since Jan. 10 against Union. Vaughan said the junior is expected back in three-to-four weeks, putting him in line to possibly return for the playoffs.
“We really miss him,” Vaughan said. “He logs a lot of minutes for us and quarterbacks our power play.”
The news is better for Colgate’s power play.
The Raiders entered last weekend 4 for 89 on the man advantage but scored twice with the extra man Friday against Princeton and had several decent looks Saturday against the Bobcats.
“I do feel like our power play is making some progress,” Vaughan said. “It’s the elephant in the room and a point of frustration for us, but we just need to keep working at it. We are getting more pucks to the net, so that’s a start.
Vaughan said Colgate’s struggles on the power play are a result of looking for the perfect setup instead of taking what the other team gives them.
“I think what happened was we probably got too caught up in the structure,” he said. “Most of the time, you score on the power play because you have an extra guy on the ice and no one can cover him. I think we got too caught up in being in our special spots and not letting the game come to us.”
An improved power play should help the Raiders offense, which has scored three goals four times in their last six games, but only one combined goal in the other two games.
One constant for Colgate recently has been goalie Andrew Farrier.
After playing sparingly during the first season and a half of his collegiate career, the sophomore has been a stalwart in net over the last several months. Farrier made his first start of the season on Nov. 23 and started all but one of Colgate’s 13 games since that point. His .933 save percentage ranks seventh in the country.
“He’s been playing unbelievable and he’s such a good teammate,” Vaughn said. “He brings the guys up and he’s a vocal player. He’s a positive guy and has that effect on our team. On top of that, he’s playing good hockey.”
Goals have been hard to come by for Quinnipiac’s Odeen Tufto this season. But the Bobcats junior has been making plenty of other contributions elsewhere on the ice.
Tufto had three assists in a pair of Quinnipiac wins last weekend, including the primary assist on Wyatt Bongiovanni’s game-winning goal Saturday against Colgate. He has 26 assists in 26 games this season and is fourth in the country in assists per game.
“Obviously the goals aren’t going in; you’ve got to find other positives with your game,” Tufto said.
In addition to setting up his teammates, Tufto has been one of Quinnipiac’s top faceoff men all season.
That’s made the Bobcats first-line center a valuable player this season, despite only having three goals after scoring 15 times last year.
“I’m trying not to get frustrated,” he said. “Obviously you want to score more. I’m just trying to focus on a three-zone game and help the team.”
Big Red milestone
Saturday’s Big Red Freakout! win checked off several milestones for Rensselaer.
The Engineers beat Vermont 1-0 to snap a five-game losing streak in Big Red Freakout! games. RPI also ended a five-game losing streak against the Catamounts, a skid that dated back to 2004. It was also the 200th career win for coach Dave Smith, who is in his third season at RPI after spending 12 years as the head coach at Canisius.
The Freakout! started in 1978 and has become one of the highlights of RPI’s schedule. Dozens of hockey alumni return for the game, while fans paint themselves in the school colors and pack the stands.
“The buzz is here,” Smith said. “To have our guys experience [a win], the seniors haven’t had that feeling and you could just see that. That’s the tradition and history that RPI brings. Can you imagine the disappointment for an RPI senior class not to experience that? Now they’ve got a Mayor’s Cup and a Freakout! in back-to-back weekends.”
Not only was it the first Freakout! win for the school’s senior class, but it was also an important home weekend as the Engineers enter the stretch run. RPI beat Dartmouth 7-1 Friday and is making a push to host a playoff series for the first time since 2016.
Smith said nearly 60 hockey alumni returned to campus for the weekend. That, coupled with a raucous crowd, made for a great atmosphere at Houston Field House.
“It was just electric [Saturday], senior defenseman Will Reilly said. “Every hit we had, the crowd was going nuts and we really fed off that. It was a lot of fun to play in.”
Owen Savory made 38 saves to record the third shutout in Freakout! history.
“When you skate out there for the anthem and the whole crowd yells “red” that gives us chills,” Savory said. “That’s why we sacrificed because [the alumni] did a long time ago.”
Big thud for the Big Green
Dartmouth entered last weekend unbeaten in five of its last six games. But that stretch came crashing to a halt with a pair of ugly road losses at Rensselaer and Union.
On Friday, the Engineers routed the Big Green 7-1, while the Dutchmen jumped out to a 4-1 lead Saturday that Dartmouth was unable to overcome en route to a 4-3 loss.
The losses dropped the Big Green into seventh place in the league standings, although it has a game in hand on sixth-place RPI.
The schedule sets up well down the stretch for Dartmouth, who has five of its remaining seven games at home. The Big Green are 7-1-2 at Thompson Arena this season.