Season Preview: Experienced Raiders Look to Continue Momentum

Corbin McPherson (l); Kevin McNamara (c); and Thomas Larkin (r).
Corbin McPherson (l); Kevin McNamara (c); and Thomas Larkin (r).

Colgate is set to take the ice for its 81st season and will look to build off of the second half of the 2010-11 season when the Raiders turned their season around with a deep run into the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

Colgate finished with an 11-28-3 record, but won eight of its last 15 games, which included series wins at Rensselaer and top-seeded Union in last season's playoffs. The Raiders went 4-15-2 in ECAC Hockey, which was celebrating its 50th year as a collegiate hockey conference.

The team returns 21 players from last year's roster of 24. Colgate will be without its leading scorer from a year ago in Francois Brisebois and 100-point scorer Brian Day. Wade Poplawski, the defensive leader in 2010-11, was lost to graduation. The departing seniors will be missed, but Colgate returns three of its top five point-getters. Austin Smith, who was a preseason all-league selection, tallied 31 points on 10 goals and 21 assists and eclipsed the 100-point plateau. Classmates Robbie Bourdon and Kurtis Bartliff had breakout seasons with 28 points each. 

The core of the blueline is back as the only loss is Poplawski. Jeremy Price and Thomas Larkin were the leading scorers last season with Price tallying a career-high 19 points, while Larkin added 11. Corbin McPherson and Kevin McNamara are back for their final season as leaders on the defensive end. In goal, Eric Mihalik took over in the second half of the year as the starting netminder, but Alex Evin and Bryan Bessette will also be in the mix during their final year.

The Raiders recently announced this year's captains and they will be all on the blueline as seniors Kevin McNamara and Corbin McPherson and junior Thomas Larkin will be wearing the "C" on the sweater. McNamara was an assistant captain on last year's squad, while McPherson and Larkin will be captains for the first time.

The Raiders will be without two of its top forwards from a season ago in Day and Brisebois, but the group returning is ready to step in and fill in for the two that departed. Smith returns as the top scorer with 31 points and has reached 30 points in every season for Colgate.

Juniors Bartliff and Bourdon are back after stellar sophomore seasons with 28 points apiece. They will be counted on to get points left behind by Day and Brisebois on both the power play and even-strength. Bartliff was a catalyst on the man advantage with 13 points, which was second behind Smith's 16. Bourdon raised his play from 15 points as a rookie to 28 points in his second year, which is just about a 100 percent improvement. Sophomore Chris Wagner will be back after a great postseason and rookie year with 19 points. He scored three goals and added three assist for six points during the playoffs and had three points alone with a goal and two assists in a must-win game against top-seeded Union.

The forward position is not short on experience as the Raiders will be sending out four more seniors in addition to Smith. Matt Firman, Austin Mayer, Mark Nasca and Nick Prockow, will all be playing in their final season. Prockow led the group with 13 points, while Mayer added 10 in 2010-11. Firman finished with six points, while Nasca had three. Christian Long and Billy Rivellini are juniors on the squad and each had three points last year and will look to contribute more this season. Mike McCann and Jack McNamara join Wagner as sophomores. The pair enjoyed successful first campaigns with nine and four points, respectively.

The Raiders bring back a lot of experience on the blueline this season, but will be without Wade Poplawski, who was a very consistent defender for Colgate in 2010-11. Jeremy Price and Thomas Larkin return as the high point-getters for the defense. Price ranked ninth in ECAC Hockey in defenseman scoring with 10 points on five goals and 14 helpers. He was fourth on the team in power play points with 10. Larkin was an offensive threat as well with 11 points, including a career-high five goals. He also joined Team Italy at the IIHF Division IA World Championship and won the gold medal.

These two will be counted on to carry the same offensive load, but two other seniors are looking to contribute.

Kevin McNamara and Corbin McPherson are the most experienced players on the blueline as each has played over 100 career games at the position. McNamara finished with nine points a season ago, while McPherson had 10, but these two seniors make their impact on the defensive end. Juniors Mike Leidl and Nathan Sinz will be looked upon to provide more of a significant role on this year's squad. The two played in a combined 53 games with Sinz getting the call 27 times and Leidl hitting the ice in 26 games. Each had three points.

The Raiders are hoping to improve its defense this year after a tough 2010-11 season, when Colgate finished 11th in ECAC Hockey in scoring defense as it allowed 3.38 goals per game and gave up a league-high 142 scores in 42 games.

At the goaltending position, Colgate is probably the most experienced than any other position. Eric Mihalik returns for his second season as the primary netminder after a stellar second half of last season. He will be competing against seniors Alex Evin and Bryan Bessette throughout the season. All three are capable of being the starting goaltender for the Raiders.

Mihalik finished out his rookie season with a 8-15-2 record with a goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .903 as he took over as the starting goalie midway through the year. He started 21 of the last 22 games for Colgate last year, including all eight postseason games. Mihalik finished the year with 11 games of 30 or more saves and became the first rookie goalie to win two playoff series in one season.

Evin was the starter early on in 2010 with 12 starts in the first 14 games. He posted a 3-10-1 mark in those games with a .891 save percentage and a 3.22 goals against average. He showed some bright spots with 21 saves against Sacred Heart in his first collegiate shutout and also had 39 stops against Niagara and #19 Princeton, but both were in losses. Bessette also got time last season as he started a career-high nine games. He made 39 saves in a tough 4-3 overtime loss to Dartmouth in the Ledyard Classic on New Year's Eve.

Head coach Don Vaughan and the Colgate men's hockey program will be welcoming five new members to the squad.

Defenseman Brendan Corcoran (Milton, Mass./Bay State Breaker (EJHL)), defenseman Spiro Goulakos (Montreal, Que./St-Jerome Panthers (QJAAAHL)), forward Daniel Gentzler (Manhattan Beach, Calif./Surrey Eagles (BCHL)), forward John Lidgett (Calgary, Alta./Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)) and forward Joe Wilson (North Syracuse, N.Y./Kingston Voyageurs (OJHL)) will all join the Raiders for the 2010-2011 season.

Corcoran, a 5-10, 185-pound defenseman, arrives in Hamilton after playing in 88 games for the Bay State Breakers of the Eastern Junior Hockey League in two seasons. He scored 12 goals and added 40 assists in his two years and was named a league all-star both years. He was also the team captain and MVP last year. Corcoran spent one year at St. Sebastian's School and was an All-Independent School League performer.

Goulakos, a 6-2, 185-pound defenseman, comes to Colgate from the St-Jerome Panthers of the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League. He skated for two different teams in the league and played junior hockey since the 2007-08 season. He posted 62 points in his first two years for the Vaudreuil-Dorion Mustangs, including a 44-point season in 2008-09. Goulakos then moved to the Panthers in 2009-10 and tallied 97 points in his two-year stint with the Panthers. He was a first team all-star and was named the QJAAAHL's Best Defenseman.

Gentzler, a 5-10, 175-pound forward, scored 15 goals and added 25 assists for 40 points last season with the Surrey Eagles of the British Columbia Hockey League. Prior to last season, he played for the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League and had 13 goals and 41 points. He also won a California State Championship in 2009 as a member of the Mira Costa High School Mustangs.

Lidgett, a 5-9, 180-pound forward, comes to Colgate after appearing for two different teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He skated for the Calgary Mustangs and earned AJHL Rookie of the Year honors. He then joined the Camrose Kodiaks and had 10 goals in 20 playoff games. Lidgett tallied 78 points in 104 career games in the AJHL with 31 goals and 47 assists. He also participated in the Junior A Challenge for Team Canada West and the 2011 RBC Junior A National Championship for the Kodiaks.

Wilson, a 5-10, 185-pound forward, played last season for the Kingston Voyageurs of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and had 56 points in 46 games with 26 goals and 30 assists. He recorded 21 points in last year's OJHL playoffs. Prior to his stay in Kingston, he was the EJHL Rookie of the Year with the Syracuse Stars and had one of the best rookie seasons in league history with 63 points on 29 goals and 34 assists. Wilson attended Liverpool High School and was also a baseball player for the Warriors.

The Raiders will be playing 16 home games in a very even home-and-away schedule with 17 games away from Starr Rink.

In addition to their ECAC Hockey schedule, the Raiders will face teams from the other four hockey conferences, including the Miami for a two-game set at Starr Rink in October. Colgate will face five of the 16 schools that made the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

The matchup with the RedHawks comes during Homecoming Weekend on Oct. 15 and 16. The following weekend it's the second annual Cape Cod Classic against Army at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center. The Raiders will then come home to New York for a home-and-home against Niagara.

Other non-conference matchups on the schedule, include a visit to Ferris State, who was ranked in the top-20 a season ago. Colgate will take on Vermont in an old ECAC Hockey contest during Thanksgiving week and then the Raiders host Merrimack at home on Dec. 10.