Of the four teams playing for the ECAC Hockey tournament championship this weekend at the Times Union Center, Colgate is undoubtedly the biggest surprise.
The Raiders’ season has been a series of ups and downs.
u They started league play
u They beat perennial power Wisconsin in the Badger Showdown semifinals in a shootout, and later in the season, lost a 2-1 overtime game at home to a weak Connecticut team, a night after routing the Huskies, 7-1.
u Senior goalie Mark Dekanich set a league record for consecutive shutout minutes.
u They went 1-2-1 over their final four regular-season games, but managed to finish eighth, and earn the last first-round home-ice berth.
Twice in the postseason, Colgate lost the first game of the series. But the Raiders battled back, winning the final two games against ninth-seeded St. Lawrence in the first round. Then, last weekend, Colgate accomplished what no other ECACH team could during the regular season, beating top-seeded and defending tournament champion Clarkson on its home ice. Not once, but twice.
After dropping a 1-0 decision in Game 1 Friday, Colgate bounced back to win Game 2, 4-3, Saturday, and then pulled off the stunning upset Sunday, 3-2, in double overtime.
The Raiders (18-16-6) will face second-seeded Princeton (19-13) in Friday’s first semifinal at 4 p.m. Harvard (16-12-4) and Cornell
(18-13-3) meet in the other semi at 7.
“It’s always so difficult to get there, whether you get the bye or not,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “In years we had the bye, we still had to battle through three games a couple of times. There’s a good feeling the way we came back, and winning in overtime is always special. We played two very good opponents. The St. Lawrence series was unbelievable, and Clarkson’s a great team.”
Colgate reached the semifinals in 2005 and 2006, the season the Raiders shared the regular-season title with Dartmouth. In both years, Colgate lost in the semifinals.
The Raiders entered the 2006-07 season as the favorites to win the title, but couldn’t match the success of the previous season and finished eighth. They swept Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the first round before getting swept by St. Lawrence in the quarterfinals.
After another eighth-place finish this season, a trip to Albany appeared to be the remotest of possibilities. But the players never doubted themselves.
“It shows the character of the guys we have,” said senior forward Tyler Burton, the team’s leading scorer with 22 goals and 18 assists. “Over the last two seasons, we’ve gone through a lot of adversity. Things didn’t really go our way earlier this season. We had some
really good moments at times. Other times, we really struggled.”
It didn’t look good after losing to St. Lawrence in Game 1 two weeks ago. Burton was held scoreless, and Dekanich was pulled following the second period. After that game, Vaughan did something that he said he rarely has had to do — challenged his team leaders, including Burton and Dekanich.
Burton had three goals and two assists, while Dekanich made 62 saves in the next two games against the Saints.
“[Tyler] responded like you would expect a guy of his ability and the kind of person that he is,” Vaughan said. “He took the team on his shoulders. He basically said, ‘Hey, follow me.’ That’s the kind of player he has been.”
Dekanich saved his best for the finale against Clarkson, a team that was 10-0-1 in league play at home, and 14-1-1 overall during the regular season. He made 52 saves, including 18 in the third period and 14 in the overtime periods.
“Mark’s just a rock back there,” Vaughan said. “He doesn’t say much. He goes about his business. He was spectacular [Sunday] night.”
Dekanich had a league-record shutout streak of 217 minutes, six seconds, surpassing the old mark of 198:44, set by Union’s Trevor Koenig during the 1996-97 season. For Dekanich, getting to the semifinals the hard way makes this trip more special than the previous two appearances.
“For us seniors, this is our last chance at an ECAC championship,” said Dekanich, who is 18-14-6 with a 2.12 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and six shutouts. “We’re pushing really hard. We did everything we could to get the wins we needed to. We ended up on the right side of the stick.”
Burton believes the Raiders are ready to win the team’s first tournament title since 1990.
“I think we’ve peaked at the right time,” Burton said. “With our backs against the wall the last two weekends kind of shows what our team is capable of. The determination we have is pretty impressive [in] coming back in both situations.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: