Inexperienced Colgate program moves on after Austin Smith era

“The Austin Smith era is over.”

So began head coach Don Vaughan’s remarks during the preseason news conference. They’re not unreasonable words, either, considering what Smith meant to the program during his exceptional four years in Hamilton. But those memories are only that — memories — and it’s time to look ahead to a new age in Colgate hockey.

“We’re going to be a young team this year. We lost 11 players off last year’s team. That hasn’t happened in a number of years,” Vaughan said. “Seventy-eight of the 121 goals from last year are gone. It’s a new era here for a young team. We have a smaller roster, only 24 players. It’s going to be more of an offense by committee.”

Fortunately for the Raiders, Vaughan is no novice when it comes to the art of personnel management. The coach hits his two-decade mark this year, all with Colgate, and though he is painfully aware of the challenges this year, he’s eager to get at it.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve, we’ll have seven or eight freshmen playing every night,” he said. “From a coaching perspective, it’s going to be fun. I like our team speed — we will be a little bit quicker. I think we’re going to have to be patient. We have a couple guys back that have proven they can score at this level, [senior] Kurtis Bartliff, John Lidgett and Joey Wilson.

“Our strength is going to be on the back end. We have a lot of experience and a goalie [junior Eric Mihalik] who has proven he can win the big games. I’m excited, looking forward to get going.”

On Mihalik and the net, Vaughan said: “We feel good. Eric’s been our guy. He shared a bit of time early on with Alex [Evin last year]. He had a tremendous summer, development camp in Chicago. From what we heard, he played well there. He’s expected to be the guy out of the gate. [Freshman] Spencer Finney, we feel he’ll push him [Mihalik] pretty hard. The hardest thing for Spencer is getting him his minutes if Eric does what we expect him to do.”

Energy and enthusiasm notwithstanding, Vaughan hopes he receives a little slack to open the year … not just from the fans, but from himself.

“For most head coaches at this level [patience is not one of our best virtues],” said Vaughan, whose team opened with a 10-2 victory over Niagara. “We’re going to have to be patient. I keep on telling myself that over and over, and I’m hoping the fans can follow along those lines as well, although that’s not always the case. From a coaching standpoint, it’s going to have to be.”

Any patience might see a reward sooner rather than later, as the Raiders are pleased with their rookie haul this year.

“We’re going to have one of the most talented freshman classes [in the league],” Vaughan said. “Tylor and Tyson Spink, twins: Fun to watch, they find each other so well.”

Other freshman to note: Kyle Baun and Mike Borkowski. These two and the Spink twins all played for the championship-finalist Cornwall Colts of the CCHL. Vaughan said the four of them could see time on the same power-play unit.

“We’re thinking about using that group together simply because they’ve worked so well together,” Vaughan said.

On the back end, there’s Ryan Johnston and Kevin Lough. Vaughan said they both remind him of Cory Murphy, a big part of the 2000 team with Andy MacDonald. The coach indicated that either guy could easily quarterback the power play at some point.

About the Raiders

2011-12 overall record: 19-17-3

2011-12 ECAC record: 11-10-1 (fourth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Ninth

Key losses: G Alex Evin, F Austin Mayer, D Corbin McPherson, F Austin Smith, F Chris Wagner

Players to watch: F Robbie Bourdon, D Jeremy Price, F John Lidgett, F Joe Wilson

Impact rookies: F Tylor Spink, F Tyson Spink

Why the Raiders will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: The Spinks will be everything and more, supporting the continued development of Wilson and a career year out of Bourdon. Defense and goaltending will be healthy and solid, and Austin Smith’s ghost will be put to rest by December.

Why the Raiders will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: Young talent will be slow to catch up to the Division I pace, leaving returning forwards to bear all the expectations and attention of the opposition. Special teams and goaltending will fail to jell.