Union-Colgate Game 3 postgame report
Union learned the same hard lesson that RPI had to go through just a week ago — when you have an opponent down one game to none, put them away.
Step on their throat. Stick a dagger in their heart. Just don't give them any life.
Well, Colgate came to the Capital Region the 12th and final seed in the ECAC Hockey tournament. They are leaving here with a berth in the conference final four.
How did this happen? Simple. Fifth-seeded RPI and top-seeded Union couldn't put the Raiders away. Colgate won Game 2 in both series, and then captured dramatic overtime wins to eliminate the Capital Region from the tournament.
Last Sunday, it was Robbie Bourdon who was the hero, scoring midway through double overtime to give the Raiders a 2-1 win over the Engineers. On Sunday, it was Wade Poplawski providing the heroics, scoring with 7:08 left in OT to give the Raiders a 4-3 win.
After going 3-22-2 in their first 27 games, including 0-13-2 in ECACH play, Colgate (11-26-3) will be heading to Atlantic City, N.J., and not Union.
And the Raiders deserve it. Before you start whining about why the ECACH takes all 12 teams to the tournament, let's look deeper into Colgate. It brought back 20 players from last year's fourth-place team. The Raiders were picked to finish fifth in the coaches poll, and fourth in the media poll, even getting two first-place votes.
But, for some reason, Colgate stumbled for the first four months of the season. The Raiders lost 11 one-goal games, culminating with a 2-1 overtime loss to RPI on a Chase Polacek penalty shot while the Raiders were on a five-minute power play.
Then, they turned it around. They had a good finish to the regular season, going 4-2-1.
And then came the postseason.
"We had a challenging year," Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. "And I couldn't be happier for the guy sitting next to me [Poplawski] and his two classmates, Brian Day and Francois Brisebois, the seniors who endured a lot. There was a lot on their shoulders. For us to come in here last week, and then again this week and get a win like this speaks volumes for me about the character of the senior class and our captains. I couldn't be more proud of our team."
The Raiders became the second straight team to knock off the top seed. Brown did it last year to Yale.
Colgate is now this season's Cinderella story. And how appropriate, given that the tournament will be played where the Miss America Pageant used to be held.
"It's been a bit of a fairy tale so far, having the season that we had," Poplawski said. "We just haven't stopped believing in ourselves and each other. It showed in our last two weekends. We feel we're playing our best hockey at the right time, and we're just elated right now."
As for the Dutchmen, there are two points that they must address heading into a possible NCAA tournament berth. Sitting ninth in the PairWise Rankings, it looks good for the Dutchmen to make the 16-team field.
The first is do a better job protecting the lead. It has to be very disturbing to Union coach Nate Leaman that his team wasted a 2-0 lead Saturday, and couldn't hold onto three one-goal leads Sunday.
The other is the uncharacteristic penalties it took. The Dutchmen, whose 11.7 penalty minutes per game average was the fourth-lowest in ECACH play this season, gave the Raiders seven power plays.
Union, which has the best power play in the nation, received only three man advantages.
"It was the big difference in the game," Leaman said. "In an elimination game, you can't give a team that many power plays. That's the bottom line."
My three stars of the game.
1) Wade Poplawski, Colgate — Scored the series-clinching goal.
2) Eric Mihalik, Colgate — Stopped 34 shots.
3) Mat Bodie, Union — One goal, one assist.
That is all from Messa Rink for the final time this season. Look for my College Hockey Slap Schotts blog on Monday.
Good Night! Good Hockey!