Coach Jim Tortorella noticed a change in his men’s hockey team when it returned to campus after the holiday break. The Mules were more focused, ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. “January was one of the most successful months we’ve had,” Tortorella said. “Our guys started to feel pretty good about themselves.”
Colby finished with a 12-11-2 record, remarkable considering the downward spiral of the first half of the campaign. With just two wins in their first 11 games, the Mules rallied, winning 10 of their final 14 games including a NESCAC quarterfinal.
“I don’t know if we ever had a turnaround. Maybe in the sense of the way success may be measured in won-loss record, maybe that started to show a different result,” Tortorella said.
Five of Colby’s first eight losses were by a single goal. A five-game losing streak in December and early January included a pair of losses to rival Bowdoin, including a 6-5 loss at Alfond Rink Dec. 11 in which Colby surrendered a 5-1 lead.
“We never thought we were the worst team on the ice,” senior captain Wil Hartigan said. “You can say all you want how good you are, but until you start winning some games that doesn’t matter.”
Tortorella felt the season’s turning point came in another tough loss, 7-2 at Norwich Jan. 8. The Mules trailed 3-2 early in the third period before giving up four late goals. “I thought we played well for two periods. It got away from us in the third. But we started to make some decisions on lineups then,” Tortorella said.
The Mules followed with an 11-1 win over the University of New England.
“We were kind of in a little slump, then we beat UNE and a bunch of guys got points,” said Hartigan, who had 10 goals and 10 assists on the season. “Then we beat Southern Maine and we got our confidence up.”
Though the Mules had seniors at a few key positions, goalie Cody McKinney and forwards Bill Crinnion and Hartigan to name a few, this was a young team, with nine first-years and a sophomore, defenseman Scott Harff, a transfer from Brown.
Steady improvement of the young defense was a key to Colby’s second-half surge. Harff scored a team-high six power play goals.
“The first-years were a significant part of how we progressed,” Tortorella said. “The four defensemen really started to define themselves.”
As defensive play improved, so did McKinney’s work in net. He recorded a 1.99 goals against average during Colby’s second-half run and earned his third career shutout, a 1-0 win over New England College Feb. 18.
Tortorella said players took a lot of personal responsibility, and that helped the Mules work through the slow start.
Colby capped its revived season with a 2-1 win at perennial powerhouse Middlebury in the NESCAC quarterfinals. “Our guys weren’t distracted by where we were going, when we were going, how we were going, or who we were playing. It was always more about us. At Middlebury, we didn’t think of them,” Tortorella said.
Added Hartigan: “I know a lot of people saw that as an upset, but we went into it thinking we were the better team.”
Next season that momentum may carry over. Colby returns seven of its top 10 scorers, including Mike Doherty ’12, who led the Mules with 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) and was an all-NESCAC selection.