LAKE PLACID, NY -- The Colgate University hockey team had a memorable second half of the 2013-14 season after receiving a jolt of confidence at the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis.
The Raiders, sitting at 7-9-2 entering the tournament, tied Minnesota, advancing to the championship game by way of a shootout victory. A night later Don Vaughan's team upset Ferris State, 3-0, to win the annual holiday tournament.
"We've played well in the new year. A big part of that had to do with gaining confidence in the tournament at Minnesota where we beat Minnesota the first night and had the chance to play No. 2 Ferris State the second night," explained Vaughan.
The successful weekend against two quality opponents certainly gave the young Raiders team confidence, but it gave credence to the message Vaughan and his coaching staff was preaching during the first half.
"I think at that point our guys realized [we could win]. We were trying to play a certain way, but we hadn't had the kind of success we were hoping for early. I don't think the guys were doubting what we were doing, but until you actually succeed against great opponents like that with the style of play we wanted, it's still hard to really believe. That had a big impact on what happened in the second half," explained Vaughan.
Another major breakthrough was the emergence of freshman goaltender Charlie Finn. The Raiders had struggled with consistency for much of the first half, but were able to ride the hot play of the North Vancouver, British Columbia native between the pipes.
"Clearly, Charlie Finn, our freshman goaltender, has been a big part of [the turnaround] as well," said Vaughan.
"We know what we had coming in [to the season]. With any player there is an adjustment period, especially with goaltenders. Even though he was a great junior goalie, things happen much quicker at [the NCAA] level," said Vaughn.
"There is a lot more traffic. You have to work and fight through it to see pucks. He was just adjusting to the pace and traffic in front of him. It took him a little bit of time. Once he did, we saw him getting better gradually, even though he didn't see a lot of the big wins early on. We saw him improving on a daily basis. It didn't come as a huge surprise to us," Vaughan continued.
Finn stopped 55 of 57 shots on the weekend out in Minneapolis, including a shutout victory over Ferris State in the championship game. It helped the young goaltender believe he could succeed at the college level.
"Like the rest of the team, the confidence he gained from those two games and getting a shutout against Ferris State, it really set him up for the second half," emphasized Vaughan.
Confidence was a necessity for such a young team with a roster made up of just two seniors, including a backup goaltender. Forward Mike McCann and goaltender Eric Mihalik are the only seniors on a club captained by junior Spiro Goulakos.
Colgate will look to continue riding the wave of confidence as the Raiders face Quinnipiac in Friday's second semifinal at the ECAC Hockey Championship. The Raiders split the regular season series with Quinnipiac, losing, 7-2, on home ice and winning, 3-1, on the road.
"We know we can beat [Quinnipiac] because we did just a month ago, but if we were coming in off the game we had [against them] here in November we'd be in a different place mentally," explained Vaughan.
"They were clearly the best team we had played. They may still have been the best team we played all year long in that November game. We hardly touched the puck. They were that dominant," continued Vaughan.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.