The Colgate Scene
A Flyer among Raiders
Practice for the Colgate men's hockey team was over, but a bunch of players stayed on the ice and ran more drills. They jawed back and forth, laughed at errant shots, and shook their heads after some big-time stops from one of the guys playing between the pipes.
When the mid-January practice session came to a close, Robert Esche flopped down on his goalie pads, gathered up pucks, and tossed them in a bucket.
Yes, that Robert Esche, the six-year NHL veteran who last year took the Philadelphia Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals before the team fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
This year, there has been no NHL season because team owners have locked out the players during a labor dispute.
So Esche began working out with the Raiders and has agreed to stay with the team as a volunteer assistant coach, as long as the NHL season remains in limbo.
Esche grew up in nearby Whitesboro and now lives in Westmoreland, about 20 minutes from Colgate. He had spoken with Joe Nieuwendyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who has been working with the hockey team at Cornell University, where he starred as a player.
Esche started exploring the idea of doing something similar. A Colgate link was already established: head hockey coach Don Vaughan knows Esche's dad, Robin. For the past four years they have put together a team that travels to Canada to compete in a summer hockey league.
"He's playing in the best league in the world and he obviously has the skills," said Vaughan. "But the thing that will really help our goalies is that he's able to express himself in a way that they'll be able to learn from."
The Raiders' No. 1 goalie, Steve Silverthorn, couldn't believe how quick Esche was in the nets as his teammates fired pucks at him. Silverthorn said the "little" suggestions Esche gave him have already made a big difference.
"He's in the NHL, so he's told us things that he's been through," said Silverthorn. "He talked about staying within a certain area in the crease, that you don't need to move that much."
But if you listened to Esche, sitting in the locker room after practice, trading verbal jabs with senior Dmitry Yashin and other players as if he'd been with the team all year, he's the one benefiting from his Raiders experience.
"I feel really fortunate that I've been given this opportunity to come out and work with the goalies and get some work myself," he said.
The Colgate practices were the first time he'd been on the ice, other than for charity events, in a long time.
"Just to be back in a routine, to be back with guys who are in a race and are trying to win every game, the structure, the practice, it's a lot of fun," said the 26-year-old Esche.
At press time, the Raiders were locked in a tight race for the No. 1 spot in the ECAC Hockey League. Colgate has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the national polls this season. — Tim O'Keeffe
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