March 30, 2012

Rhode Island native Mayer makes new home at Colgate

By Dan Guttenplan

Austin Mayer was sure he’d made the right decision when he committed to Providence College early in his senior year of high school in 2006. 

Austin Mayer (Providence, R.I.) found his footing at Colgate in the ECAC Hockey tournament last year. (Photo by Bob Cornell)

A Providence, R.I., native and former hockey standout at Moses Brown, Mayer figured he’d be the hometown hero in a large, talented freshman class that would lift PC back to prominence. It took less than two years for that storybook script to end up in flames.

Between January of Mayer’s sophomore season and the summer before his junior season, five of the 11 members of Mayer’s PC class transferred to other schools. Mayer was the last, and in exchange for a fresh start at Colgate, he had to redshirt for the 2009-10 school year.

“I wanted that to work out,” Mayer says of his PC experience. “It didn’t, and that was a total bummer. Obviously, when you’re a young kid growing up in Providence, Hockey East is everything. I figured I’d get in on the ground level with a big class, and energize the program. I loved my teammates, but hockey-wise, it was a disappointment.”

After compiling modest statistics (four goals, nine assists, 13 points) in 46 career games at Providence, Mayer realized he had to court Division 1 coaches once he decided to transfer in the spring of his sophomore year. He sent game tape to various Division 1 schools, and Colgate assistant Brad Dexter remembered Mayer from recruiting him as a high school athlete.

“Brad Dexter had seen him,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “We had shown some interest before he chose Providence. He was from there, so it was understandable why he gave that a go. When things changed there, he approached us. He got his (NCAA) waiver, and Brad vouched for him. So that was something we decided to pursue.”

Three years later, Mayer may be the key piece in Colgate’s pursuit of an ECAC tournament title. While Colgate’s top scoring line, which includes Hobey Baker candidate Austin Smith along with wingers Chris Wagner (Walpole, Mass.) and Joe Wilson, will be counted on to provide consistent offensive production, Mayer’s line will be expected to provide the physicality and energy.

Playing with forwards Matt Firman and Nick Prockow, Mayer has been instrumental in establishing game tempo, according to Vaughan.

“When Austin’s on his game, and he’s jumping over the boards, he spends so much time in the offensive zone,” Vaughan said. “He skates hard, competes and plays with an edge. He doesn’t take dumb penalties, but he gets under people’s skin. I really like that in him; he’s an agitator.”

Through Colgate’s first 30 games, the Raiders were 12-1 when Mayer recorded at least one point. Smith, who scored 32 goals during that stretch, said Mayer’s physicality provides space on the ice for other lines.

“He shuts down the other team’s top line,” Smith said. “He’s been a big part of what we’ve done. To have a chance to get to where we want to go, we needs guys like that.”

Because of Mayer’s style of play, the redshirt season was especially difficult for him. It’s one thing to be an agitator against ECAC Hockey foes, but an entirely other to be an agitator on a random Wednesday afternoon intersquad practice

“It was a long year, but it was worth it,” Mayer said. “I got to do all of the hard work with none of the paycheck. I’d practice Monday to Thursday and put on a suit and sit in the stands on the weekend. I didn’t even go on road trips. It was a drag, it was thankless, and I didn’t have any say in the outcome of games. But it’s what I had to do — no regrets.”

Mayer says he used the redshirt season to study the playing style of then-Colgate teammate David McIntyre, who is now playing professionally in the AHL. McIntyre had a 39-point season as a senior, and through watching him, Mayer learned how to create space for himself on the ice and finish scoring opportunities.

“I’d sit there and think, ‘Why does everything he’s doing work?’” Mayer says. “When you study that kind of game, it can be beneficial. I’m not saying I’ve figured it out to that extent, but it was great to see the game and focus on the details.”

Mayer’s first season at Colgate mirrored that of the team. He struggled to find a role early, just as Colgate plummeted to the bottom of the ECAC standings. But he came on late just in time for Colgate’s run in the ECAC tournament. Mayer’s season totals of five goals and five assists in 36 games seem inconsequential at first view. But his timing was impeccable. Mayer recorded four of his 10 points in the ECAC tournament series wins against fifth-seed RPI and top-seed Union.

This season, it will come as a surprise to no one if the Raiders make noise in the ECAC tournament. If that does happen, Mayer likely will have a say in the proceedings.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com