This is finally Blaise MacDonald’s team, all throughout the roster, from start to finish. And based on its head coach’s track record, that’s a good thing for the Colby College men’s hockey team.

MacDonald knows a thing or two about recruiting. As the head coach at UMass Lowell from 2001-11, he landed many of the players that eventually formed the core of the River Hawks’ Hockey East championship squads. While at Niagara from 1996-2001, he led the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2000. And as the recruiting coordinator as an assistant at Boston University, he helped bring in the players that led the Terriers to the national championship in 1995.

MacDonald is now in his fifth season with the Mules, and all the players recruited by his predecessor have cycled out. And he likes the product he has now.

“When you take over a company and you inherit a bunch of employees that maybe aren’t in line with your culture and your personality, I don’t think you’re going to perform as well until you get the proper alignment,” he said. “We inherited very good players here and great kids, but it’s just a little bit different when you’ve got all kids you’ve recruited here.”

What he has is a group built to play his style — fast, aggressive, pushing the pace and creating chances.

“My coaching philosophy is the team that breaks out the cleanest and quickest wins,” he said. “So you need to be connected, you need to be on the same page, you need to be quick. You need to be confident.”

MacDonald also has some valuable consistency in the ranks. The team’s top 11 players from a season ago are back, including Cam MacDonald, Blaise’s son and the top scorer with 20 points as a sophomore last year, and Devin Albert, a senior forward who led the team with 11 goals and who Coach MacDonald has sky-high hopes for.

“I think Devin Albert could be the best player in the league this year,” he said. “(He does) everything. Fast, great stick skills, great nose for the net. He’s got the complete package.”

With so many returners, Colby has depth beyond its top scorers.

“I think EJ Rauseo had a great sophomore year, I look at him as having a real good year,” Coach MacDonald said. “Mike Rudolf is a junior from Switzerland, he looks fabulous, powerful, strong, determined, good skills. Colin Reilly is very similar to Rudolf in that regard.”

It’s the same story on defense. Colby returns five of its top six blueliners from last year, a group that includes seniors Jack Burton and Geoff Sullivan, who Coach MacDonald believes are “two of the best defensemen in the league.”

“They’re different types of players. Jack Burton’s about 6-foot-3, great length, good skater, real shutdown guy,” he said. “Geoff Sullivan’s probably 5-9 or 5-10, real jump-in-and-play-offense guy, great skater, less physical than Jack but certainly can separate and play good defense.”

The whole defensive unit buys into MacDonald’s approach, with players not afraid to lead the transition and get involved at the other end. “Our defensive corps (were) the leading point producers in the conference last year, and pretty much all those guys are back,” Coach MacDonald said.

Even the new guy feels like he’s been around. The Mules have a new goalie in Andrew Tucci, but the freshman and Toronto native is developed beyond his years, having played junior hockey in Canada after playing his prep hockey at Choate in Connecticut.

“He comes with a lot of experience. I think he’s going to do very, very well,” Coach MacDonald said. “He’s a very technically sound goaltender, he’s competitive, and I expect him to have an excellent year as a freshman.”

Put it all together and it’s a mix for a winner, but the coach said his team still has to learn to become one. Colby had an up-and-down 2015-16, going 9-11-5 and losing in the first round of the NESCAC tournament, and while MacDonald said there were some encouraging signs, he recognized that an attitude adjustment was needed for the team to make the jump to being a contender this year.

“Manage the moment and manage the gaps,” he said. “What I mean by that is, you go up two goals, get the third one. You’re down two goals, just be present and worry about the next shift. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself or worry about what you haven’t done.”

He’s confident he’s got the right players for the task. After all, he picked them.

“The old way, it’s human nature. You’re just a little bit comfortable, you set in your mind that ‘yeah, we can play well and maybe not win,’ ” he said. “This team, I think, understands that true discomfort in tough times, that’s where the old way of doing things changes to the new way of getting better.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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