Those great achievers who dared to dream the unthinkable, the perfect season, who did more than dreamt, in realizing it, return to their forever home of Lynah Rink on Saturday, July 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm to observe the sapphire anniversary that unites all generations of Lynah Faithful. The presence of the Faithful at this game will make this commemoration all the more meaningful. All true Lynah Faithful deserving of the name who can find a way to East Hill shall.
Dick Bertrand '70, star winger, eventual head coach, and captain of the 1969-70 team, offered generously to serve as a guide for us, the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread, in better understanding this triumphant team on the 45th anniversary of its greatest accomplishment. The co-captain of perfection confirmed what many more recent generations of players and Lynah Faithful surmised. Perfection was the goal.
"The dedication, team goals set and met, teamwork, motivation, desire to win...seemed to be natural to us," summarized Bertrand. Unchecked ambition and unbounded desire drove the legends of the 1969-70 team to brave the impossible. Ardor distinguished this team from perhaps all other hockey teams in the history of the game.
"[C]aring and support for one another, just seemed to be natural to all of us...Coach Ned Harkness was the master at molding us together, teaching us to excel beyond expectation, and by instilling pride, desire, character, hard work, fear of failing and humility in us." A galvanized unity and unbreakable fraternity, forged by Harkness and undiluted by time, connects these near-mythic figures.
Many members of that team, after having reached a zenith of hockey, chose to use their talents in endeavors other than hockey. "[A]ll 23 players and our managers are still alive after 45 years since graduation, and have done well in contributing to society with their Cornell degrees." The community of Cornell University relishes its most successful student-athletes being among its best student-athletes.
The spirit of that team was harnessed individualism for an unselfish whole. In keeping with that spirit, this writer will do his best to attempt to give context to the contributions during the immortal season of the 16 players and three managers who will participate in the ceremonial puck-drop for the second annual Racker Big Red Rivals game on July 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm. Attendees will understand better the role of each as a result.
Each player and manager was not only important, but essential, to ultimate success. For those who enviously experienced this miracle, consider the tales of these greats as fond reminiscence. For the generations who lived those moments only through scattered photographs, stories, and video footage, consider these tales as a means of making real the too easily presupposed legacy and retrieving inspiring specifics from the reductionism that too often accompanies greatness.
One thing is certain. No matter your era, as Lynah Faithful, they are our team.
Bob Aitchison '71, forward, #8
Bob Aitchison '71, Bill Duthie '71, and Dave Westner '72 pigmented the Orange Line as an offensively multifaceted threat. The line connected for the first game-winning goal of Cornell's 1969-70 season. The team relied upon Aitchison in the fifth game of the season to deliver a special performance. Boston University did not know the script for the season. The Terriers scored first and refused to allow the Big Red a lead. Bob Aitchison editorialized. The possibility of loss was erased with two goals from the junior right winger. A wrap-around goal shoved into the side of Boston University's net was his game-winning flourish. Aitchison enjoyed other noteworthy multi-goal games. Dartmouth suffered the brunt of one of his historic efforts. Four goals and one assist left his stick against the Big Green at Lynah Rink on March 4, 1970. Such a game puts Bob Aitchison in élite company for his scoring prowess. However, his role as copyeditor of Ned Harkness' masterpiece, from the early contest at Boston University to his primary assist on the game winner against Wisconsin, was most essential.
Ed Ambis '72, forward, #17
How could a player whose point production in his first varsity season amounted to just three points become an instant fan favorite? He discerned his moments. Ambis called "Buffalo's first suburb" home. The denizens of Lynah Rink no less adopted him as one of their own. He was the pride of the Lynah Faithful. Ambis was the lone American on the 1969-70 squad who saw considerable ice time. His first varsity goal came in the 27th game of the season. The smaller, faster, and more precise play of Cornell vaulted the Big Red over the Golden Knights. The penchants of Ambis's line to pummel opponents and buzz opponents's nets earned them the honorific "the bumblebees." In full swarm, Ambis sunk in the stinger when he corralled a loose puck lying in front of Bruce Bullock and plunged it into the net. Eddie Ambis tied the 1970 ECAC Hockey Championship Final. The 12,396 voices of Boston Garden erupted in one of the loudest uproars in the venue's history. Some attendees thought the exuberance for Ambis's goal surpassed that for the winner. Ambis made honey that evening in steamy Boston.
Dick Bertrand '70, forward, #19
There is romance in Dick Bertrand's story. He came to Lynah Rink first as an opponent. Years later, he was a captain and head coach. Harkness labeled Bertrand the East's fastest, most skillful skater. Dick Bertrand developed himself for one final championship push. The senior winger was "100% improved," the words of Harkness. Everyone knew where to find Bertrand: around the net. Dick Bertrand had a nose for the net and knack for capitalizing on rebounds. Instinct and persistence pushed Bertrand into a three-way scoring lead at 42 points with his fellow captains when just two regular-season games remained. Bertrand's assist in the 1970 ECAC Hockey Championship Final began the rally that brought the Lynah Faithful a fourth consecutive Eastern championship. The NCAA ruled Bertrand ineligible for the 1970 Frozen Four on a technicality. His role evolved. Dick Bertrand, as the team's orator, led his teammates to victory. As Bertand and Lodboa hoisted Harkness above their heads in Lake Placid, they marveled at what the team accomplished for each other.
Craig Brush '72, forward, #11
The wear and tear of seasons force the emergence of new heroes. Craig Brush was such a hero. The readiest way to determine the legacy of a player is how fans like the Lynah Faithful engage them. The moment that the amount of playing time began to increase for Brush's line, the Faithful began calling them affectionately "the mini line." This trio of sophomores included Ed Ambis '72, Craig Brush, and Doug Stewart '72. Brush found the back of the net in the fourth game of February, when his line's workload increased. It was not the last time. Brush and Stewart joined the regular-season scoring rushes when opponents needed to be kept far out of contests. Despite familiarity on his Green Line, Brush would play in the stead of Bill Duthie '71 or Dave Westner '72 when needed. It was in the stead of the latter that he centered one of Cornell's four lines during the 1970 Frozen Four in Lake Placid. The biggest point for Brush in the 1969-70 season was his assist on the goal that tied Clarkson in the 1970 ECAC Hockey Championship Final. He did the smaller things in big ways.
Mark Davis '72, forward, #3
Depth realized the unthinkable for Ned Harkness' last Cornell hockey team. The defensive depth of a team with the talents of Steve Giuliani '70, Dan Lodboa '70, Gordie Lowe '70, and Ron Simpson '72 was unthinkable. Another defenseman on the team stood out, more than literally (Mark Davis was the tallest member of the 1969-70 team at 6'2"). Ned Harkness used the services of Davis semi-regularly to rest the others of his corps and to develop Davis's talents. This alone was praise high enough for a sophomore newcomer to the roster until Gordie Lowe suffered a severe injury before the first week of February. Cornell was a mere 15 wins into its historic 29-win season. Notwithstanding the challenges this posed to the goal of perfection, seeding for the ECAC Hockey tournament remained undecided. Nothing was decided. Mark Davis slid into the line-up as the Red's fifth defenseman. He served in this capacity for 11 games. Observers noted that Davis confused the line-up choices for Harkness with giving him "the best crew of defensemen he ever had." Davis protected his team's opportunity.
Bill Duthie '71, forward, #16
Ned Harkness was known well for converting defensemen into forwards. The assets of Bill Duthie enticed him to try the reverse. Bill Duthie began his career as a blue liner. He played in every position but goaltender throughout his career. During the 1969-70 season, Duthie found his place as a wing. When the services of Kevin Pettit '71 were unavailable, it was Bill Duthie who filled the void. The reputation of a hustling battler preceded Duthie. He instilled these very virtues into the women's hockey program that he would build at Cornell just years later. "Wild Bill Duthie," as he was celebrated at times, scored only three goals in the first 25 games of the 1969-70 season. He ended the season with five. His first playoff goal of the season was Cornell's fourth goal against Harvard at Boston Garden. It took six goals to defeat the Crimson. Six days later, Duthie's goal mattered most. Bill Duthie stared down Wayne Thomas of Wisconsin alone in the slot with less than nine minutes remaining in the contest. The wild winger lofted a backhander over the Badger from 15 feet. It was win #28.
Larry Fullan '72, forward, #18
First-year varsity center Larry Fullan was the pivot between Dick Bertrand '70 and Garth Ryan '70 during the season of seeking perfection. The newcomer proved his worth immediately. Fullan scored the first goal of the season 1:46 after the opening puck-drop. Fullan scored 28 goals in 12 games on the freshman team. Nothing was lost in translation to varsity. The hardest shot on the team belonged to Larry Fullan. Whether he was setting up plays for his linemates to have second chances or breaking out on rushes of his own, Fullan used his slap shot to devastating effect. Seamlessly, Bertrand and Fullan dropped passes to or alternated setting up dirty goals for one another. Larry Fullan and Steve Giuliani '70 took about four minutes to find an answer to Clarkson's early strike in the 1970 NCAA Championship Final. It was not the first time that the Lynah Faithful cheered that connection. A centering pass from Giuliani met Fullan's slap shot for the game-winning goal against Harvard in the 1970 ECAC Hockey Semifinals. Larry Fullan proved more than a fulcrum of a line in crucial moments.
Steve Giuliani '70, defenseman, #15
Steve Giuliani was one cranium of the four-headed monster that was Ned Harkness' core of his defensive corps. A Brownie boarded Giuliani, spraining Giuliani's back on December 6, 1969. Recovery time was three weeks. Harkness knew that "with even one of them out, it ma[d]e things a lot tougher." Giuliani did not conscience his team's losing two defensemen. Three days, not weeks, later in the Red's next game, Steve Giuliani remained in the line-up against Boston University. The blue liner played through recovery. Eventually, the Lynah Faithful recognized in his play the glimmer of the style of Harry Orr '67. Giuliani became a de facto member of the Black Line with frequent contributions to its goals. Offensively minded defensemen have distinct weapons. Giuliani surveyed the ice and saw lapses that lent themselves to two- and three-man rushes from the Big Red's own end. Fans in Lake Placid fortuitously witnessed Giuliani's best games of the season as he developed plays on Cornell's first and fourth goals against Clarkson. Steve Giuliani's opportunism became his team.
John Hughes '70, forward, #21
"The most costly check in Cornell hockey history" broke John Hughes's arm. Central New York's flashy center missed the entire 1969 postseason. Hughes pledged his senior season as the capstone to his hockey career. "The best center in the United States - bar none," critiqued Ned Harkness. At that time, Stan Mikita, Bobby Clarke, and Phil Esposito called Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston home, respectively. The great coach minced no words. Fierce forechecking and an inimitable ability to kill penalties single-handily earned the "blond bomber" this reputation. Hughes scored three goals at Boston Garden in March 1970. The game winner of the ECAC Hockey Championship Final came off of John Hughes' stick with 30 seconds remaining in the game. The marker was disallowed. John Hughes tucked between Bullock's pads a less pretty effort with 14 seconds spared. John Hughes and Brian McCutcheon '71 met Dan Lodboa '70 on a three-one-one breakaway for the last goal of the season. Hughes, like that goal, was an insurer of perfection.
Dan Lodboa '70, defenseman, #14
Ned Harkness converted Dan Lodboa from a forward to a blue liner after Lodboa's sophomore season. No player took better to a rotation of role than did Lodboa. He became the first and only blue liner to lead a Red team in point production. Brown forced a sudden-death overtime in the season's fourth game. Lodboa capitalized on an errant clearing effort for the winner in the first extra minute. The "chairman of the board" ensured that no other games were as close. A forward's scoring touch and impulse to break out on length-of-the-ice rushes never abandoned Lodboa. Few events in sports can be viewed in singularity. Dan Lodboa's performance in the 1970 national-title game is an exception. It was on the grandest stage that Lodboa delivered The Hat Trick. Lodboa scored a power-play goal, two-man-down goal, and four-on-four goal in barely more than seven minutes. The second goal, the most unlikely, stood as the game winner of Cornell's 29th victory. Harkness described Dan Lodboa as the "Bobby Orr of college hockey" in 2006. Ned Harkness made few mistakes. The analogy may be reversed.
Brian McCutcheon '71, forward, #9
John Hughes '70, Brian McCutcheon '71, and Kevin Pettit '71 were supposed to replace the retired Tufford-Hughes-Cornell line of the 1968-69 season. Through six games, it was obvious that McCutcheon and his linemates were up to the task with scoring 17 of Cornell's 38 goals. Brian McCutcheon averaged a goal per game. The line was relentless. One skater pounced. The others never tired. On the rare occasion that the first chance did not find the back of the net, the second, third, or fourth chance would. McCutcheon's facility on the ice rendered him lethal in this role. His characteristic smoothness never came with the price of softness (some Faithful may remember he, not his linemate, threw the first punches of the season). The sly winger scored Cornell's first goal of the postseason. He assisted on the last. The former was his last goal of the season. He fretted not. He still ended the season leading the team in goals scored with 25. The opening goal of The Hat Trick originated from McCutcheon's pass from the corner. Smoothness carried the Big Red in its moments of greatest ease and tribulation.
Ian Orr '70, defenseman, #22
Sharing the surname and playing in the shadow of an all-time great defenseman is no easy task. Yet, Ian Orr managed to do just that. Ian, the little brother of national championship-winning and all-time great Red defenseman Harry Orr '67 (thought I meant someone else?), served as a constant for his teammates during his career. Orr's talent was great enough that Harkness experimented with playing him as both a defenseman and forward interchangeably. The blue line suited Ian. The iconic coach of modern Cornell hockey regarded Ian Orr as "a very solid back-up defenseman," if not the best in the country. True to his word, Harkness, when exhaustion and dehydration riddled his roster, entrusted the ice time of Bruce Pattison '69 and Dan Lodboa '70 to Ian Orr in the 1969 NCAA Championship Final. Orr delivered when he played alongside teammates like Skip Stanowski '68 and Gordie Lowe '70. He paired well with greatness for he was great.
Bill Perras '71, forward, #5
Bill Perras played only a handful of games at the varsity level, 12 to be exact. All were consequential. At least five were playoff contests. One of the others was the January 1971 game against Harvard when both Cornell's fifth consecutive Ivy League championship and 47-home-game-winning streak (it extended ultimately to an unrivaled 63 wins) hung precariously in the balance. Later that year, Bill Perras replaced an injured John Fumio '74 mid-game in the ECAC Hockey tournament. He scored his first two goals in downing Providence. Perras was a noted well-balanced attacking center from his time on the freshman squad. The NCAA ineligibility of Dick Bertrand '70 for the 1970 Frozen Four forced Ned Harkness to shuffle lines. Bill Perras was trusted to slide into the regular place of Craig Brush '72 when the stakes were steepest for the 1969-70 team. Perras's efforts made sure that his teammates and he cashed in on all the promise of that season in Lake Placid.
Garth Ryan '70, forward, #6
Fans know it. Teams need a player who energizes the entire line-up. That player was Garth Ryan. Garth Ryan forechecked and made plays. He killed penalties beautifully. The indefatigability of Ryan knew no limits. The senior forward threaded goals along inside posts or rushed in on unsuspecting goaltenders to establish screens. Even his deflections lacked sedation. Garth Ryan was "perpetual motion." Cornell mounted comebacks in three of its five 1970 playoff victories. Unbounded energy drove the first goal of two games's rallies into the opponents's nets. The Golden Knights waited 39 seconds for Ryan's response in the 1970 ECAC Hockey Championship Final. The Badgers waited longer. Garth Ryan rifled the puck at Wayne Thomas from close range with lightning effect before the Wisconsin goaltender could neutralize the puck. The third strike tied the Badgers. Garth Ryan distinguished himself as the only Cornell player to score a goal in each game at Lake Placid. Garth Ryan underwent surgery days later. Ryan did not stop moving to notice his injury. He moved his team forward constantly.
Doug Stewart '72, forward, #10
When the typical tactics were not igniting Ned Harkness' squad, he looked down the bench and called the names of three sophomores. Harkness knew which three players provided the spark that he would need. To Harkness, they were the Green Line. To their admiring fans, they were the "minis." Ed Ambis '72, Craig Brush '72, and Doug Stewart '72 were absolute newcomers whom the Red bench boss trusted implicitly for the trait that united them since the beginning of the 1969-70 campaign: speed. Swiftness did not come at the expense of efficacy. Cornell never suffered a setback from trusting Stewart and his regular line with more ice time. When contests opened up, like those against Penn during which Stewart scored his first goal, Stewart and his line factored prominently. Stewart immolated Boston Garden in March 1970 when he provided the primary assist on Ambis's game-tying goal against Clarkson. Stewart was often the right match to strike.
Dave Westner '72, forward, #20
Dave Westner scored the first game-winning goal of the 1969-70 season. The sophomore forward would score in many other situations throughout that iconic campaign. A particular adeptness at finding all-important chemistry with linemates typified Westner's play. Dave Westner was a contributing and scoring force whether he was playing with Bob Aitchison '71 and Bill Duthie '71 or Brian McCutcheon '71 and Kevin Pettit '71. This afforded him the skill to substitute for John Hughes '70 when situations required. No substitution compared to the one with which Ned Harkness tasked him in March 1970. Dick Bertrand '70 was ruled ineligible for the Frozen Four. Westner filled the star's and mainstay captain's position on the wing next to Larry Fullan '72 and Garth Ryan '70 in the most consequential weekend of the season. Dave Westner rose to the challenge in Lake Placid. He recorded a point in each game. He scored the goal that gave the Red its first lead over the Golden Knights in the national-title game. Dave Westner was the catalyst that forged an unbreakable bond despite great entropy.
Championships are conceived in the off-season. They are sustained in the season. They are realized on the ice. The efforts of those on the ice are not the absolute essence of the team. The unseen labors of many nourish the potential of the greatest teams. A perfect season of the order that the 1969-70 season was would be impossible without the tireless, nearly flawless, contributions of managers and trainers.
Alf Ekman and Doc Kavanaugh were the trainers who tended to the needs of the 1969-70 team. The latter warranted praise no less than "the number one trainer in the universe." The managers who served the team were Rick Fullan, Ken Gilstein, Steve Gorkin, Monica Perry, Artie Roth, and Mike Teeter.
Mike Teeter served as an equipment manager during road contests. The team kept him busy in his other capacity at home as well. Teeter moonlighted as a goal judge. His legend as a dedicated and passionate member of Cornell hockey and athletics for more than 40 years deservedly precedes him.
One knows the importance of a figure when those who know her well insist upon prefixing her name with "great." Monica Perry, or "the great Monica Perry," helped Cornell hockey teams for years in whatever ways that she could. Perry was undeterred to do the required from the practical to the theatrical. Her role was no different, but arguably more important, when Cornell completed perfection.
Rick Fullan '70 enjoyed an eccentric relationship with Cornell hockey during the 1969-70 season. Fullan was a member of the junior-varsity hockey team. This did not prevent him from serving in a role as a capable assistant and manager to the team. The injuries of Steve Guiliani '70 and Ron Simpson '72 complicated Fullan's role. Ned Harkness called up one of his team managers from the junior-varsity roster to serve as a defenseman if needed. Rick Fullan was ready to play if required. The need never presented itself. Fullan's willingness manifested a yeomanly impulse toward his team. There was no doubt that Rick Fullan contributed considerably to the success of the 1969-70 team.
Possible, but unlikely, attendees
Only six players who played pivotal roles in the successful course of the 1969-70 season and its path to ultimate success either are unable to attend or uncertain if they will attend. Neither netminder of the Big Red from that season is certain that he will be present at the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of perfection. Brian Cropper '71 and Bob Rule '71 played essential, but distinct, roles in the success of their team.
Brian Cropper rose to be the starting goaltender of his squad. He had a large role to fill, figuratively and literally. Cropper stood to 5'6". His superlative predecessor, Ken Dryden '69, towered nine inches higher. The junior netminder made considerable strides in the off-season and Ned Harkness knew that he would be the best netminder in the East when the season began. Brian Cropper was slightly less reserved in his style than was Dryden. Proneness to instinctual athleticism typified his style. He proved more than able to duel with one of the nation's best goaltenders in Wisconsin's Wayne Thomas in the national semifinal in Lake Placid. The results cannot be doubted. Brian Cropper led his team unblemished through his season.
Bob Rule was a borrowed lacrosse goaltender. He led Cornell lacrosse to is first NCAA title a year after serving as Cropper's 1969-70 back-up. Ned Harkness insisted as the season began that he never would hesitate to use Rule. Rule was a "very valuable asset." The junior backstop saw action in three contests during the perfect season. Bob Rule did not allow a goal in contests at Penn and against Dartmouth. The latter contest saw Rule ward off an angered fury of eight Big-Green shots. Harkness tested the waters late in the season to see if Rule could be trusted with playoff minutes. Only one contest in which Rule saw ice time did he give his head coach reason for any doubt.
One of the core members of the 1969-70 hockey team's defensive corps will not be at the event in Ithaca. Gordie Lowe paired with Dan Lodboa '70. Lowe is most remembered for the overtime winner that he rifled into Michigan Tech's net in the 1969 Frozen Four in Duluth. That goal sent his Cornell team to the national-title game. However, Gordie Lowe played a slightly modified role in winning a national-title game one year later. The senior blue liner battled back from sprained ligaments in two weeks to return to the line-up. His defensive presence was a constant. While Lodboa began to dazzle, Lowe embodied steadiness. The 1970 NCAA Championship Final enjoyed Gordie Lowe's soundest defensive game of his career. In two very distinct ways, separated by a year's time, Gordie Lowe lifted his team to the highest level of the college game.
Ron Simpson '72, praised as "the best sophomore defenseman" whom Harkness had coached in his then-21-year career, paired with Steve Giuliani '70. Simpson was the impenetrable dam that kept at bay even the most torrential of flooding from opponents's offensive outbursts. Then, injury struck. The sophomore blueliner elected for immediate surgery and rehabilitation. He did not expect to return that season. He returned less than nine weeks later.
Injuries along the blue line forced bold players to fill voids at crucial points in the season. Few injuries could be as devastating to the nation's best defensive corps than were the losses of Gordie Lowe and Ron Simpson. It is unusual that at various points, the same player filled in for either player. Jim Higgs, a sophomore newcomer to the 1969-70 team, was the player whom Harkness trusted. Higgs performed with little drop-off until Gordie and the "sensational sophomore" returned.
The player with the fieriest disposition was without any doubt Kevin Pettit '71. Pettit riled his team for critical contests and all rivalry clashes. He inspired the ire or awe of all Eastern college-hockey fans. A game with this hot-tempered goal scorer was never mundane. Only John Hughes '70 and Dan Lodboa recorded more points in the 1970 postseason than did Pettit. Kevin Pettit tore through the 1970 ECAC Hockey Tournament with six points in three games. Fond memories of his overtime- and championship-winning goals against Boston University and Harvard from 1969 probably danced through his head as he buried the Red's first goal against its Crimson-colored rival in the 1970 Eastern semifinals.
The air of greatness casts long shadows on those people and things that experienced them. The grandeur of moments past does not leave them. Three months ago, on March 21, 2015, we, the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread, found ourselves in Jack Shea Arena. We stood in the dimly lit venue in the settled twilight of the miracle that occurred there nearly 45 years to the minute before. One could imagine easily the immortal images of college hockey yet to be seen.
Glancing around the rink lent itself to feeling the purity of the moment. The rink remained uncommercialized. Divining the essence of sport, its sincerity and reward of hard work, required no considerable imagination when envisioning carnelian and white racing down the ice. The jubilation that followed immortalized icons of the sport who completed the unthinkable.
Saturday, July 11, 2015, Lynah Rink
Sincerest thanks and profound gratitude are owed to Dick Bertrand, John Hughes, and Garth Ryan, without whom, this piece would not be possible. Thank you for your help, and for all that you have done for Cornell hockey and Cornell University.
Summer is now in full swing. For the Lynah Faithful, the offseason and summer began much too early. Next season's freshman class, like the entire team, inherits a loyal but ravenous fanbase that is woefully in need of sating. Cornell hockey is championships, Whitelaw Cups, at the very least, specifically, and five seasons have passed without that silver and oaken prize being hoisted above the heads of carnelian-and-white sweaters. Too long.
This is no fault of the incoming freshman. Nevertheless, they will be expected to right the missteps of the last couple of seasons. In this coming class of nine skaters, there is greatness and great potential. Their choices of uniform numbers indicate that they are ready to pick up the mantle and expectations of Cornell hockey in various ways.
Coach Schafer asks all incoming players to research "the best player" who wore their jersey number. Well, Class of 2019, you are all in luck. Consider this your Take-Note (do those still exist on campus?) abridgment to that task. The following are the numbers that the members of the incoming class have chosen and the likely style of a former icon that they can emulate.
The list, like Cornell hockey itself, has a heavy prejudice toward celebrating former champions.
Anthony Angello, forward, #17
Three names leap out when searching through the history of #17 in Cornell hockey: Ed Ambis of the perfect 1969-70 team, Doug Derraugh of his particular, transcendent offensive skill set, and Matt McRae of the superlative 2002-03 team. So, why make a rule with no intent to break it? While Ambis and McRae may be former champions, I think the on-ice performance of Derraugh and his continually evolving legacy within the program make his legacy best suited. Doug Derraugh was the last Cornell player to tally 30 goals in one season. He accomplished this feat during his senior year. As a junior, Derraugh scored the game winner of the first game of the 1990 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal that led to Cornell's sweeping of Harvard and ending the career of its archnemesis coach, Bill Cleary. In the biggest single-game victory of the era between Cornell's 1986 and 1996 Whitelaw-Cup victories, Derraugh assisted on the overtime winner against Michigan at Yost Ice Arena in the 1991 NCAA Tournament. The high-scoring forward accumulated nine points, including fives goals, in that three-game series alone. Such could be expected with a career line of 66 goals and 153 points. Brian McCutcheon, Derraugh's head coach, marveled at the forward's inevitable release. Doug Derraugh never received a ring as player but as head coach of Cornell women's hockey now, he embraces and encourages the high expectations of the Lynah Faithful as a privilege rather than a burden.
Luc Lalor, forward, #28
The #28 typically belongs to a player who is an integral cog in the workings of Cornell hockey because they do the little things that are required to win, and they do them well. Joel Lowry, the most recent wearer of the number, lived that reality for his four seasons. Predecessors like Shane Hynes and Joe Scali, both champions, prove that as well. Jim Gibson of the 1980 Whitelaw Cup team is a player whose legacy that Luc Lalor may emulate. Gibson played in the highest scoring era of Cornell hockey. He is not as well remembered as the likes of Lance Nethery, leader in all-time career points tallied, Brock Tredway, leader in all-time career goals scored, and Roy Kerling, rival of the other two. However, in the same era, Gibson held his own against those greats, twice appearing in the top five point producers during his four-year career. In the 1980 championship run, Gibson assisted the game-winning goal against Boston College, assisted the beginning of the three-goal rally against Providence, and scored the championship-sealing goal against Bob Gaudet of Dartmouth. The statistical accolades of Nethery, Tredway, and Kerling may overshadow Gibson in that era. Of the champions of that era, Tredway and Kerling in particular, Gibson was no less integral.
Alec McCrea, defenseman, #29
No, this selection was not made for phonetic facetiousness. The Lynah Faithful may have to adjust to adopting a new spelling of a similar sounding surname. So, why not make it more confusing in choosing the forewearer whose play that Alec McCrae may hope to emulate. So, why not consider Mark McRae? Mark McRae was an offensively minded defenseman who factored in many key goals during his four seasons on East Hill. Mark McRae played alongside Doug Murray. The former outpaced the point production of the latter by 98 career points to 84 career points. McRae's numbers, 98 points and 30 goals, fit more alongside the totals of 107 points and 48 goals, 118 points and 31 goals, and 134 points and 54 goals of Pete Shier, Chris Norton, and Dan Lodboa, respectively, than they do any more recent contemporaries. From the blue line, Mark McRae widened ledgers and scored key goals in joining his class in leading the winningest team in Cornell hockey history to its 2003 Whitelaw Cup and eighth Frozen-Four appearance. It may be a little much to expect Alec McCrae to score 0.75 points per game over his four-year career, but I am sure that he looks forward to scoring a goal or two like this. We do as well.
Matt Nuttle, defenseman, #5
The legacy of Jerry Kostandoff, a legend from the brief Lynah Rink Era before the Harkness Era, makes a strong case for his consideration for #5. Particular note must be given when it is a defenseman who chooses to wear #5. The legacy of only one defenseman who wore #5 rises to the level of all-time greatness. Pete Shier played in the highest scoring, fastest paced era of Cornell hockey. Shier proved that defensemen can more than keep pace with the times. In this period, Cornell was the highest scoring team in the nation. Shier never dropped lower than the eighth-most prolific point producer on his squad. During his senior campaign, he scored 24 goals, surpassing the same-season goal total of all-time point leader Lance Nethery. His 24-goal season tied the senior season of Dan Lodboa for the highest goal-scoring season for any defenseman in the history of the program. Shier was an automatic consensus all-American. The legendary #5 was gifted with a blistering, laser-like shot from the blue line that alumni still recall today. His talents are far from forgotten. Choosing his numbers reflects Nuttle's bold choice of mantle that he will attempt to lift as a defenseman.
Chad Otterman, forward, #22
The jersey that bears #22 is one that has particular import over the last few seasons. Cole Bardreau took a hiatus with the sweater to win a gold medal for the United States in the 2013 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Then, upon his return he endured a life- and career-threatening neck injury. He battled back to become, like he was for the United States, a great two-way forward who logged major minutes on special teams. Then, during his senior season, unexpectedly, he led his team in scoring. Bardreau was a fan favorite. However, it is the legacy of another later bloomer and tireless battler that perhaps should guide Chad Otterman. Joe Devin began his career in the 2007-08 season. He only scored three goals. By his junior season, he scored the championship-winning goal for his most dominant ECAC Hockey championship team in history. As is expected of wearers of #22, he became an overwhelming fan favorite during his 2010-11 senior campaign. He scored four playoff goals including the overtime winner that sent Cornell to championship weekend in Atlantic City in a closely contested series against Quinnipiac. Devin in four years transitioned from a quiet leader into a game changer. He led his senior squad, a team that suffered the loss of three 100-point scorers, an NHL-calibre goaltender, and several key components on special teams, with a steady hand and a better release to Cornell's third consecutive appearance in Eastern hockey's championship final. Joe Devin was the last Cornellian to lead ECAC Hockey in goal scoring during his senior campaign.
Trent Shore, defenseman, #23
Constancy and reliability seem to be the virtues of #23 in the history of Cornell hockey. The last player to hang up this sweater in his locker stall was Jacob MacDonald; a player of many minutes and far fewer mistakes. Six years before MacDonald pulled the jersey over his head, another player set the tone for what it meant to wear #23 on the ice of Lynah Rink. Jeremy Downs wore the twill numeral at the other end of that six-year period. Downs is in élite company as a two-time Whitelaw-Cup champion. The steadfast, responsible blueliner was a crucial part of both the 2003 and 2005 Whitelaw-Cup seasons. Doug Murray was Downs's defensive partner for much of the 2003 ECAC Hockey championship and Frozen-Four season. His zonal play contributed mightily to the half-decade-long dominance that Cornell hockey enjoyed over its conference. The defense around legendary netminders Dave LeNeveu and Dave McKee, party to which Downs always was, helped both goaltenders shatter all college-hockey records in goaltending and team defense. There was no more of a steadfast defenseman in the era of Cornell hockey's second-greatest dominance than Jeremy Downs. His name never left the line-up in four complete seasons.
Brendan Smith, defenseman, #2
Mike Devin from the Class of 2011 earned the reputation as a reliable assister, often on the goals of his brother during their senior campaign. Mike Devin furthermore scored the goal that defeated North Dakota at Lynah Rink in January 2010. John Parry wore the number when Brendan Smith's mother was a senior of East Hill. It was a player who played six years later who symbolizes the pinnacle and expectations of those who brave wearing #2 for the Big Red. A career ended in 1991 is the one that comes to mind when that carnelian digit rushes across the ice. Dan Ratushny was an all-American defenseman for Cornell in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ratushny was an immediate star when he stepped on the ice of Lynah Rink. He was named to ECAC Hockey's all-rookie team after his initial campaign. Dan Ratushny joined his native Canada's gold medal-winning national team in the 1990 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship. The touted blueliner registered 14 goals and 65 points over the span of his collegiate career. His seemingly effortless efficiency contributed the primary assist on Cornell's NCAA-Tournament game winner over the University of Michigan in March 1991.
Beau Starrett, forward, #10
There are uniform numbers where there are close calls. Then, there is #10. Kevin Pettit was many, if not all, things to Cornell hockey at any given stage in his career. Competing with the legendary likes of Doug Ferguson, John Hughes, Dan Lodboa, and Pete Tufford as contemporaries, Kevin Pettit put himself in the upper echelon of point producers from Cornell hockey's modern golden age. He amassed 58 goals and 126 points. However, it was his emotions, and sometimes his fists, that left an indelible mark on his opponents. Cornell lost only four games when Pettit was in the line-up over his last two seasons. The Big Red played 56 games. Opponents labeled him as a rogue "bad boy" from Ithaca. His 227 career penalty minutes do very little to plead his case. Kevin Pettit insisted that he merely liked to play hard in the corners. He was a sincere player who played his game with passion and motivated his team. Pettit's most common tactics targeted rivals. Boston University and Harvard (an intriguing note for Beau Starrett) bore the brunt of his off-ice commentaries to motivate his team and psych out opponents. As his statistics indicate, Kevin Pettit was more than idle talk. A member of the 1969 and 1970 Whitelaw-Cup championship, and 1970 NCAA championship teams, Pettit delivered on the ice. Wearing #10 in the 1969 postseason, Kevin Pettit scored the game winner against Boston University 31 seconds into overtime of the ECAC Hockey semifinal and the championship-clinching goal against Harvard in the ECAC Hockey final. Pettit's head coach, Dick Bertrand, still maintained that Pettit's greatest asset was his unselfish, team-first mentality.
Mitch Vanderlaan, forward, #14
The most famous wearer of #14 for Cornell hockey is unquestionably Dan Lodboa. Exceptions must be made when considering a forward who chose this number. Pete Natyshak was one of the drivers of Cornell's run to the 1986 Whitelaw Cup. Natyshak captained the squad with Duanne Moeser and Mike Schafer as they guided young talent, including Joe Nieuwendyk. When the season ended, Natyshak found himself second on the team's scoring three points behind the total of that phenomenal sophomore. The senior forward captain recorded six points in the postseason run to Cornell's seventh Eastern championship. His most impressive playoff performance came in the resulting 1986 NCAA Tournament at Denver Arena. Natyshak scored one of Cornell's two goals in the first game of the series against Denver. Nieuwendyk and he exchanged assisting and scoring duties on Cornell's 1986 national-tournament victory over the Pioneers. Beyond his 59 career goals and 124 career points, Pete Natyshak helped re-cultivate in Cornell a sense of pride and winning in the only way that one can: inspiring the actual results on the ice.
Well, there you have it. This reveals by implication what the anticipated roster for next season will be.
Separated by four years and 300 miles at birth, the first great American-born hockey players were. Separated by seven months, the two legends met their tragic ends on the same field in France. The narratives of Hobart Amory Hare Baker and Jefferson Davis Vincent thereafter diverge. Their paths into popular mythology scarcely could be more dissimilar. Both attended one of the nation's most prestigious universities. Both were generational American-born hockey talents. Both were heroes of the First World War. Separated, they should remain no more.
Legends Etched in Ice
The ice had thawed long before that day of May 3, 1888. The sport of hockey remained in its nascency at barely 13 years of age. It was unthinkable that at the confluence of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers would emerge the first great American-born hockey star. Nevertheless, that was the place where the mystery that was Jefferson Davis Vincent began.
Allegheny, PA, a community located just outside of Pittsburgh but no more immune from the city's cultural sphere than it was proximate, did not experience ice hockey firsthand until 1899. The Vincent family's general affinity for Western New York, Buffalo, in particular, might have provided earlier opportunities for the family to observe the sport that would make its son famous. Exhibitions brought the sport to the Steel City inconsistently. It was the construction of the famed Duquesne Gardens that began the love affair between Pittsburgh, hockey, and the son of one of its cherished environs.
One can imagine a young Jefferson Vincent attending the opening weekend of Andrew McSwigan's lavish hockey hall. A ten-year-old boy watched, unrealizing what the sport would come to mean to him and many others because of him, as Canadian and a few American professionals demonstrated the smoothness and abruptness of this new game. It might have been either the guiding hands or insightful comments of one of these players or coaches who came to live in Western Pennsylvania and who would win eventually the Stanley Cup on multiple occasions that helped Vincent become a phenom just eight years later.
The bustling scene that was a roaring Pittsburgh created the obfuscation that was Jefferson Vincent's workshop. He would be very active below the surface and then would make tremendous gains when he wanted to be noticed. His youth would be no different. Clouded remained his time in Western Pennsylvania.
Jefferson Vincent's path meandered eastward. The boy whom hockey transfixed was enrolled at Mercersburg Academy. The Academy was a fine institution in preparing Vincent for eventual collegiate studies at the nation's finest institutions. Its location, closer to Maryland and farther from Pittsburgh and Buffalo, proved problematic to sharpening the Allegheny native's interest in hockey.
Mercersburg Academy had no distinguished history of ice hockey. The invitational series at Duquesne Gardens informed Jefferson Vincent by analogy of which universities had developing traditions of college hockey. His gaze narrowed on the land-grant university of New York. In 1906, Vincent graduated from Mercersburg Academy. Boarded and prepped, he was ready to move on to greater challenges.
The Western Pennsylvanian traded one bustling town for another. Hockey was the constant. Hockey came to Cornell University in 1896, three years before it had a stable presence in Pittsburgh. Seasons of intercollegiate competition for the hockey team from Cornell University began in 1900. As a freshman in the College of Engineering, Jefferson Vincent yearned to don a carnelian-and-white sweater.
The fog of an early winter's morning lifted off of Beebe Lake much as one would lift around the life of Jefferson Vincent as his skates cut through newly hardened ice. He would make the freshman team. It was with Vincent as a forward that the freshman squad began to have impressive showings against the varsity squad for the first time in the history of Cornell hockey. His talents were neither lost on the varsity's captain, Ralph Lally, nor limited to hockey.
Jefferson Vincent was a born leader. A dedicated head coach had never led Cornell hockey through four seasons of intercollegiate competition. Cornell had never played more than three games in a season. Vincent knew that neither was sustainable for a program in which he saw the germs of greatness. Lally and Vincent agreed that Vincent would be a player on the freshman roster while serving as manager of the varsity squad.
As a manager, Jefferson Vincent served as a coach during practices and negotiated future contests and scheduling with the programs of other universities. The Cornell varsity team registered its first win in four years during Vincent's first season as manager. Cornell played its fullest slate of games in the forward's second season as manager.
Many programs dickered with Cornell hockey in its several seasons of existence. It was Vincent who proved able to negotiate the closing and performance of deals. These traits served him well in his years after leaving East Hill.
Yale, after a six-year absence from Cornell's schedule, returned as a regular fixture. Dartmouth began its series with Cornell in just Vincent's sophomore year as manager. Jefferson Vincent brought enough acclaim to his program that during his third season as manager, Cornell became a perennial invitee to Cleveland's early-season tournament at Elysium Arena, the unofficial opening of the collegiate season in that era.
Vincent's adeptness at coaching and negotiating did not overshadow his playing career for the Big Red. He earned his way seamlessly onto the varsity roster in his second season at Cornell University. The sophomore forward led his carnelian-and-white cadre to an undefeated season. The 1907-08 Cornell hockey team never allowed a goal. It scored 21 goals in just four games.
One of Jefferson Vincent's highlights from that season was his key role as guarantor of a perfect season with his contributions to the utter dismantling of the team from the University of Rochester. The emergent sophomore star showed little remorse in helping his alma mater defeat one of the programs from the region that he soon would call home. This callousness might have been necessary. As manager and without the assistance of a professional coach, Vincent converted the two undefeated seasons that he managed into an invitation to the Intercollegiate Hockey Association. His beloved program was now eligible to compete for national championships.
Vincent's lone failure during his time as manager of Cornell hockey was an inability to get Harvard's hockey team to do more than negotiate with the team from Cornell University. It appeared that Jefferson Vincent was about to close such an arrangement many times. Harvard reneged each time. An invitation to the IHA did not allow the Crimson to dodge the Big Red for much longer.
Vincent was a standout on the ice during Cornell's first season in the IHA. There were few others. The icers from East Hill finished the season with a losing record. The only team that Cornell defeated was Penn. The national championship that seemed so close at the beginning of the season drifted further out of reach. Worse news would come soon after the season resolved.
Extenuating circumstances in Jefferson Vincent's life required that he take a leave of absence from Cornell University during the 1909-10 academic year. During this time, he began to identify as a Western New Yorker and Buffalo native. One can assume that situations forced his family, likely his mother, to relocate to Buffalo. The opacity in which Vincent always found great comfort created uncertainty about what caused his absence.
Cornellians who loved their hockey program and those associated with that program knew how great a loss it was for the team. Jefferson Vincent was so well conditioned, which one could expect of an athlete who was a star on the cinder, that no one ever substituted for him. It would require several players to account for his ice time alone. His skill was unmatched. No one could be expected to play like he did. The Cornell Daily Sun summarized the loss well in saying that "there will be a much larger opening for competitors" who hoped to make the team.
In the Fall of 1910, nearly four months after Jefferson Vincent expected to graduate, he returned to Cornell University. His Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother, Malcolm Vail, became a fan favorite of Eastern hockey fans as one of the nation's best goaltenders during Vincent's absence. The program that Vincent helped build had changed.
December 5, 1910 marked the beginning of hockey practice for Cornell. Each player had to earn his way back onto the Big Red's roster. The task was more difficult for Jefferson Vincent after a year's absence. Vincent strode onto the frozen water of the lake he knew well. He had led many practices on this ice. However, opposite his teammates and him was Talbot Hunter, the first head coach of Cornell hockey, who took over coaching duties during the senior's hiatus.
Hunter was an import from Canada who knew little of the college game before Cornell University hired him in 1909. He knew nothing of the skill and fanfare that accompanied Jefferson Vincent. It all would need to be reproven.
The student fans who watched practice were impressed with Vincent. Many identified him as the player who stood out most. Evidently, Talbot Hunter was not as impressed. Developments over the remainder of tryouts would bear this out. Vincent always survived each cut, but Hunter remained unimpressed. Practice did not relent, drill after drill, through inclimate and miserable weather. Scrimmages tested his candidates regularly. Vincent endured.
The penultimate cut occurred on December 12, 1910. The list of candidates had been whittled down to 14. The final test would be a seven-on-seven, full-length scrimmage. The first team was populated with players of the skill level of Edmund Magner, star center, Frank Crassweller, all-American rover, and Malcolm Vail, nationally renowned goaltender. Its roster was the expected roster for Cornell in the 1910-11 season. Jefferson Vincent found his name on the second team.
Vincent, of relatively humble means, always personified the yeomanly ethic of industrial cities like those of Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Most star players of any rank would be irate at such a snub. The senior forward focused. He harbored no apparent resentment. He knew that his second team was less talented and less prepared, but he would do what was required to show his worth.
The second team lost by a 7-2 margin to the talent-flush first team. Crassweller was the highest scoring player in the game. Something nearly mystical happened during the contest. The Cornell students who for over a decade sated their ravenous hockey appetite by watching practices bundled along the boards of Beebe Lake knew that they witnessed something that few ever would witness in their lifetimes. Talbot Hunter did as well.
The game drudged on at times with an ominous sense that the first team would win. Never surrendering, Jefferson Vincent battled along his boards and in his half of the ice to try to intercept Crassweller and Magner. He played equally hard in the offensive and defensive ends. Then, his aura reappeared. Vincent rangled the loose puck. He skated stride for stride at Crassweller at center ice. The first team's defense collapsed around him. Jefferson Vincent capitalized on the action and confusion, and did what he did best. He disappeared.
He evaded the inevitable checks of body and stick. The puck glided smoothly through the blockade. Vincent collected the puck on the other side of the bedeviled defenders whom he split. A quick strike beat the nation's best goaltender.
The senior would style another moments later. The two goals that the second team scored were his tallies. Vincent's defensive efforts were not enough to win the scrimmage, but he did earn the respect of his coach. Jefferson Vincent was the only player from the second team in that scrimmage to make the final roster. His talent was self-evident, but never assumed. He earned everything.
Vincent rewarded Talbot Hunter's trust in him. The coach continued to expect great things out of his star winger and push him along with his team tirelessly throughout the season. The combination of Vincent and Magner became special. The two combined for three goals in the first half of the first game of the collegiate season. The second game, like the first, against Yale, witnessed Vincent's first career hat trick at the Chicago Ice Palace. Cornell alumni in attendance and teammates on the ice succumbed to raucous jubilation. The Cornell star was just getting started.
A hat trick against Yale in the second game of a three-game series was not the end of the senior-year dramatics for Jefferson Vincent. The IHA tournament to decide the eventual national champion opened on January 14, 1911 against Princeton. The increasingly famed winger wasted no time. Vincent opened scoring within seconds. Few opponents fared better.
Yale met Cornell for the fourth time in the season during the IHA tournament. The Western New Yorker made sure the Elis realized that their fate in Manhattan would be no different than it was in Chicago. The aggressive Bulldogs peppered Vail in the early seconds. Vincent forced a turnover and did what he did best on a breakaway. The resulting goal demoralized Yale. Columbia was equally dejected when Vincent scored very early, twice.
The ability of Jefferson Vincent to respond at will was known well in the IHA. Opponents who dared to tighten games during the 1910-11 season did so at their peril. Close games were evidently unacceptable to the senior forward. Yale was allowed to get within a 2-1 margin of an eventual 4-2 defeat and Dartmouth was afforded the proximity of only a 3-1 differential in an ultimate 5-1 defeat. Lightning speed and watchmaker-like precision accompanied the clinics that followed each as Jefferson Vincent rewidened margins.
No goals were more consequential in his career than those that he notched against Harvard at the year-old Boston Arena. The ice surface of the new arena was 60 feet longer and 20 feet wider than the other rinks at which Cornell played. The spaciousness became Jefferson Vincent's plaything.
Collegiate and national media billed the Cornell-Harvard game of January 28, 1911 as the decisive contest in the IHA tournament. It decided the national champion. The IHA tournament was a round-robin tournament. The pedigree of both Cornell and Harvard left many believing that the only team that had the discipline, talent, and teamwork to defeat one was the other. They were right. Vincent did not toil for years to garner Cornell the opportunity to bring a national championship to his alma mater to allow it to slip through his fingers during his last chance to deliver it.
An unassisted breakaway began the end for Harvard. Jefferson Vincent's hiatus from the University prevented his making an impression on the Crimson in the first meeting between the hockey programs of Cornell and Harvard. He compensated for lost time. Harvard thought he overcompensated.
The game was the closest of any game during the 1910-11 season. The Cantabs forced the Ithacans into overtime. Crimson hopes of a national championship lived at the prerogative of a Western New Yorker. History proves that is the most dangerous balance for the hopes of Harvard.
Magner and Vincent eroded Harvard on the Crimson's own ice in overtime. The star center maneuvered. Vincent vanished into the space-between that only he seemed able to find. Harvard lost Vincent. Magner connected to the legendary winger. The shot unleashed required the tensile strength expected of a player raised near the Steel City as it threaded its course into Harvard's twine. The expanse of Harvard's ice surface at Boston Arena foreclosed the Crimson's championship hopes when Jefferson Vincent came to town.
Talent is the metric by which all greats are compared. The first game of the 1911 IHA tournament proved how talented Cornell's senior winger was. Kay, the rover and captain of Princeton, was viewed as one of the greatest players in the nation. The reputation of only one rover surpasses that of Kay in the history of Princeton hockey. Many were not certain how Vincent would match with an offensively talented rover like Kay.
Jefferson Vincent corralled Kay into Princeton's defensive zone. Kay rarely enjoyed the puck on his stick. When he did, it was not long until Vincent retrieved it through fine stick work or clean checking. Vincent consistently employed effective forechecks and backchecks against all opponents. When opponents attempted aggressive backchecking against the Buffalo native, he evaded. Dartmouth players even knocked themselves unconscious in their frustrated and futile physical salvos to slow the senior marvel.
Extraordinary vision allowed Vincent to find other carnelian skaters when the defensive tactics of the opposition became too concentrated on him. Vincent contributed the primary assist on many of the big goals of the season that he did not score. Crassweller's go-ahead goal against Yale and Magner's second goal against Harvard stand as examples of this intelligent, unselfish style of play.
The skill of Jefferson Vincent was uncommon. It was generational. It was no surprise that the media fell in love with him. The understated, somewhat aloof star was an atypical headline-generator. This did not stop the national sports journalists of the era. Periodicals including the Boston Herald, Boston Journal, Boston Evening Transcript, Gazette Times of Pittsburgh, New York Press, and New York Tribune filled reams with praise for Cornell's wunderkind.
The consensus was "...Vincent, played [his] position in a manner that would do credit to men on professional teams." The Tribune summarized that "[Cornell's] attack...was concerted and versatile, although the burden of the work fell on Vincent, the right wing, who played a remarkable game." The local Press was not to be outdone, "[t]he big, rangy Princeton players were bewildered by the speed of and elusiveness of...Vincent." The Evening Transcript once commented that "Vincent did most of Cornell's clever work."
Pittsburgh and its media loved their favorite son who went off to perfect college hockey in Central New York. Headlines and stories in the Gazette Times boasted "Jeff Vincent alone shoots enough goals to defeat the Tigers" and "Jeff Vincent of Pittsburgh...was one of the shining lights of the league." Neither national intrigue nor hometown favoritism limited the reach of Jefferson Vincent's appeal while wearing the carnelian and white.
Cornell students and alumni reveled in watching Vincent decimate opponents. The Cornell Daily Sun reported the emergence of this phenomenon in Chicago and Cleveland. "[T]he team was warmly received by the alumni and undergraduates who packed the houses at each contest." "[T]he crowd marveled" at the impressive play of Jefferson Vincent and his teammates. These events marked the beginning of a trend that lasted generations.
Fans, aligned and unaligned, began to frequent college-hockey games in which Jefferson Vincent would play. They wanted to capture a glimpse of the spectacle that was this American-born hockey player. Increased ticket prices accompanied games involving Jefferson Vincent. Venues did not remain listless long when Vincent took the ice. Costs of entry to the Cornell-Harvard game during the 1910-11 season ranged from $1.00 to $2.00. Those tickets adjusted for inflation would cost as much as $50.00 today.
Exorbitant costs of tickets were not the only novel accompaniment of that Cornell-Harvard game. As loved as Jefferson Vincent was among Cornell fans, students, and alumni, opposing fans loathed him proportionately. Jefferson Vincent on that evening in Boston elevated Cornell to a level in the Crimson mythos that no rival has been able since to reach. The moment that Vincent outwitted Chadwick in overtime for the national championship-clinching goal, a monsoon of massacred rabbits blotted the ice; the first debris of a littered rivalry.
Whether fans harbored incensed ire or calamitous celebration, there was no denying that Jefferson Vincent drove fans to the stands and then brought them to their feet. His name might never have graced a marquee in front of an arena, but promoters knew the effect that his presence on the ice had on the scale and allure of their events.
Vincent's adopted hometown of Buffalo was the City of Light, but he dreamt never of seeing his name in lights. The senior winger from Western Pennsylvania and Western New York neither demanded nor sought the glow of a spotlight. On a team of stars of the calibre of Crassweller, Magner, Scheu, Warner, and Vail, Vincent stood out. Jefferson Vincent was greatest among greatness. He reflected the glow of his acclaim and accolades upon his teammate.
The Cornell Daily Sun was the most frequent observer of this reality. The greatest strength of the 1910-11 team was its idyllic "lack of the 'grand stand' player" which made the hockey team "[a] fit example for any major or minor team of the University," according to The Sun. The cohesion of Talbot Hunter's second team and the humility of its most talented player were related not coincidentally to its perfect 10-0-0 record.
No team in the pre-NCAA era had a talent so great and nationally recognized as Jefferson Vincent while still completing a perfect season during that player's tenure. The character and leadership of Vincent were of historic proportions. Jefferson Vincent became what his team needed when it needed it.
No official recorded a penalty against him in his career because his play was so refined in every situation. Over his four years competing at Cornell, he played in three different positions. He played as a center and left wing when his team needed even though his natural niche was along the right flank.
Fred J. Hoey of the Boston Journal exploited comically Jefferson Vincent's versatility when he was filling his all-American roster. The syndicated hockey columnist chose Vincent as his first left wing on his all-American team. The Beantown journalist argued that egalitarianism required such a move. The play of Vincent so dwarfed that of all other right wings in the nation that he demanded choosing.
The field of left wingers was less talented and allowed Hoey to choose a respectable player as the right winger who deserved recognition. He comforted his readers, "Jeff Vincent, Cornell's right wing, can shoot from either side and with this advantage could well be placed on the left wing."
Selflessness and loyalty do not entomb the reality that Jefferson Vincent was the first great American-born hockey player. Vincent remains one of the greatest players in the history of Cornell hockey. The first game in which he showcased, the January 1908 contest against Rochester, was the last time that Vincent would play center. Mistakes were made. It was the last game in which Jefferson Vincent would score only one goal.
Jefferson Vincent averaged scoring 2.11 goals per game over his career. Only one player in the modern era of Cornell hockey has been even within one goal per game of that total. Doug Ferguson produced consistently at a rate of 1.11 goals per game. All-time leading goal scorer Brock Tredway tallied only one goal per game. Greats like Joe Nieuwendyk, John Hughes, Lance Nethery, and Matt Moulson register at 0.90, 0.87, 0.82, and 0.53 goals per game, respectively. Cornell never has seen a player who resembles Vincent in the modern era despite all the dominance its fans have witnessed.
The production of Jefferson Vincent is handicapped additionally. He played in an era when it was not uncommon for games to be truncated to or called after 30 minutes. He scored over twice as many goals per game as Cornell greats during games that were sometimes half as long.
The national championship-clinching goal against Harvard and the game-winning goal against Dartmouth that guaranteed a perfect season both belonged to Jefferson Vincent. Vincent never scored fewer than two goals in any contest throughout the IHA tournament. The stealthy right winger delivered when it was needed most.
Jefferson Vincent never entertained the prospect of playing professionally. The pinnacle of his hockey career was guaranteeing a national championship for Cornell University in guiding what was then the winningest perfect season. He achieved his goal. The hockey program of the land-grant university of his adopted state now stood as the bar by which other programs were judged. Vincent, a student who was so restive as to study both mechanical and electrical engineering while delving deep into liberal-arts curricula, focused on service beyond that which he could do with his athletic abilities. Graduation approached. Honorifically, he became a graduate of the Class of 1910.
Grazing the Face of God
Vincent darted in and out of the collective consciousness of Cornellians just as quickly as he captured their imaginations and dazzled their senses. The same facility with which he parsed defenders with mysterious evasion allowed him to escape the probing inquiries of fellow alumni. The famed winger was graduated on June 22, 1911. The words of President Schurman on that day likely marinated the mind of the New Yorker.
Seated in the Armory for the University's 43rd Commencement, President Schurman addressed an assemblage of Cornellians who would come to embody the best of Cornell University's ideals and become its greatest generation. The message of the moment was clear. Governments will not solve society's ills. It is the task of the individual to change the world around him.
"All great reforms are the work of individuals...reformation that is worth anything must be enacted in the hearts and minds of individuals." As if scrawled into a script, these words would animate the graduates. The athletic paragon who excited his fellow graduates, peers, and alumni became that individual who dared real reform.
A yeomanly undertaking carried Jefferson Vincent from the unassuming shore of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to one of the world's finest academic sanctuaries, allowed him to endure undeterred a disruption in his studies, and fashioned him into the greatest American-born hockey player. His next feats would be his most miraculous. Scoring goals against Harvard and inspiring undefeated seasons would pale in comparison.
As obscuring as the early settling of twilight on the ice of Beebe Lake after the hockey practices Vincent knew so well, the Cornellian skater deflected credit in shrouding his activities from the public eye. The bark of Talbot Hunter directed him no longer. It was the call to serve his nation that took its place.
The trained engineer proved versatile in his skill. Vincent wielded the lessons of Cornell University's cultural empathy and interdisciplinary ethic as tools in serving the American people. A fluency in Spanish served well Jefferson Vincent as he was drawn away from his expected career path in engineering to the consular service of the United States. His postings proved to be essential for the commercial, diplomatic, and military interests of the United States in years before the nation was thrown into the grips of the First World War.
Jefferson Vincent's diplomatic career began in the American consulate in Chile. It was his later appointments to Spain and Italy as an emissary of the United States that he first filled the role of national hero. Vincent's successful Spanish diplomatic encounters occurred in the wake of much tumult.
His contributions to another consular effort were no less impressive than his oft-highlighted Iberian efforts. The alumnus of Cornell University served two missions of the eventual foreign service in prebellum Europe. American consular servants feverishly labored in Rome to circumvent peninsular involvement in the First World War when the conflict broke. It was no small task to persuade Italian officials that their nation needed not honor a defensive pact with the German Empire.
This victory of Jefferson Vincent and his diplomatic colleagues was short-lived. Italy entered the war nine months after hostilities opened. Greater success accompanied Vincent's contemporary service in Spain. It was the Cornellian's accomplishments with Madrid that encapsulated the highlight of his consular career.
The Cornellian and his cohort were only ten years old when the hostilities of the Spanish-American War ceased. The gashes of that conflict still demanded tending. Jefferson Vincent massaged the relationship between the once-belligerent states. The agitations of war on the horizon from an expansionist German Empire uneased those in Washington who still romanticized American isolationism. Normalizing relations with a traditional trade partner of the United States guaranteed commercial benefits for American industries and Americans on the eve of war.
Defused of much stress after several rounds of trade agreements, the United States gained considerable leverage in encouraging Spain's natural inclinations to remain neutral when the First World War began in 1914. Exchange with the markets of the yet-unaligned United States allowed Spain to reap financial benefit without recourse to war. American diplomats aided their Spanish counterparts in navigating the complexity of being a commercially active, unaligned state during the outbreak of the first modern world war.
Vincent traded dodging rovers and defenders, and converting threaded-needle passes from Magner for helping foreign states in search of peace navigate the troubled waters of war. The Buffalo native served in the great tradition of Cornell-affiliated diplomats, such as no less an influential figure than Andrew Dickson White. As all true great citizen-diplomats before him, Jefferson Vincent recognized that when the desired instruments of peace fail, resort to the instruments of war to defend sacred values is necessary.
Heroic embrace of this hallowed duty left the general public and the community of Cornell University with one last paradox. The former hockey forward absconded from his diplomatic service when American involvement in the war became inevitable. The born Pennsylvanian who came of age outside of Pittsburgh, whose family in part called rural Illinois home, and who became the consummate New Yorker of his adopted Western New York etched his last great mystery with his enlistment.
Perhaps it was connections that he developed along the Pacific Coast of the Americas during his service in Chile. Perhaps it was an overwhelming urge to serve his country that overcame him while he was visiting a distant state. Curiously, in 1917, Jefferson Davis Vincent entered the service of the United States Army from California.
It was not Vincent's first foray into military exercises. Fulfillment of Cornell University's land-grant mission required all able-bodied males to receive military drilling and instructions in the military sciences. Vincent was an active member in the signal reserve corps of the United States Army. The former hockey manager was a trained officer of the American military. The proud and dedicated reservist received his commission shortly.
The various branches of the United States Signal Corps began to be folded into complementary roles within the United States Army as the home of the Aviation Section of the American military as early as July 1914. Dual roles of reconnaissance and aerial combat made sense of this uneasy union.
The speed, precision, and daring that typified Jefferson Vincent in the glowing columns that dried barrels of ink from Chicago to Boston during his hockey career found even fewer limits during wartime. Vincent became a winger in a literal sense. He served with the 24th Aero Squadron.
Lieutenant Vincent first reported to San Diego for preliminary training. His particular aptitudes and recognizable intelligence led to his recommendation to the Army's flight school at the University of California. The carnelian-and-white star devoured the curriculum at California's land-grant institution. He would join the unit to which he was commissioned at Kelly Field in Texas soon enough.
The grizzled veteran of college hockey stepped foot in San Antonio with the ambition to be a leader of fellow men and defender of his nation. Only two percent of servicemen during the First World War were commissioned. Vincent represented his alma mater proudly in rounding out the 60% of Cornellians who garnered commissions. The Western New Yorker would achieve his goal.
Vincent's 24th Aero Squadron awaited deployment to the European theatre from Long Island by the end of the calendar year in 1917. The miracle completed at St Nicholas Rink, under 30 miles from his base in Long Island, nearly seven years before might have brought momentary quietude to his mind. Jefferson Vincent bade adieu to his beloved adopted home state in January. He would not return.
The 24th Aero Squadron arrived in Great Britain and continued its training. The unit awaited its orders to move to the Front. They would come in May 1918.
The United States had been nominally at war with the German Empire for over a year. A preliminary step toward any successful repulsion of the German forces from France required ample intelligence. The 1st Army Observation Group would meet that need. Its constituents were the 9th and 91st Aero Squadrons, and Jefferson Vincent's 24th Aero Squadron. The 24th Aero Squadron joined the more seasoned 91st Aero Squadron in France.
The 1st Army Observation Group gathered gradually on the Toul front at the Gondreville-sur-Moselle Aerodrome. This base of Vincent's aerial operations was just 16 miles from the Western Front. The region had known intense combat throughout April. The constant threat of bombardment loomed over the airbase. Two concerted German aerial efforts would greet the 24th Aero Squadron to France in the summer months. The sprawling layout of Gondreville-sur-Moselle intentionally rendered it less susceptible to catastrophic raids.
It was this layout that undermined unit cohesion. Stationed servicemen resisted the dint on morale with trips through neighboring French villages. These American flyboys and intelligence officers became an attraction. Few could engross themselves as well as could the urbane Jefferson Vincent. Despite not entirely unexpected newfound celebrity, Vincent and his squadron knew why they were in unfamiliar territory.
The 1st Army Observation Group near Toul included embedded intelligence officers and sophisticated photographic labs. Both of which were necessary in drawing reasonable conclusions from the reconnaissance born of the pilots's daring. The skill and courage of pilots like Vincent certainly were required.
The pilots of the 1st Army Observation Group flew French Salmsons type 2A2 aircraft. The Salmsons had a very limited fuel capacity and were not well suited for the high-altitude flying that penetrating reconnaissance sometimes required. The typical scouting flight occurred at altitudes between one and three miles. More accurate aerial photography and cleverly concealing German tactics made the best pilots maneuver their crafts at heights around 600 feet, exposing themselves to anti-aircraft fire. Jefferson Vincent was such a pilot.
The 24th Aero Squadron had many distinctions. It was among the first wholly American-trained flying divisions in the history of the military of United States. It was chosen to enter the European theatre because it was regarded generally as well trained. Nevertheless, only select pilots were allowed to engage in activities other than training alongside the 91st Aero Squadron in the first few months along the Western Front.
This requirement for seasoning did not erase the necessity for better intelligence in mounting any offensive to repel the Germans from France. Probing and frequent observation was required. There was inadequate reconnaissance of German entrenchment from which to devise a plan of attack before June 1918. Photographic scouting missions penetrated deeply behind the Front to record German rear movements and artillery capacity. Pilots and photographers in the two-seated Salmsons relayed observations to Gondreville-sur-Moselle. Information would not perish, even if they did.
There was little known of German assets and abilities to outflank or counterstrike. Early observations were quintessential to what would become the St. Mihiel Offensive and the eventual ejection of the Germans from France. The need for frequent missions collected its toll on the fleet of aircraft. France's industrial base was ravaged and it was ill-able to keep up with the demand of quality that France's American protectors needed. By the second week in May, it was widely known along the Front that France was producing inferior propellers for its Salmsons.
The pilots of the 1st Army Observation Group, including Jefferson Vincent, recognized this reality. They elected to continue their scouting and training missions at the risk of their own welfare. They had a war that they needed to win and ground forces who would need the invaluable resources that the pilots's courage unearthed.
May 3, 1918 marked the 30th birthday of Cornell hockey's greatest legend. He celebrated it 3,500 miles from home. The lessons of his time at Cornell University, as an exemplary student and a hockey star, had not left him. He realized that considerable ardor and tireless labor were the only means by which one could perfect a skill. The hours on Beebe Lake, overworking and overachieving under Talbot Hunter so that when the moment arrived to perform, the task at hand would seem easy even if few ever could even fancy replicating it, guided Vincent. That was hockey. This was more important. His service in France was his greatest undertaking.
Tireless was Jefferson Vincent's work ethic. His orders for his anticipated role in the coming Battle of St. Mihiel laid in his quarters on May 14, 1918 when he left for training exercises. A week of inclimate weather grounded his preparations. He would not be denied the opportunity on that clear day.
Vincent planned to do practice scouting and strafing runs on targets. Realizing on previous scouting runs that German units concealed their locations and endeavoring to provide his countrymen with the best information possible, the Cornellian planned to practice entering a nose-first, spinning dive to reach lower altitudes at considerable speed. These tactics bore the ripest fruits for his fellow servicemen.
Jefferson Vincent climbed into his aircraft. He gave a thoughtful nod, like those he had given raucous Cornell alumni in Chicago, New York, and Boston, as his plane roared to life. As elegantly as he skated for his adoring fans and as capably as he served his nation as diplomat, Vincent soared into the horizon and the fading sun. He vanished.
Forever, A Humble Hero
The rap on the door at the Markeen Hotel in Buffalo, NY came days later. Mrs. James W. Vincent answered. Her son had perished valiantly in the service of his country. On that day, 58 other casualties were reported. None of them mattered to her. The loss of Jefferson Davis Vincent was consumingly profound to her. It was nearly as overwhelming for all Cornellians.
Jefferson Vincent was laid to rest. In a tremendous show of respect and remembrance, the collegians of the 1st Army Observation Group elected to serve as the patriot's ultimate escort. His final place of rest was St. Mihiel American Cemetery. College hockey and Cornell University lost a favorite son.
He was not the only son whom Cornell University lost in the First World War. More Cornellians served than did the alumni of any other institution of higher learning in the United States, including the service academies. 264 of those Cornellians who served gave the last full measure of devotion.
Nearly 16 years to the day after Edmund Magner directed his last assist to Jefferson Vincent, he would deliver one final assist to his departed linemate and friend. Buffalo and military service united Magner and Vincent. The former star center was a key member of the committee that conceived of and raised funds for the War Memorial. A timeless monument to the values and courage of Cornell's greatest generation and bravest souls rose from the earth of West Campus. A very personal motive partially animated the actions of Magner as he assisted in remembering his fallen peers. Not the least of which was Jefferson Vincent.
Cornell University marked its gratitude to its greatest generation on June 8, 1919. President Schurman, whose words motivated Jefferson Vincent nearly eight years prior, read the honor roll of the then-known 206 people associated with Cornell University who perished in the conflict. Major General Robert Alexander of the United States Army delivered a eulogy to the capacity crowd at Bailey Hall.
Major General Alexander proffered a metric by which one's service can be measured. He reasoned that commissioned officers, those tasked with leading their fellow soldiers, are the determinative factor in any modern war. Thoughtfulness and thoroughness discern an officer's merits. "Unless he knows his business, we will incur the risk of defeat and the uncertainty of undue loss," concluded Major General Alexander.
First Lieutenant Jefferson Vincent's service was distinguished by these metrics. His 24th Aero Squadron took center stage when the St. Mihiel Offensive began. Nearly continual engagement in combat and reconnaissance missions along the Toul and Verdun fronts reflected well upon the departed Cornellian. Vincent's unit was distinguished for its uncanny abilities and steeled resolve to gain intelligence even in the most dangerous of circumstance. There was no greater homage to one of the 24th Aero Squadron's fallen heroes.
As unassumingly as he entered life, Jefferson Davis Vincent now rests. He rests alongside his brothers in arms, the ones who finished the task that he helped begin. His family was of too modest means to disturb his slumber and bring him home. He may desire to be nowhere else as a self-made hero of athleticism, academia, and patriotism: The archetype of what most Cornellians hope to be. He was the first great American-born hockey player, the greatest player in Cornell hockey history, and a true servant of the United States. He sleeps now with those who shared his great love of country and sacrificed equally in their efforts to defend her values.
Jefferson Vincent should be an active and present part of our hockey program's and University's narrative. He was self-made. He achieved greatness from moderately humble origins. He worked for what he enjoyed. He forced the gasp of opponents that breathed life into the rivalry that invigorates the greatest institutional feud and collaboration on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. He sacrificed for things far greater than himself.
On this Memorial Day, and on all others, remember the career of Jefferson Vincent and what it did to create our modern sense of Cornell University's identity. He was a student-athlete, morally guided scientist, scientifically literate public servant, and citizen-soldier. He was all the tensions that Cornell University was intended to be.
Jefferson Davis Vincent, a Cornellian in the purest sense, was as talented and brave as the greatest from his era. Cornellians, from current students to alumni, should think of him when they pass through the arch of the War Memorial on West Campus or catch a glimpse of its towers. When that particular time of year arrives, when the great adversary of our institution visits for a pitched contest on frozen terrain, perhaps leave a carnelian token at the panel of the War Memorial inscribed with Vincent's name as a sign of gratitude and remembrance.
"Their bodies sleep, but their souls live evermore," pontificated Reverend Newell D. Hillis during the memorial service of June 8, 1919. The body of the greatest college-hockey player rests thousands of miles from our sanctuary on East Hill. Now, there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever Cornell. Lest we allow ourselves to forget him and in so doing become less Cornellian.
Time and distance lend themselves to perspective. This postseason endowed this writer with ample amounts of both. The perspective that these lent was proportional to the time elapsed.
The quarterfinals of the ECAC Hockey tournament were played. The semifinals occurred during the ECAC Hockey championship weekend. Harvard hoisted the Whitelaw Cup for the ninth time on the ice of Herb Brooks Arena. Pucks dropped on the regional semifinals and finals of the NCAA tournament. Boston reunited with the Frozen Four. A national champion was crowned. All unfolded without Cornell's involvement.
More than eight weeks have passed since Cornell began the playoffs with much hope, and ended them with far greater disappointment. The passage of time and its associated waiting tamed the perturbed passions of the hours and days after last season ended. Now, with a clearer mind and a voice no longer hoarse from catharsis, this writer will try to understand not what went wrong last season, but how the institution of Cornell hockey can avoid a repeat and who is best suited to lead such an aversion.
Cornell athletics, with the complicity of the regional media, spare Mike Schafer the indignity of facing the press after abysmal seasons. Schafer retreats away with few comments until the NHL draft approaches. This is neither to mock this approach nor champion a change to a model that resembles those of the large sports universities. Part of the charm of Cornell hockey is that it is one of the few élite programs in college hockey that commercialism and quasi-professionalism do not taint. In this quaintness, there is unkindness.
The unkindness of neglecting the Lynah Faithful, college hockey's most loyal fanbase, creates its own problems. The Faithful demand answers and no one is there to give them. Introspection is needed after every season. It is insufficient after a season so bleak. Self-criticism of the sternest order is necessary now.
Self-critical analysis spares no one. The perpetuity, success, and values of the institution as a whole become paramount for they are jeopardized. The watchful shepherd of this program is its head coach. When guidance or consolation is needed, eyes are cast in his direction. Those eyes were once oceans of admiration of the kind that our friends at Without a Peer so often enjoyed to mock or that this writer would pastiche. Beliefs of infallibility, if they were ever appropriate or encouraged, are now ill-conceived.
Mike Schafer, head coach of Cornell hockey, is charged with giving direction to this program. The hockey team seemed lost in a daze last season. It was blind. Vision is what this team needs. The leader of this program has to give it. As "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," the last statements of one season become the first of the next.
What course did Schafer plot? What were the first lines of the script for the 2015-16 season? What were the directives and ambitions? Where one would hope to find specificity, clarity, and audacity, one finds inconsistency and abrogation.
Coach Schafer held his last official press conference after the 7-0 humbling that Union bestowed at Lynah Rink and issued his last expected game notes to the Cornell Hockey Association. The two combine for the sum total of Schafer's reflections on last season and the only thing that may pass as a crude blueprint for how he expects to avoid the pitfalls of last season. His undirected and internally contradictory remedies laid bare follow.
The identified culprit of last season corroborates across the two media. When Mike Schafer was asked how his assistant coaches and he would rectify the ills that plagued his team last season, he answered:
We will work hard and get back to the drawing board with recruiting a commitment to work ethic.
This writer will re-explore the futility and absurdity of that statement further later, but facially, that statement is not flawed. Schafer could be stating that the Class of 2015 lacked the work ethic to play the instutionally reflective, Canadian-influenced hard-nosed style of Cornell hockey. It seems inappropriate for a coach of a college hockey program to place all the blame at the feet of his student-athletes who attend the most rigorous university in the world while trying to play hockey with some of the loftiest expectations in the game. Its underlying reason is durable nonetheless. Trying to put the game in context, Mike Schafer addresses the Class of 2015 in particular.
It's hard, the last game of the year, you just don't want that for your group of seniors, a group that committed themselves so much.
Wait. The 2014-15 season did not achieve any of its objectives because the team and its leadership, the senior class, lacked a fundamental work ethic, but the seniors "committed themselves so much" and "gave us their all for four seasons?" Moments after the six-member senior class is thrown under the bus, Schafer retrieves a rhetorical hydraulic lift to end its trampling entrapment and pay tribute to its legacy.
A non sequitur praises highly the unwavering commitment of the senior class, describes the ownership its members took of their development for the unselfish maintenance of the program, and concludes that an absence of work ethic grounded the trajectory of the 2014-15 season. A reflective listener is left wondering if Mike Schafer is scrambling for excuses or unaware of when the season became lost. Neither is befitting of a coach who will need to get a program out of a sizable rut.
A retrospective lens did not limit Schafer's criticism of work ethic. Yes, he may have intended otherwise, but the connotations of his statement extend far beyond last season and the Class of 2015. The Big Red's bench boss referenced a need to "get back to the drawing board" in both of his statements. This need implicates the current framework of recruiting, whether it is the network of scouts or the traits which Schafer's assistant coaches have been directed to seek, in bringing to East Hill players who lack "work ethic."
This statement is very damaging for countless reasons. However, first, in line with the previous argument, indulge this writer in comparing it to another statement that Schafer made. Disappointing doublespeak and contradiction rear their ugly heads as he continues in his official statements.
We have an excellent group coming in next year but we will still be out recruiting to improve the incoming class.
Yes, reader, you are right to find your hand drifting to your scalp to ease that irritation. If the whole recruiting apparatus needs to be burnt to cinder and rebuilt anew because it was attracting players whom Schafer found unable to be coached in his vision for the program, how is it possible that recruits who committed under that approach comprise "an excellent group?"
Topher Scott and Ben Syer were mere feet away when he made this statement. It is not as if in moments his assistants recruited an entirely new class and dispensed with the old commits whom were recruited under the old system that needed to be reduced to dust on the chalkboard. This is probably the most upsetting, complicated, and harmful statement that Coach Schafer makes in either release.
A frontal assault on a coach's recruiting tack impugns not only the past, it assails the future. Mike Schafer and his staff have received commitments from players who are not expected to take the ice of Lynah Rink until at least two complete seasons expire. What of them? What are they or their preceding classes not yet in Ithaca supposed to think of Coach Schafer's condemnation of the Big Red's recent recruiting model and the fruits that it bore? How are they not supposed to take these comments personally?
The treacherous grounds that Schafer has staked out are obvious. Implying that all incoming recruits lack the work ethic to thrive in the supercharged and ultracompetitive environment that is Cornell hockey is no formula for success or team building. This writer does not believe that this implication was the intent of Cornell's head coach. Lack of intent does not erase the fact that he ill-advisedly did such. Oversight of this magnitude manifests a dangerous lack of vision from a coach who carried Cornell back to the mountaintop of college hockey.
Commitments in college hockey are precarious things. Will commits waver at the sound of their future head coach seemingly deriding their character? Coach Schafer remains one of the best developers, if not the best developer, of talent in college hockey. Will enduring perceived beratement be worth the uncertain promise of even the best development path in college hockey? We hope that none of the commits to Cornell finds himself engaged in this calculus.
A lack of harvesting work ethic through the coaching and recruiting process was not the only failure of the 2014-15 season according to the former two-season captain. The systems and tactics on the ice were at the tip of his secondary assault. If it was not the way the players approached life, it was the way that he led them to play the game, Mike Schafer maintained. His statements on this matter do not internally contradict themselves, but they nonetheless contradict reality.
We tried to make some changes this year. I thought that they failed miserably in the sense of some of our systematic things. We've got to go back to the drawing board. I did things one way for 19 years, and I made a change, go back to what I did for the previous 19 years. We've got to start this whole thing all over again...We've changed some things this year. I've got to go back to what I really believe in.
The inattentive media who solicited and received this statement after the final loss of the season did not challenge the statement's validity. Is Schafer right? Did Cornell change its systems?
Schafer is not inaccurate in his statement that Cornell hockey "ma[de] some changes this year." The decorated coach pointed to the forechecking scheme of the 2014-15 season. That is the most apparent change that any fan familiar with Cornell hockey over the last several seasons would have noticed.
The error lies in Schafer's insistence that he "did things one way for 19 years," this season was not what he "did for the previous 19 years," and he has "done things a certain way for 19 years then changed this year." This is patently untrue. Diehard fans recognized this immediately. Heck, even fans who have followed Cornell hockey for more than two seasons would realize that.
No coach invokes the tried-and-true mantra that he coaches the same way each season and results vary on what effort a given assemblage of players inputs in a season more than does Mike Schafer. This statement, as Schafer intended it in years past, dealt with theories of the game and effort, not stratagems and tactics. The latter considerations can change between even games, let alone seasons, while the former aspects do not deviate across eras. Schafer's election to state that the game that he has coached has remained unchanged does a disservice to one of the positives of his tenure to date.
The philosophy of Mike Schafer remains consistent. His strategies are dynamic. In many ways, he was one of the forefathers who pushed hockey into its current defensive paradigm. Want a bigger net for more goals? You may have Mike Schafer partially to blame. Schafer's approach to winning has never been stagnant.
The game evolves. It moves. Great coaches find a way to forestall the inevitable phenomenon of the game passing them by. Coach Schafer has done that in past seasons. Creativity and speed took root in Ithaca under Schafer more in the mid-2000s through the present than they did from the late-1990s and early-2000s when force and size ruled. The game changes, whether rule changes or strategic migration cause it. Good coaches navigate those changes.
For 19 years, Coach Schafer proved that he could do that. His statement after the 2014-15 season erases one of his legacy's greatest attributes and misleads the unwitting to wield an easy excuse. Its contradiction is found just mere seasons ago.
The 2012-13 season was disappointing. Cornell finished below 0.500 for the first time in 14 years. The Big Red missed ECAC Hockey's championship weekend for the first time in five seasons. When the next preseason arrived, Mike Schafer bursted back into the spotlight stating that he had studied tape of every goal scored and allowed from the 2012-13 season. He fine tuned his system to optimize what worked and remove what failed.
Schafer said as much. He bragged, as he should have. The season began at Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks were the first victim of reinvigorated and reimagined special-teams play. Cornell's power play led the nation in lethality for most of the season. The Big Red's penalty kill was again among the best. The penalty kill's trajectory carried even into the 2014-15 season. A reimagining of this magnitude proves the fallacy of any claims that Schafer has "do[ne] things a certain way for 19 years."
Having disproven that Coach Schafer's style has never changed at all, one is left to wonder why the Cornell head coach would promise to revert. Mike Schafer goes on to apologize to the Class of 2015 for trying something new in its senior season. What of the Class of 2016?
The members of the Class of 2016 will have played under at least three, perhaps four, different systems during their tenure. Their freshman season was the 2012-13 season. Their sophomore season was the year after the postseason tape-watching. Their junior season was the aberrational year of experimentation, as Schafer would have us believe. What will their senior year be?
If we assume that Mike Schafer reverts to the system of either their freshman or sophomore seasons, that is still three styles of play that they will have been forced to attempt in four seasons. If experimenting during the senior campaign of the Class of 2015 was inappropriate, why is it suddenly acceptable to make the Class of 2016 endure it?
The problem appears not to be Coach Schafer's experimenting. It appears to be his need to reify some image, public or self-conceived, of monotonous consistency. If he believes that the forechecking regime of last season eventually will yield astronomically increased offensive production, why quit on it now? Systems take seasons (plural, not singular) to take root.
The axiom of giving a coach no fewer than four seasons to judge his work product is just as much a product of implementing systems as it is of recruiting. If Mike Schafer thinks a change of this kind will yield long-term benefits for the program with the incoming offensive juggernauts of the next few recruiting classes, he should have the gall to scoff at criticism and disappointment whether they push for change or reversion.
A lack of strength of conviction is not a virtue in a head coach, especially when it pales in comparison to his persona from successful seasons past. No one is questioning Coach Schafer's competence, but his inability to articulate a clear and consistent vision for the program, publicly or otherwise, and stay the course will become a liability if it is not already. Cornell hockey's head coach appears to have lost his edge. It needs to be whetted.
Instead, perhaps somewhat comically, rather than unequivocation, Mike Schafer gave one platitude not realizing that his current course denies the Lynah Faithful exactly for what they yearn. The pledge? Coach Schafer promised in broad, sweeping, and vague terms a return to some sense of institutional self for next season.
We will be back with the type of Big Red hockey that you’ve come to enjoy in the past.
This writer found himself wondering if Mike Schafer realizes how much of a part of that "type of Big Red hockey" he is. Cornell hockey, or "Big Red hockey," is many things. One of those things is brazen. From top to bottom, from locker room to bleachers, Cornell hockey embodies brazenness.
Confidence is the attitude of Cornell hockey, not of the type that decays into hubris or arrogance that overtly disparages opponents or fanbases in poor humor, but the type that respects opponents while still having a deep-seeded belief that superior history will prevail. Begrudgingly, most opponents concede that such confidence is earned. Mike Schafer was brazen. Is he any longer?
Whether fairly or unfairly, the Lynah Faithful demand that their coach is a larger-than-life figure. Before Lynah Rink even was constructed, Talbot Hunter and Nicky Bawlf were icons of the game and celebrated heroes of the Cornell community. Ned Harkness' reputation rivaled those of deities. Dick Bertrand and Lou Reycroft may not have risen to the stature of Harkness, but each found a way to stoke the fires of players and fans.
Coach Schafer was up to that paradoxically humbling task for over a decade and a half. In recent seasons, timidity crept into his style. Schafer's self-assured brand of leadership from 1995 until 2012 was far from timid as it drove five Whitelaw Cup runs, eight NCAA tournament victories, and the toppling of Boston College, Boston University, Michigan, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Now, he scrambles for excuses that placate extemporaneous questions from the media after devastating playoff losses.
Waffling on whether his systems have changed over time and doubting his initial judgment that he should experiment with new offensive schemes proves that he is not delivering the visionary leadership that he once was. The same leadership that Cornell hockey requires. The leadership from Schafer that won.
The Cornell head coach likes to analogize a hockey team to the rowers on a crew team. Each rower must be in sync for the boat to be propelled most efficiently through the water. A failure of rhythm or timing of even an infinitesimal nature can be damning. To outsiders, Schafer may now appear as a blind-folded, rhythmically challenged coxswain.
Leadership, whether it is in the athletic, political, or professional realm, is governed by sets of clichés. The most famous of which was immortalized with a sign that President Truman placed on the Resolute desk. "The buck stops here," it read. For better and certainly worse, great leaders shoulder the credit and blame. Lesser leaders are found trying to define "here" as elsewhere. Coach Schafer divvies blame in two comments.
It's not the players's fault. I apologized to the seniors that I couldn't get this hockey team to play the way I wanted them to play. When that happens with a hockey team, everyone shares in that responsibility. But, as a coach, you share in the responsibility.
These were the most aggravating passages of Coach Schafer's comments for this writer. Schafer gets agonizingly close to saying exactly the right thing. Fans all know what they want. The former Big Red defenseman led a performance that was tied for the worst in his 20-year tenure. The fans want a mea culpa for the ages. They want the program's leader to direct the brunt of the criticism his way. They are owed it.
Absolving the players, as inconsistent as it may be after criticizing their work ethic, is one thing. Phrases like "everyone shares in that responsibility," "as a coach, you share in the responsibility," or "we all share in the responsibility" stop short of what fans expect from Mike Schafer's leadership.
Coach Schafer neither would have shied away from nor should he have deflected all credit if his team had brought him a record-setting sixth Whitelaw Cup. With the season ending quite oppositely, there should be no difference in his role for taking the inverse credit. Dilution of personal responsibility with comments of "sharing" responsibility is a wholesale abrogation of the head coach's duty to shield his teenage and 20-something student-athletes, and assistant coaches from the criticism that will encircle a championship-expecting program.
You may think that this is semantic. Perhaps, you are right. If "everyone shares in...responsibility," Mike Schafer is a necessary constituent of "everyone," right? The choice to deflect and dilute shows a fissure in leadership that once was not there. Through good and bad, Coach Schafer was the man to blame or credit in great deal.
Last season was lost in semantics. Cornell ended the first half of the season with a win against one of the three programs in college hockey that is the Big Red's superior. The result was Cornell's first winning effort against Denver since Mike Schafer's senior season. The second half of the season ended with a team that barely clawed its way above 0.500 and failed to make Lake Placid outscoring Cornell by over five to one while ending the Big Red's season.
A sliver's width separated success from failure. Very little separated defeating Denver from falling to Union in terms of effort. Semantics matter, especially in the speech of a leader. The difference between "sharing" responsibility and "taking" responsibility could have been the difference between the Denver and Union series.
One glowing aside, not some contrived contradictory statement, proved that despite some internal uncertainties, Mike Schafer still gets it.
It's not the way they envisioned nor any Cornell hockey player envisions going out their last game.
The first statement proves that the expectations of Cornell hockey are still the expectations. To paraphrase an earlier Schafer, the real senior night is leaving Lynah Rink, victorious in a playoff series, en route to competing for and winning a Whitelaw Cup. Despite some lack of resolve in other comments, he seems to dare to imply still that winning championships is what is expected from Cornell hockey. That was not the proving statement.
The second comment, a complete aside, was what preserved the greatest trust in this writer. Cornell hockey is so intertwined with the social experience at Cornell University that the complexion of one's senior season affects one's relationship with the University.
It is no coincidence that most of the classes engaged in major alumni events, purchasing large blocks of seats at Madison Square Garden or hosting alumni events before Red Hot Hockey and the Frozen Apple, have senior years that coincide with NCAA or ECAC Hockey championship runs. The Cornell Alumni Magazine did not satirize the feelings of students and alumni when it said more were concerned with the possible departure of Mike Schafer to a major sports university than the certain resignation of Jeff Lehman, the president of the University, in 2005.
The performance of the hockey programs affects the morale of campus. Hockey fan or not, Cornellians know whether the carnelian and white are having a good or poor season. Cornell is far more than hockey, but it is hockey that is the University's communal and unifying escape of frivolity. The disappointment of the worst season in the 21st Century to date soured not the experiences of only those in the locker room or the stands on March 7 but an entire class of alumni.
Think that is hyperbolic? Schafer does not. The head coach is right.
It is difficult to question a coach who has done so much and still understands things that few outside of East Hill will ever as Mike Schafer does. Generally, it is difficult to criticize a coach. It may be necessary, but it is not easy.
The task grows even more difficult when the coach is an alumnus. The simple us-vs-them dichotomy no longer applies when interceding, as this writer did, to defend future recruits who have worked tirelessly to earn admission to and represent Cornell University. The coach who is an alumnus is both us and them.
The case of Mike Schafer grows more challenging. Not only is Mike Schafer an alumnus, he is a legend within the program from his playing career. He is the breaker of the stick. He is a championship-winning captain.
Instinctively, this writer still finds himself in the corner of incoming players like Anthony Angello, Corey Hoffman, Yanni Kaldis, Alec McCrea, Matt Nuttle, Donovan Ott, Trent Shore, Brendan Smith, Beau Starrett, and Mitchell Vanderlaan than that of Cornell's head coach. It could be Where Angels Fear to Tread's founding principle never to place blame on specific student-athletes. It could be because all incoming recruits deserve an assumption of talent and work ethic before they arrive on campus to bolster or refute it.
It may be also because Mike Schafer's insult of Cornell's recruiting approach places blame on him, not the players whom he recruited who will be arriving in mere months to pull the iconic sweater over their heads. Insulting the way that a roster is filled has a place in professional athletics. Unlike the NHL, no general manager has the option to populate Coach Schafer's locker room without his involvement.
Mike Schafer is both head coach and general manager of his program. Every commitment bears his imprimatur. Insulting recruitment is to blame himself without obvious self-effacement. There is no recruiting problem. Coach Schafer should have taken direct responsibility rather than diluting and misdirecting it.
Claiming that Topher Scott and Ben Syer have failed to marshal players of work ethic to Lynah Rink creates problems of loyalty. How will Angello, Hoffman, Kaldis, Nuttle, Ott, Shore, Smith, Starrett, and Vanderlaan or even the freshman through junior classes rally around a coach who sacrificed their reputations as a shield from blame? Is a real problem of congealing on the horizon for next season? The Lynah Faithful hope not, but directly or indirectly insulting players who will don the carnelian and white sets the development of camaraderie and loyalty back.
Ah, I can sense it, reader, you think that this is making too much out of meaningless coachspeak. This dissection of Coach Schafer's only words on last season is pedantry at its worst. The opposite is true. His words at the end of the season are one of the few lenses, obscured as it is, that the Lynah Faithful have into how Mike Schafer is running our program.
When discussing running his program in this context, this writer is talking only about the hockey side of Mike Schafer's role in the lives of his players. Schafer is a great teacher of young men. His program produces responsible and civic-minded people. There is absolutely no reason to challenge that. He is a great credit to Cornell University because of that. On the hockey side of things, there is little reason to pry when things are good. They are no longer.
Cornell is in a rut of historic proportions. Cornell does not lose games at Lynah Rink in the playoffs. In the near six decades of the Rink's existence, Cornell has played 37 playoff series on that hallowed ice. The Big Red has lost just five of those series. Three of those lost series have occurred within the last 11 years. Mike Schafer owns 60% of those home playoff series losses now. He has coached for just more than 30% of the history of Lynah Rink.
Cornell has found itself below 0.500 two out of the last three seasons for the first time since Mike Schafer's third and fourth seasons rounded out such an era. The 2012-13 team finished with a below-0.500 record. That team had a triumphant three-game run in the playoffs. The 2014-15 season gave fans no such second life. It provided some extreme highs, but when the time of proving arrived, when Cornell usually shines, the lights went out. Cornell did not have a single win in the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Questions should be swirling in the air above the northern end of Campus Road. Cornell has spent nearly as many seasons with a losing record as it has a winning one since Mike Schafer last led Cornell to playoff glory in 2010. Has he lost it? This writer is not sure. What is a more crucial question is whether he can find it. Schafer's saving grace is the very one from his post-game comment.
Perhaps better than any coach at Cornell University, Mike Schafer understands Cornell; not just Cornell hockey, but Cornell University. The veteran coach describes his alma mater as a place where all seek excellence in every pursuit. Reciprocally, students and alumni hold Schafer and his hockey program to no standards to which they do not hold themselves in their academic or professional lives.
Last season was not excellent. Mike Schafer knows that. He needs to demonstrate to the Lynah Faithful that he is still the leader that kept a team late at Tate Rink to teach them the importance of winning. He inspired the most dominant performance in the history of the ECAC Hockey tournament just years ago. It was not that long ago, could he have lost it in such a short amount of time? Fans wonder.
Flatly, Coach Schafer needs to lead his team and its fanbase like he has not in years. No more shirking responsibility or understatements will be tolerated. It is unbecoming of a coach who for over a decade epitomized confidence, conviction, and discipline. That is the coach Cornell needs again. Cornell hockey has lost its self-assuredness because its coach has lost his edge.
Mike Schafer reflected during the 2012-13 season that he may be growing softer on his teams because the ages of his players approach those of his children. Softening does a disservice to the players who want to play professionally, offends the program whose history demands tribute, and tarnishes Schafer's legacy. Coach Schafer needs to rediscover his edge in bold, brazen, and resolute leadership.
How bold? How brazen? How resolute? The rebound needs to be in proportion to the depths to which the program has fallen. Considerable elasticity is in order.
This writer is discussing the leadership style of a coach who led such a programmatic about-face in attitude that its 1996-97 media guide, one season removed from the program's first Whitelaw Cup in a decade, boldly predicted a repeat with the words "upholding the tradition." Schafer inspired that narrative at the close of the 1995-96 season, "[w]e have eight young freshmen coming into the lineup next year. But we're not going to use that as an excuse to say it's a building year. Our players now expect to win."
Mike Schafer and that team delivered. It is time that he proves that he can do it again.
What form will this brazenness take ideally? The best example is one drawn from the NHL. The Guarantee. Everyone knows it. After a disappointing Game 6 in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, Mark Messier boldly predicts that the Rangers will win the decisive Game 7. Three simple words. We. Will. Win.
Messier knew that his team was talented enough, like Cornell in the upcoming season. The confidence of the Rangers had been jarred. Sound familiar? A more perfect model for a pledge from Mike Schafer cannot be found. Heck, use the same words. The Lynah Faithful need to be promised a bright end to next season.
Schafer must leave no doubts. His next team must be a contender. Yes, even for the regular-season title. Why? Last season proves that no stone can remain unturned. Yeah, I know that tradition dictates that Cornell neither touches nor celebrates with the regular-season trophy. Maybe Jess Brown's cats can make good use of it. Then, follow this ritual with the fulfillment of the real promise, the Whitelaw Cup.
There are few if any other ways that Mike Schafer can show early and emphatically the resolution to redeem his program. It needs to be done. Media or other fanbases might shudder or laugh, but it is what the Lynah Faithful need.
It's not arrogance, call it carnelian confidence.
The Teflon of Mike Schafer's tenure is no more. For most of his career, pockets of fans who criticized every one of his acts were the primary source of criticism. This writer is not using his PayPal account just yet to order a screened t-shirt from that faction despite how some may receive this piece.
The Union series this season proved that things will stick. Several voices from the Cornell Hockey Association section, the generous boosters of Cornell hockey, began to heckle Coach Schafer on the bench. The calls questioned his judgment. It was then that this writer realized that Schafer's coaching career was never really Teflon.
His career resembles another fine DuPont product: Corian. Corian is a high-density polymer used in home settings, usually on countertops or vanities. It is known for its luster and impervious finish. Extreme abrasives, caustics, or explosives can mar the fine surface.
One of the greatest traits of Corian is that its finish is of such a hardness that even those things that damage it do so only minutely. An attentive owner can buff out the marred finish with strength and dedication. Mike Schafer's legacy is Corian. A son of a lumberjack should be able to muster the elbow grease to make unnoticeable recent scuffs.
If he is unable to buff out those scars and adds new ones instead, his continued toiling risks defacing the entire surface so that all any visitors will see are its imperfections. One may argue that such a development would render Mike Schafer a victim of his own success. This is a cruel but fair tragedy of sports. Great coaches raise the bar. Loyal fans refuse to lower it. Mike Schafer made the Lynah Faithful believe in their program's greatness again.
The first lasting moment when Mike Schafer made the Lynah Faithful believe raced through my mind weeks ago in Lake Placid. After watching Harvard win its ninth Whitelaw Cup, this writer watched the snow fall around Herb Brooks Arena. I could hear faintly the chants of "thank you, Schafer" from March 16, 1996.
I wondered aloud if those moments would return. I was too young to be there in person. I can assure you that college was not even a distant thought on that day. Nevertheless, I felt that moment as the magic of Lake Placid, Cornell hockey, and praise for Mike Schafer's leadership in that season transcended.
Coach, we want that magic back. We would be happiest if you gave it to us. We will find a way to regain it.
The culmination of a year of contests is today. The biggest game of the season sits alone atop the card for today. The two best teams in the nation remain. All others have met their end. Frankly, it is getting tiring how long it has been since Cornell was one of the last two teams standing in a season. That is a topic for another time.
Back to the hockey teams of Boston University and Providence College. So, as a member of the Lynah Faithul, either watching this game on television or bracing for the scene in Boston, which team should you support tonight? Well, the contributors here at Where Angels Fear to Tread came up with six reasons why fans of the carnelian and white might consider supporting the scarlet and white in tonight's ultimate contest.
"Why six reasons?," you may ask. The answer is obvious. Six is the number of NCAA era national titles that the Terriers will own if the program from Boston University prevents Providence College from getting its first. Why support Boston University?
1. A Providence victory dilutes Cornell's elite status.
The age-old argument that members of "the club" (the group of programs in college hockey that have NCAA titles) need to support one another each time a newcomer arrives on the scene to earn its first title. Right now, only 20 programs of the 59 extant programs in NCAA Division I men's ice hockey celebrate an NCAA-championship run. Ownership of such a triumphant run places a program immediately among the top nearly one-third of all programs.
Each time a new winner wins, the exclusivity of the group is undermined and previously won titles begin to matter less as more programs begin to have them. So, sorry Providence College, to preserve the value of Cornell's 1967 NCAA championship (let's face it, no one can undercut the value of the 1969-70 perfect NCAA championship season) and the stature of Cornell hockey overall during this too-long-already drought, we've got to cast our lot in with Boston University to keep the club exclusive. The standards already have gotten a little lax. I mean, Minnesota-Duluth, Yale, and Union recently crept in.
2. Eichel is THAT good.
I mean, you saw the game, right? Cornell hockey is the playoffs (this season notwithstanding). The legends of our program delivered when the odds were most unfavorable and the stakes the highest. I have watched Jack Eichel play many games. Too much is made of Eichel's goal-scoring ability. It is there, and good, but it is not his most lethal weapon. His vision of the ice and play-making abilities are flooring. No player even comes close to him.
In a way Cornell hockey can respect, he has shown up in the biggest way in the postseason. We, in ECAC Hockey, know how good Jimmy Vesey is. Using him is a metric, let's compare Eichel and Vesey as postseason producers. During the regular season, Eichel produced two tenths fewer goals per game than did Vesey. The Harvard junior forward increased his goal scoring by 64.5% in a historic tear to the Whitelaw Cup. Vesey was incredible. ECAC Hockey opponents lived in actual fear of Harvard in the conference tournament for the first time in nine years.
What if I told you that the freshman from North Chelmsford has several-upped the Harvard goal scorer? After a three-point outing against North Dakota and assisting beautifully on the overtime winner against Yale earlier (an assist that was not given proportionate acclaim), Jack Eichel sits three one-hundredths of a goal per playoff game behind that of Jimmy Vesey from their respective conference quarterfinals through the present.
Jack Eichel's postseason goal-scoring rate is 104% of his regular-season contribution of this nature. I still stand by my argument about Eichel's contribution in general. His ability as a play maker, rather than goal scorer, are born out in his lopsided 18-37-55 line from the regular season. However, he has proven to be a big-game player who delivers assists and goals when it matters most. That is something that the Lynah Faithful admire and can support.
3. Boston University, unlike most of Hockey East, values its history in ECAC Hockey.
Ever been to Conte Forum? It is quite the stale experience. Firstly, the errors on Boston College's championship signage provide their humor (sorry, Eagles, Jeff Jackson saw to your not winning the 2014 Hockey East tournament). Then, as an astute college-hockey fan, you realize, Boston College spent 23 years in ECAC Hockey, why are there no commemorations of the few successes that Boston College enjoyed in ECAC Hockey? The Eagles and their self-described "super fans" (protesting too much does not even cut it with this one) believe that Boston College did not have hockey before the 1984-85 season. How did nearly 70-year-old Jerry York play for the Eagles or a Boston-College team win an NCAA title in 1949 with no hockey program in Chestnut Hill? These are questions whose superlatives far exceed superdom.
Why bring up Boston College? It is an illustrative counterexample of Boston University.
Boston University knows its modern roots lay in the history of ECAC Hockey. Banners above its ice celebrate its five ECAC Hockey championships (Cornell had six at the time of The Divorce, Boston College had two, behind even Harvard's three). Its modern players weathered a carnelian storm to earn the right to put the name of Jack Kelley, a legendary coach who bossed a bench in college only in ECAC Hockey, before that of Ned Harkness on Boston University's and Cornell's rivalry trophy at Red Hot Hockey IV. David Quinn, a coach who became part of the Terriers hockey program when it was part of Hockey East, reveres and instills remembrance of that bygone era in his players. When Jack Eichel made reference to the greatness of Boston University hockey and its former players after he received the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, he referred not only to events after 1984, as he would have were he a Boston-College player, but to the era when the hockey greats of Boston University and Cornell annually made the old Boston Garden their playground in March.
4. Boston University guaranteed its place in the national tournament the "right way."
How did Providence College make the national tournament? It lost a playoff series on its home ice.
How did Boston University make the national tournament? It won the Hockey East tournament.
Yeah, yeah, Boston University would have made the national tournament whether it won the Hockey East tournament or not. However, when given the choice between a team that earned its way into the national tournament with a playoff run or one that could not even win a series in its own building (anyone think Cornell belongs in the tournament this season? Exactly.), the choice is clear. We do not need another celebration of hacking the pairwise.
Even Yale in 2013 made ECAC Hockey's neutral site. Cornell values championships, especially conference tournament championships. Support the team that guaranteed its entry into this postseason the "right way": By winning something.
5. Cornell gets a better draw at Red Hot Hockey V.
No, no, I am not talking about Boston University actually filling (not just selling out) its section at Red Hot Hockey V. Though, that would be nice and may be an incidental result of this season. What I am talking about is the teams on the ice. Boston University wins this game? No one has unfinished business. Auf Wiedersehen, Jack Eichel. Hope you have your pen ready to ink a deal in the lobby, Matt O'Connor. Step proudly to Pomp and Circumstance, Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues.
If Boston University fails to win, the most important of those considerations, the early departure of Jack Eichel, becomes less likely. If Eichel achieves his goal of winning a national title, he is almost certainly gone. If he does not, one can hear it in his voice, it becomes a far, far harder choice.
So, Boston University's winning tonight guarantees that Cornell will have a better draw of opponent at Red Hot Hockey V. Yes, Boston University's incoming class is very good but I would rather Cornell roll the dice with a team that will again need to rely on at least some freshman talent than want to deal with the monster that would be sophomore Jack Eichel.
[On a serious note, I actually hope that Jack Eichel returns, even if I find it very unlikely, because it is better for the sport of college hockey to have fewer one-and-done players. It would be a great coup for college hockey if he returned. Much like I felt with my endorsement of Jimmy Vesey's return, if Cornell cannot beat a program or team at its best, it does not really deserve to beat it at all.]
6. Sweetens the Pot (or Cup) for Red Hot Hockey V.
This is no time for the beauty queen contestant closing ("these are both great, deserving teams, ...", etc.). Yes, I think Jon Gillies is a great goaltender and I like Nate Leaman personally. Those will not matter when I arrive at TD Garden later tonight. Then, it is time to support the Terriers to an Eastern-record sixth national title. Because face it, we like the alternative less.
Josh Lyman: (sighs) Yeah. What happened to the good old days when...a couple of hacks with cigars chose the nominee in a smoke-filled back room?
There is a fundamental flaw in most rationales defending the pairwise rating for women's ice hockey. The arguments contend that because the system is mathematical and statistical, it is just. Foolhardiness abounds in such thoughts because truly someone has not reveled in the art of statistical manipulation if one believes statistics mine objective facts.
Averting descent into the abyss of metaphysics, consider the other point raised. That point is that somehow the pairwise rating regime is just because it is "open" and "transparent." A system does not yield better results just because it is done in open daylight. This reality is starker when it involves semi-complex statistical models that most fans find confusing.
A mathematical model is not self-legitimizing. A model is only as good as its parameters. Fans and media seem to forget this reality. Those in that camp would do themselves well to consult South Park's "Margaritaville." The episode concerns worshiping the economy as a natural phenomenon of immutable power and utility. Fans and media view the pairwise in much the same way. Both are equally comical.
This is not a call to dismantle the system. It is one to re-evaluate its results. Consider this an invitation for conversation.
Firstly, let's get one piece of rhetoric out of the way. Fairness is treating constituents in the same manner. Fairness is cold and indifferent. Justice, now, is a concept that cracks the door for subjectivity.
The selection process for the national tournament in women's ice hockey is fair. In theory, each team is subjected to the same model and the best eight teams in the nation emerge. This does not shield it from being unjust in its results.
Tradition has become the final refuge of defending the pairwise. It is how the national-tournament field has been decided for several seasons, so it must be how it will be decided evermore. The collegiate sporting landscape bears the fruit of a great thought experiment in another sport. Hockey, for many reasons, does not take its cues from football, but consider the first College Football Playoff and the advent of a four-team national playoff field.
A four-team field for the College Football Playoff generates no less controversy than the eight-team field for the NCAA tournament in women's ice hockey. Let the debates surrounding that postseason's selection guide this thought experiment.
Who did not make the final four of the College Football Playoff that many thought should have? Baylor University and Texas Christian University are the consensus answers on that point. The majority agrees that only one of those two should have made it. Why did neither make it? The Big 12 does not have a championship game.
The committee for the College Football Playoff refused to reward a conference's choice to have co-champions and avoid a deciding clash. The lesson of this expands beyond football. Playoffs matter. Conference playoffs matter on the national stage. They vet out the unhoned as undeserving of a chance to play on the national stage. If a hypothetical postseason for the Big 12, a conference founded in 1994, would have mattered to the College Football Playoff committee, then across sports, the conference tournament of ECAC Hockey, a women's ice hockey conference one decade older than the Big 12, should matter greatly.
Reader, indulge this writer and continue down the line of this thought experiment. If the College Football Playoff expanded to eight teams, which teams would be most likely to have been added next? Baylor and TCU would have their advocates. However, how would the remainder be filled? A large contingent would want runners-up Arizona, Georgia Tech, Missouri, and Wisconsin included. They would be legitimized in that belief. Otherwise, the conference playoffs do not matter.
The final College Football Playoff ranking does not include in the top eight any teams that finished below an effective third place in their conference's respective postseason. That reality is telling. The postseason matters. Winning a conference championship matters. A close second is competing for one zealously.
College football at the highest level is in its nascent stages of developing postseason play. College hockey is not. College football has at most one round of postseason play at the conference level. College hockey on the women's ice hockey side has three rounds in each conference. A larger sample size, including first-round series, ensures that aberrations do not sway which teams advance through the conference-level postseason. The playoffs in each conference siphon off the weaker teams and prove which teams are in the best postseason form in a way unequaled in college football.
Why then is it in college hockey that teams that finished below second and third places in their conference's postseason found their way into the national-tournament field? Oh, yeah, "math." Why are the parameters of the model legitimate? Oh, yeah, because that is how it has been done for years. It is a perversion that teams that could not prove they deserved to compete for being the best in their conference are afforded the opportunity to compete to prove they are the best in the nation.
Clarkson, Minnesota, and Quinnipiac did not qualify for their conference's championship game. Quinnipiac finished third. Clarkson and Minnesota finished fourth in the postseason. Runners-up Bemidji State, Cornell, and Syracuse were excluded. Did their exclusion make the coming tournament better or worse?
The purpose of the committee in crafting a national tournament is twofold: select the most deserving teams or give fans the best tournament possible. A general assumption deferring to conference tournaments accomplishes both. How can a team prove its deservingness by dropping out of its conference's first or second round of the playoffs to an opponent regarded as inferior? It cannot. It is the upsetter, not the upsettee, that proved its deservingness. The best tournament is created when conference champions and runners-up are admitted because teams that have made weeks-deep playoff runs have proven their postseason form.
Giving second life to teams that exited at the midpoint of conference tournaments achieves neither goal. Despite the points made so far, this is not an argument that the system should admit immediately conference runners-up. It is a plea for subjectivity. The same subjectivity that wafted through the smoke-filled rooms that Josh and Leo reference in the opening quote. Canvassers at caucuses did not choose candidates for running a good campaign over the long haul. Instead, they elected those who were resonating with the right chords at the right moment and a general subjective appeal to the timber of which they knew a candidate was, often without empirical evidence to support it.
The College Football Playoff reinvigorated a similar reasoned committee-based approach to collegiate sports. It would serve well college hockey, especially women's ice hockey with a field so small, to follow suit. College hockey once had the smoke-filled room. Some of the greatest programs rose and prospered during that era. Michigan would lack many of its nine national championships without the dense nicotine-laden fog of a conference hall. What would this national tournament look like if the majority of the committee did not feel imprisoned by the pairwise?
Why is Minnesota in the tournament? No, that is not rhetorical. Why are the Gophers in this tournament? Minnesota has had a fine season. It did not have a fine 2015 WCHA tournament. Minnesota, the first seed, fell to fifth-seed Bemidji State in the WCHA semifinals. Oh, yeah, it was a fluke, right? Nope. The Beavers downed Minnesota once in the regular season too.
The Gophers finished fourth in the WCHA tournament. Fourth. North Dakota, Bemidji State, and Wisconsin finished above them. Why are they in the national tournament? If it is because they are so good that they deserve it, then don't the Beavers deserve a shot at the national title for downing such a team of epic talent and undeniable potential?
Apparently not. A more just model would reward the Beavers for a game that they should not have won and punish Minnesota for a game that it should not have lost. Currently, Minnesota was unscathed (yes, the first seed overall is the definition of being unscathed) by the loss and Bemidji State gained no benefit for its victory. The WCHA tournament proved that three teams were more deserving of a national-tournament berth than was Minnesota.
Quinnipiac was another third-place finisher to make the field. A reasoned committee would not have put the Bobcats in the field. How do they make the tournament better? The answer is that they do not. Last season, yes, they would have. Quinnipiac had a phenomenal break-out season last year. It deserved more than the opportunity to begin the national tournament to see if it could seek the national championship on its home ice. The contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread were disappointed. That narrative and their impressive play earned the Bobcats the right to seek romantic glory.
This season? The Bobcats are just another team finishing below second place that failed to win its conference championship for the second season in a row. In all honesty, their inclusion feels like a make-up choice for an egregious error last season.
Clarkson is the lone team that did not finish as a runner-up that this writer believes deserved to make the national-tournament field on the strength of its conference tournament play and other considerations. Clarkson finished fourth in the ECAC Hockey tournament. The Golden Knights and the Gophers are the lowest conference playoff finishers. Why did the former deserve the right to advance to the national tournament but the latter did not under a reasoned approach?
Clarkson is the defending national champion. The defending champion deserves an abundance of deference in its favor to attempt to defend its title. Last season's national runner-up deserves no such deference.
On the Cornell front, two ECAC Hockey teams deserved to be in the national tournament more than Cornell on a holistic, reasoned approach. Harvard, the Crimson won on the ice in the purest metric. Clarkson, the defending national champion. Were ECAC Hockey to get three teams into the national tournament, the Big Red should have been third.
A field that contains eight programs that four conferences populate with autobids is too influenced by conference postseasons to deny their role in discerning which teams are most worthy to contend for the national title. A reasoned committee would defer to the collective judgment of the results of conference tournaments. Four conferences, four tournaments, four champions and four runners-up. The means of populating the national-tournament field become self-evident.
Katey Stone, the revered coach of Harvard hockey, recently expressed a desire for the field of the national tournament to expand beyond eight teams. Her point is well-taken. Too many teams of proven playoff form are left to sit back at home. However, expanding the NCAA tournament field is not the best means to realize her goal.
An invitation to the NCAA tournament should recognize a team for its elite performance. A team that earns its way into the NCAA tournament in men's ice hockey establishes itself as roughly falling in the top quartile of all programs in the nation. The NCAA tournament for women's ice hockey, with an eight-field team and 34 eligible programs, similarly recognizes teams as being among the top quartile in the nation. Expanding the tournament to 10, 12, or 16 teams devalues the worth of the tournament and the acclaim of invitation.
To achieve Katey Stone's goal, the national tournament should subsume all conference tournaments. Every team begins the postseason in a conference tournament. Every team is immediately eligible for the national tournament. Every team that proves its timber with a decent showing, a subjective standard that a reasoned committee could discern, in the playoffs would be rewarded with an extended season to test its playoff form against the other remaining bests in the nation.
Finally, for those defending the pairwise as producing the most just and best national tournament possible until this point, consider the following. The greatest attribute of the current pairwise system is its predictability in its alleged transparency. Why then when the dust of all competition settled was Cornell tied for seventh in the pairwise until the committee "corrected" or "readjusted" the results to slide the Big Red down to a tie for ninth? Yes, a tie for seventh is no guarantee for invitation to the tournament, but if the system is transparent and not subject to the whims of the committee, why did the Red slide several rungs? Programs that are currently in the field passed Cornell from lower anticipated seeds.
Humorously, with considerations like these, tradition is now the main reason why people defend the pairwise rating system. Without the honesty to admit as much, the field was chosen under some unknown criteria that moved some programs up and others down after all games had been played. A reasoned committee would feel no need, much like the committee behind the College Football Playoff, to justify its opinions. A committee and a process that wraps itself in the emperor's clothing of fair, cold, calculated mathematical reasoning should be afforded no such comfort in the face of such inconsistencies.
The announcement of the national field was delayed 30 minutes. One can hope that the committee was doing some soul searching and realizing that its current system is failed. The committee did not give the fans the best tournament this season. How could it when one of the best playoff players in college hockey is soaking up her last few weeks on East Hill?
We live in an era when human reason is trusted more than mathematical models. Perhaps more than ever, the limitations of analytic measures are becoming obvious. Predictions of elections endure but one mere cycle and the value of players on professional rosters can be miscalculated grossly. The College Football Playoff with its committee of reasonable members manifests this trend toward favoring human judgment and justice over algorithms and fairness. It is time that the NCAA selection committee aligns with this era, especially on the side of women's ice hockey.
As someone who employs, creates, and deciphers analytics and mathematical models, it pains me on some level to argue against the pairwise rating system. It becomes easier when in the last several seasons, the committee, behind the false veil of objectivity, has "corrected" or "modified" the final rankings in women's ice hockey to justify their choices ex post.
Expose this already present subjectivity to the light of day and allow a reasoned committee to select the eight best teams in the nation based upon their overall performances with extreme prejudice in favor of deep runs into conference playoffs. Anyone who thinks this inappropriately punishes teams that had great regular seasons needs to consider about what this is. This is about the playoffs. It is about teams earning their way into the tournament on the merit of their postseason performances.
Heck, if you want to reward regular-season performances, why not create the Director's Trophy? Mark Emmert can present the trophy to the winner in a center-ice ceremony after the winner has completed the best regular season. It would become college hockey's equivalent of the Presidents' Trophy.
The hockey postseason is meant to be earned and contested on the ice. Worth is proven through competition. Rewarding third and fourth place teams with second life is antithetical to the values incumbent in the sport, no matter how great of a regular season teams may enjoy. The process should not overvalue what playoff successes a team should have had. It should reward the successes that teams did have.
So, yes, Leo and Josh are right. The "smoke-filled back room" did well. It would serve women's college hockey fans well if national-tournament contenders were selected in such a manner. Committees would make the conference postseasons increasingly meaningful and give fans the best tournament possible with the most deserving teams. So, yes, let's bring back the smoke-filled room. Wait, on second thought, smoking is unhealthy. Maybe put a fog machine in there.
There is only one team that can defeat this team. It is a common foe. One with which this Cornell team has tangled already.
First, let's reflect upon the playoffs. They are the best of times. They are the worst of times. Much like anything that brings exhilaration in life, they are fleeting and seemingly dangerous, in relative terms, nature is what creates their associated excitement. The fact that a few shifts or even one shift can end the season is why this time is the most exciting time of year. It is the time of proving character. It is the most Cornellian time of season. Let's descend into our Dickensian melodrama.
Trust us, there will be the best of times, there will be the worst of times. Both align in perfect harmony. A championship season manages to have the former in proper balance with the latter. The uplifting news about this team is that it has learned the joys of keeping its game in balance and the sorrow of becoming unbalanced. The trials of the season and the resolve of this team to learn from them will be bared in the playoffs.
This writer takes no satisfaction in being right when it means that Cornell suffers consequences. I was right last weekend. The post that went up before last weekend highlighted how Cornell had been surrendering fewer shots but of a higher quality to opponents in the second half than it had in the first. The argument continued that Cornell was becoming too complacent in its own end and was not generating enough pressure in front of the opposing netminder.
The weekend began with the Bears of Brown running roughshod over Cornell like one would expect a roving grizzly upon finding raw meat, a blowing breeze, and a fan. Three goals were surrendered in the first period. Then, miraculously, Cornell awoke. Brown did not see the puck for most of the contest but for a few breakaways that Hayden Stewart directed away with ease. With the Bears cooking under the pressure, Cornell mounted a three-goal rally. That story has been discussed before, but what it proved was how this Cornell team functions most efficiently.
Paradoxically, when pressing for a lead and leaving Hayden Stewart on what seemed like an island at times, Cornell's play when it was challenged on break-out plays in its own end was more disciplined and focused. Cornell proved that the best means of keeping the puck out of the net is to keep it on that of the other team. The Big Red forgot that fact at some point in the last month. Last weekend should have been a pointed lecture in that reality.
The Yale game was a sickening affair. A few misplays gave Yale a 1-0 lead far too early. Cornell responded with sustained pressure. The Big Red looked after early lapses to have found its offensive-zone dominance from the previous night. Keith Allain looked happy (well, as happy as he ever does) that his team escaped to the locker room with a slim lead.
The second period began much the same way. Nine minutes into the period, Cornell was buzzing, it was breaking out of its own zone for another wave of pressure in the Elis's end. The puck found its way through the slimmest of cracks between Mitch Gillam's skate and the post. Trent Ruffolo was credited with the goal. A red glove grasped the last stick that it touched.
It is unclear whether a state of shock overcame the team when a veteran mishandled the puck in such a manner or if a two-goal deficit against Yale seemed too great, but the fervor of Cornell was lost. The game went with it. This writer doubts that a similar mishandling will occur in the postseason. However, bad things will happen and disappointing moments will emerge. Alarmingly, the team lacked resilience in the face of such an error. Such a deficiency will damn its season if it cannot overcome it.
This team has been the embodiment of resiliency with its comeback efforts and grit. This is no time for its members to lose the edge that makes them distinct and threatening. This writer, sadly, doubted the ability of this team to mount a three-goal comeback. I pledged after that no matter the deficit, no matter the situation, no matter the odds, no matter the opponent, I will not doubt this team again. This week it should have whetted that edge and be ready for Cornell's most important time of season.
Character and grit are the hallmarks of this team. John McCarron says that he wants to bring the blue-collar mentality back to Cornell hockey. Well, the regular season showed glimmers of that. Nothing is more blue collar than doing the hard things because they are necessary and taking no shortcuts. Adherence to those tenets is the strongest aspect of this team.
It principal deficiency? Well, we all know that, right? This team cannot score goals in bunches. That is what we have been told repeatedly. The team and fans have been harangued with that reality. This writer is here now to tell you that the scoring drought this season is an advantage wrapped in the vestiges of a detriment.
Last season, few worried about scoring when the ECAC Hockey tournament arrived. Cornell was the fourth seed. All was good in the world. You know, the if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it mentality. This writer noticed that the Big Red's offense was anything but red hot headed into the playoffs last season. I was crazy, right?
In the playoffs, the time of year that coaches and players of this program tell us matters most, Cornell averaged just 1.50 goals per game. The figure unto itself is not horrendous. A defensive team should score all the goals that it needs, not put up gaudy numbers for the purpose of self-indulgence. The way in which Cornell's playoff run ended is why the Big Red's cooling offense became important. The Big Red found itself in a scoring duel with Union. Cornell responded to bring the margin to 2-1 and 3-2, but after the Dutchmen made it 4-2, the damage was done. The hole was too deep. The team did not have it in it.
The 2013-14 team had scored more than two goals in regulation just once in the month of February. The same cannot be said about the 2014-15 edition. Delving further, the offense of last season was cooling off head into the playoffs. Last season's Cornell team averaged scoring 2.54 goals per game over the season. The month-long build-up to the postseason in February did not treat that team well. Cornell's offensive production was at a level equivalent to 74.4% of its seasonal average. The trend continued into the playoffs where it flatlined at 59.1% of its seasonal average on the ice of Herb Brooks Arena.
How does the 2014-15 team compare? Predictably, the seasonal average for this season's team is below that of last season's team. How did the team fare on its month-long run to the postseason? It improved! It became more offensively productive. Yes, this team, the one that has raised alarm for its described scoring ineptitude, produced 105% more offense per contest than its seasonal average would predict. This edition is coming into the playoffs hotter than did its analog last season.
Ah, I can sense the disbelief now. The astute reader is wondering what form of statistical chicanery I have employed to fool you. This writer will lay the numbers out plainly. The month before the playoffs last season, Cornell averaged 1.89 goals per game. The month before the playoffs this season, Cornell averaged 2.00 goals per game. Yes, even in absolute terms, this Cornell hockey team is outperforming last season's team in scoring offense over the same associated span (by a factor of 105%, if one is curious).
Cornell's offense is entering the postseason hotter. Why is the drought a benefit? The drought is a benefit because since the opening weekend this team has heard how that if it does not bury its chances, it will lose every contest. Coaches, players, and the media have harped on this fact. It is not glossed over like it was last season. The fear of the goose egg is alive and well in this team. It will not take for granted that scoring will come like Cornell might have last season in game two against Clarkson or the semifinal contest against Union.
The players of this team feel compelled to convert when an opportunity is present because the fear of not having another such chance is very real to this team in ways that it was not last season. Nary a scoring chance should be squandered. An increased rate of converting on breakaways would do wonders to decrease the stress of converting on all other opportunities.
Schafer is a man of little modulation. His stated system wins games. His favored formula wins championships. That is why it is interesting that this season an element of his formula changed. The formula usually mandates that Cornell earns a home-ice bye. Interestingly, beginning over a month ago, Schafer stated consistently that his only goal was to earn "home ice" and begin the ECAC Hockey tournament at Lynah Rink. Why the change? This writer cannot be certain.
Coca-Cola rarely tinkers with its own forumla. Mike Schafer is usually very similar. Each alteration is for effect. Let's just hope this deviation results in us all guzzling a cold one of Coke Zero in late March rather than spitting out New Coke. However, until proven ineffective, I will prove the psychosociology of The Joker correct, and go along with the plan, even if it is horrifying.
Experience may prove the genius of Schafer's choice not to place too great an emphasis on obtaining a bye. What may have started as Schafer's way of trying to accommodate for a team that needed to break in a young defensive corps over a long season, will serve an additional purpose for this team. Experience proved this trend.
The team does not take well to breaks. The scoring blight came back after the mid-season break. Is there cause to trust that a week off after Cornell's offense warmed for a month would not plunge this team's offensive production into the abyss? This writer finds no such reason. Gambling the end of the season and a possible championship run on it would be unwise, to put it kindly. Furthermore, the week off would do nothing to avoid a scoring lapse and might have sacrificed this team's tirelessness, one of this team's greatest assets.
Indefatigability is one of the traits of this team that began to strike this writer several weeks ago. Whether it is charging to win a race to the puck in the offensive zone, backchecking to create the next lethal transition play, or laying physical hits to wear down its opponents, the duration of the game and season has no effect on this team. It is shocking. This team does not want to stop playing. So, why should it have?
The style of play by which this team wins has been called "adaptive desperation" and "anticipation" on Where Angels Fear to Tread this season. Any and all playoff victories will come from those approaches. Cornell needs to be calm. It is when opponents have gotten this team scrambling that the Big Red crumbles. Lying in wait, anticipating the mistake or misplay that will come, pouncing into play, and reaping the reward is how this team plays dominantly. Over the last month, the Big Red has proven behind the leadership of its junior and senior classes to be able to play desperately in a responsible manner and adapt to nearly any situations that its few errors have presented. The tirelessness of this team feeds its ability to simultaneously know its own limits and refuse to surrender.
This is the postseason. This is Lynah Rink. Cornell will need to take the ice ready to land the first major hit and exert its will. The building is fearsome unto itself, but it is the Lynah Faithful and this team that will need to make it the place that opponents dread (thought I was going somewhere else, didn't you?).
The leaders of this team will need to take the reigns. Cole Bardreau and John McCarron can provide a jolt. However, a typical ingredient to most successful postseason pushes in Cornell hockey history involves the stellar two-way play of a blueliner. Expect Joakim Ryan to loom large from the point and in the paint. Jacob MacDonald will need to continue an impressive load of minutes with even more impressive play. Need a cure for Cornell's breakaway ills? Few players in college hockey can split defensemen and beat goaltenders as fluidly as can Madison Dias.
The greatest overarching attribute of this team is its unity. The team is neither one of all starts nor individual efforts. Two anecdotes from last weekend's Brown game prove this.
Cole Bardreau was due a goal for his tremendous efforts and several near misses of Brown's net. Bardreau was killing the penalty that Cornell incurred with two minutes remaining when a lane to Ernst opened. The senior forward who had done everything and more to earn the goal chose not to risk the odd-man rush that could result from an attempted breakaway. He carried the puck into the Red's end while Brown went for a change. The penalty was killed.
The other moving moment was watching the zeal with which Hayden Stewart and Mitch Gillam support one another on the bench. In a situation that would raise tension on the benches of ordinary programs, Hayden Stewart entered the Brown contest in relief of Mitch Gillam. With each of Hayden Stewart's dazzling saves and redirections of the puck that Hayden Stewart, Mitch Gillam applauded and encouraged all the louder.
Gillam, like Bardreau, and like all other members of this team, knows that this is about Cornell hockey and Cornell University. Individuals may be praised and complimented, but it is the program and the University that unites us.
The character of this team is staggering. No team can feel confident when this Cornell team lines up on the opposite blue line. This team has only one adversary that can defeat it.
Its greatest enemy is itself. Its own errors defeat it. Each setback has been a product of its own internal stumbles, not an externally imposed state. This team will make the choice of how successful it wants to be in the postseason.
Trust & Live. The playoffs are here.