Losing is painful. It is annoying. What really raises the ire of this writer is losing without dedication; surrendering without a fight. Cornellians never should do that. There were a few games this season when a dedicated fan would find himself wondering, "do they even care?" That question has been absent from the minds of the Lynah Faithful during this second half.
Outrageous fortune lobbed its slings and arrows at this team during the last two weeks. A penalty shot and three strange goal reviews went against Cornell in the games that yielded less-than-desirable results. Cornell was not without fault in all of those sequences, specifically a blown defensive assignment and necessary reaction led to the penalty shot. Let this not become a diatribe about questionable calls, because the team never did.
Fate dealt Cornell a blow in its recent loss and tie, but Cornell grappled back. Cole Bardreau's grit laid over from the Harvard game in spurring the Red's comeback attempt against the Big Green. The effort fell short, but there was no doubt that this team and its alternate captain wanted to win. The same could be said of John McCarron's goal as a passion-driven response to a disallowed goal. The team did not quit. A team like that is the type of team one should look forward to seeing in the playoffs.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The rungs of seeding remain to be climbed.
The surprising underpinnings of this new tenacity is that it has arisen during a rash of injuries. Cornell's roster consists of 24 skaters. A total of 22 skaters have dressed just since January began. The only skaters who have not dressed during the second half of the season are Joel Lowry and Eric Sade. Both are out indefinitely due to injury.
From the eight games that the healthy mainstays have played to the two contests for which players like Alex Rauter were called upon to fill crucial voids, every player who has taken the ice over the last few weeks has bought in to the process. They have done so absolutely. Every player has rotated in and out with little effect on an entire game's effort.
Whether matched against respected Crimson foe Jimmy Vesey, or the overhyped Seussian-like Spink 1 and Spink 2, every player has played his role on the team at a considerably high level. Yes, lapses have led to goals, but in all frankness, some of these players who have filled in nearly seamlessly were not expected to be called on to player either because of injury or development. Nonetheless they played and did well.
Consider Alex Rauter. He has played as many games in the last three games as he did during the entire first half of this season. Over his appearances in those three games, he has not been on the ice for any goals against despite the opposition's scoring seven goals in the games for which he has pulled the Cornell sweater over his head. His play may be refining as games develop and his ice time somewhat reduced, but he has played a key, but popularly neglected, role in helping Cornell's recent successes.
Then, in the greatest shock of the freshman class, Dan Wedman has stepped up as a defensive phenom. Wedman has proved that good things come from Alberta for the Big Red in a big way. His play was most astonishing in dismantling Harvard. With the skill of a drilled explosives expert, he disarmed the Crimson's most dangerous lines and plays.
Schafer rightfully has pointed the spotlight on Wedman as a star on this team. His team defense is calm-inducing. No matter which line in college hockey may be bearing down on Cornell's defensive zone, the Lynah Faithful should find placidity in seeing the carnelian 20 minding its back half. Wedman's rise is not surprising in its altitude, but its earliness.
One could anticipate that he would be this good. However, seeing him this good at this early stage is astonishing. Everyone in ECAC Hockey should be taking note of his exceptional defensive play, even if he has not appeared on the score sheet.
When Patrick McCarron went down against RPI and Reece Willcox followed against Harvard, the pressure fell on stars like Jacob MacDonald and Joakim Ryan to fill the void. They could not do it alone. Wedman picked up some of the workload, but Ryan Bliss was not to be left out.
Yes, Bliss' scoring recently has given him right to a few verses already in the saga that is being sung of this team, but the acclaim for his defensive skill remains relatively mum. It is easy to get lost in his offensive presence and willingness to enter the game. It is even more tempting right after he scored an overtime, game-winning goal against Colgate in a game during which he sustained a questionable hit. Don't let his being the highest-scoring defenseman on this team distract from the huge strides he has taken in defensive responsibility during the course of the season.
Trust me, this list will not contain only freshmen, but Dwyer Tschantz has proven that he has come to play Cornell hockey with an edge. His size is an asset and has proven not to be a liability at all this season. He is aggressive around the net. He has become the archetypical Big Red hockey player with not only his ability but his desire to win the little battles that tilt the balance.
Then, there is the triplet. We all know the members. We know when they are on the ice. However, when talking about the pivotal moments of any game, few of us will mention their names. Well, on a partial change, the one found a way for us to not help but mention his name.
Dias, Tiitinen, and Freschi. Maddy, Teemu, and Mr. Clutch. Call them what you will. When Cornell is in a lull or is having trouble penetrating the opposition's defense, they are the best bet to tilt the ice. The three have racked up only five points between them. They may not be the line that scores the goals, but they will stem the tide or start the rally.
The once-unscoring Captain may no longer deserve inclusion in a post so entitled. He sits here nonetheless. Too much can be made of individual scoring. As long as the team is focused, motivated, and winning collectively, John McCarron has done his job. His legacy wearing the C at Cornell will be decided not by how many goals he scores, but if he leads this team to victory and with what character he instills in his teammates.
Having said all of that, with a booming shot that can be heard or felt (ask Shawn Hunwick) all the way to his home state of Michigan, it is great to see his offensive talent as a threat that opponents must revere. However, The Captain's contributions go far beyond that. His blocked shot at the end of the Harvard game that forced the Crimson out of Cornell's zone was second in importance only to the game-winning goal that Freschi scored.
He harasses goalies and outcompetes skaters along the boards. He proved that despite recent cutbacks that Theatre Arts are alive and well still as "any study" (ask Teddy). In short, after a game in which his team was flailing and disorganized against RPI, John McCarron has made sure that his team has arrived to each subsequent contest ready to battle and compete until the bitter end. It is fun to watch him score. His leading attitude will be his legacy.
If this team is so resilient and so many unsung players have played so unexpectedly well, then why has Cornell not swept a weekend? Mistakes have been neither systematic nor widespread, but individual. The effort of a whole team cannot be damned, especially at this early stage, for individual missteps. Yes, in the playoffs, the curve is that harsh. There is no grade inflation here. But, this is the regular season, and corrections can still be made.
Cornell has not played a perfect game. It has been close to a weekend sweep. Look at last weekend. Cornell is on the verge of tipping toward greatness or plateauing at competitiveness. A decision is near. A sense of inevitability seems to weigh in favor of the former. Think of it like Fiegl or Ryan scoring. We knows it is so close to happening that the anticipation may kill us. However, the possibility of it never happening is frighteningly real. Choices must be made.
Last weekend, this team played its vintage hockey. Can a team have a vintage style only this far in? I think that it can. On Friday, Cornell surrendered the lead. In a fashion that is now typical of this team, it did not get concerned. Panic was absent from the faces of Mitch Gillam to John McCarron to Mike Schafer. Cornell won that contest.
The Big Red ground Colgate finer than the abrasives in toothpaste. Lying in wait, the team anticipated the opportunity to pounce. Knisley and Bliss were the names of the claws sunk into the Raiders. Cornell dominated Colgate for five of the six periods. For the third time in four games, it was the Red that outshot the celebrated offense of its opponents.
Sound defense and opportunistic capitalizing on opponent's mistakes underwrite this team's victories. Colgate head coach Don Vaughan recognized the lethality of Cornell in transition upon watching tape. His team suffered its effects once.
Colgate was the team expected to reign as ECAC Hockey's champion. Cornell took three points out of a possible four points from its series against the Hamiltonians. This team has not yet determined if that series was three points gained, in the modesty that some want imposed on this era of Cornell team, or one lost, in the self-assuredness of Cornell legends.