Another fact should nag in the minds of the Lynah Faithful, Assistant Coach Sean Flanagan, Associate Head Coach Ben Syer, Coach Schafer, and this team. Cornell dominated ECAC Hockey in the regular season in a way that it had not since its last historic run to a Whitelaw Cup in 2010. However, unlike that most dominant team in the history of the ECAC Hockey tournament, this team does not host a team that it has defeated twice already in the playoff’s opening round. The task is quite the opposite.
Only three conference teams denied the carnelian and white victory in both of their meetings. Keith Allain sent one of those teams back to its locker room to start early Spring cleaning last weekend. Harvard, well, Harvard will have to wait for another time. The third team? Clarkson. Cornell has not bettered Casey Jones’s Golden Knights yet.
Cornell salvaged a home tie and sacrificed a road win to their weekend crashers. It does not matter that by metrics subjective and objective that the Red should reign over green in the next few days. What matters is that each time that Coach Schafer led this team against the team of one of his protégés, there was no meaningful difference between the two squads.
There will be a victor this weekend. In an even series such as this one, a bad bounce can unravel the toil of a season. It does not matter that Clarkson is projected presently to be the tenth team out of the Frozen-Four tournament. The Golden Knights were the most unaccommodating team in the 2017 ECAC Hockey First Round.
Clarkson obliterated RPI with putting up 5.50 goals per game over last weekend. Yes, the Engineers were having quite the off year, but Casey Jones had his team humming at a rate that led it to net nearly two goals per game more on RPI than it had allowed through a lackluster regular season. This humiliation likely was not a mere factor in the “evaluation” in Troy that led to the ouster of Seth Appert.
If the change in leadership at RPI was the stick of last weekend’s series, Cornell must not underestimate the carrot that may be feeding the draft horse from Potsdam. Rumblings there for at least two seasons have rattled the ground on which Casey Jones stands. Clarkson is demanding that its Cornellian bench boss deliver results.
Clarkson likely delivered such an emphatic series victory which cost the Engineers their head coach to preserve the career of its own. Goldenrod brings unexpected thorns from the North Country. The aura of Lynah Rink alone against a program that an alumnus of Cornell hockey leads whose tenure it wants to maintain and is just two wins away from what it believes will be a home-ice advantage in Lake Placid will prove impotent.
This contributor is not one to shy away from analogy to other forms of entertainment. He has likened Cornell’s taking the ice in the playoffs to the ominousness of The Undertaker’s entrance in WWE. Last season, in a similar homage, this writer declared that the Cornell-Union first-round series at Lynah was Hell in a Cell. Neither season resulted in the Red lifting playoff silver or lacquer. The emphasis was misplaced.
Whether it was the calamity of clapping thunder and the flashes of flame associated with ‘Taker’s entrance or the vicious confines and stakes of Hell in a Cell, this contributor failed in one key regard. The spectacle is never the event. It is the team. The team makes the moment, not the converse.
The task before this team is a steep one. A juggernaut succeeded. The Phenom from Death Valley and the Beast Incarnate proved inadequate golems. The choice is clear. If the Boogeyman himself is insufficient, then this Cornell team must model itself on “the one you sen[d] to kill the…Boogeyman.”
John Wick is the perfect inspiration in more than his lethality (he leaves a wake in two films that outstrips any two of the franchise death tolls of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees (not Paula’s relative), and Michael Myers, the Boogeyman himself). Now, that might give you nightmares. The manner in which Wick conducts his business is the paradigm, especially for this weekend’s series.
Love drives Wick back into a life of violence that he once abandoned. His return is very personal. The enemies that he must vanquish are former partners. This connection makes him no less methodical. There is a heated nonchalance that Keanu Reeves’s stoicism grafts upon the character. This will be the most important aspect this weekend.
It is love of program, fans, and University that will drive this Cornell hockey team onto the ice surface on Friday and Saturday. Casey Jones, one of our own, is the foe that must be felled. It is hard to end any team’s season (well, except for Harvard, right?). It grows only harder when it is a friend. Coach Schafer and Cornell cannot hesitate this time.
Harvard and Union will take no moment’s pause in advancing to Lake Placid. This time, Cornell must not either. There it is again. The nagging subtext of the press conference after game three of the 2014 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal risks becoming again the story of this team.
Coach Schafer mourned understandably ending the season of a fellow coach whom he coached and with whom he coached at their alma mater. This was just one night removed from when his team clearly unprepared for game two gifted the Golden Knights another day of hockey in a contest in which the Red trailed for 53 minutes. Did compassion lead one of the greatest coaches in the history of ECAC Hockey to spare one of his mentees a sweep?
This contributor likes to think not. The prospect still stirs in the minds of the Lynah Faithful as it does his. Coach Schafer and his squad can allay those doubts on Saturday. Sweeping Clarkson is a narrative beyond that between Coaches Jones and Schafer. It is a beginning fit for the closing chapter of this senior class.
The seniors on this 100th team to represent Cornell University began their careers lifting their program to a bye in the regular season. Their first of four playoff series at Lynah Rink was against Clarkson. The Golden Knights cost them a sweep and maybe more in game two. These seniors advanced to ECAC Hockey’s Lake-Placid reunion in three games. The Dutchmen awaited the Red at the Olympic Center.
Had Cornell swept that quarterfinal series in 2014, what would be different? A more rested Union team defeated the then-freshmen and dispensed with Colgate the next day. The Dutchmen then rattled off four more wins to end the season with both the Whitelaw Cup and Frozen-Four title. What if?
A rested Cornell might have defeated Union. A rested Cornell might have won the Whitelaw Cup. A rested Cornell might have won a third NCAA title. These seniors have the chance for a second draft of their freshman season.
The rewrite begins with the flourish of a sweep of the Golden Knights. The rest will fall into place. SHagwell prophesied five weeks ago that Cornell and Union would meet in the 2017 ECAC Hockey Semifinal. The first two steps of this carnelian reboot seem to be in place. Let’s hope it is more Batman Begins than Psycho.
The surest way to make sure it is Christopher Nolan behind the camera and not Vince Vaughn in the walls is sweeping Clarkson. The task will be harder than it was in March 2014. These Golden Knights, the same ones that tied the Schafemen twice, have slipped into a different gear.
Clarkson’s formula for success in the first round predictably resembled that of most Cornell teams. The North Countrymen scored 11 goals last weekend. Six of those markers came on the power play. Each game winner came when the Golden Knights played with a man advantage. Clarkson was so efficient in deconstructing the Engineers that the former converted three times as frequently as had RPI allowed on average through the regular season.
This borderline dependence upon its power-play production is a weakness wrapped in a strength. Clarkson averaged only two goals per game during five-on-five play last weekend. Yes, it was a series in the North Country where such situations are the exception rather than the rule, but stalwart penalty killing and measured play from the Red should deprive Clarkson of the edge that propelled it to victory in the first round.
Clarkson’s play in transition is what shocked this writer last weekend. Sheldon Rempal terrorized Seth Appert. The Golden Knight’s attack is as versatile as claymore and as hard hitting as a trebuchet.
Who leads ECAC Hockey in scoring rate since February began? Here is a hint, reader, it is not Mike Vecchione, Ryan Donato, Alex Kerfoot, nor Spencer Foo. It is Troy Josephs.
The preventer of a Cornell-imposed senior-night loss for Clarkson averages one goal per game since the calendar flipped to year’s second month. If Josephs’s inability to wait even one minute to tie the carnelian and white once they had gained a lead at Cheel is insufficient to put the Lynah Faithful and this team on notice of the level at which this Clarkson senior is playing, nothing that this contributor puts across a screen will.
If the production crew can get this reboot up and running, this series is a 120-minute drama with a 21.5-hour intermission. Advance in two. Channel the Beastie Boys: two wins ‘til…Placid.
There will be no excuses from this corner if the Red fails in that pursuit. There are no excuses available. Cornell’s offense displays no ill omens in the build-up to the playoffs which is unlike similar metrics in the past three seasons.
The carnelian and white have scored 27.1% more goals per game in the regular season’s ultimate month than they had in the season’s first four months. The Red played nine games including four tilts against stout Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Union. Cornell scored 3.56 goals per game in February.
This gaudy figure outpaces the analogous rates observed at programs with more offensively conducive systems at Boston College, Boston University, Duluth, and North Dakota. Coach Schafer was right to mock of that hackneyed criticism of his program in the program’s video for Giving Day. His team must continue in March and April what it has started in February. Pertinent history runs deeper than just one month.
This contributor described Cornell’s meetings with the North Country as akin to games between Original-Six franchises in the NHL. The history between Clarkson and Cornell is vast. Nearly one-third of ECAC Hockey’s postseasons have seen a Clarkson-Cornell duel.
Cornell has faced Clarkson 17 times in the Eastern playoffs before this weekend. The team from the university formerly known as Tech is Cornell’s most common opponent in ECAC Hockey’s postseason. Crimson and Red have clashed one time fewer prior to this season. The carnelian and white defeated green and goldenrod in runs that gave Cornell half of its Whitelaw Cups (one more than Clarkson owns as a program).
A history somewhere between one month and 51 years is also salient. Saturday is the real senior night for Holden Anderson, Matt Buckles, Ryan Coon, Eric Freschi, Mitch Gillam, Jeff Kubiak, Paddy McCarron, and Jake Weidner. It is the night on which these dedicated players who have given themselves in their own ways to this program should advance to seek immortality in Lake Placid and places beyond. The contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread will be there to salute them.
The hesitation from March 2014, no matter its cause, must not be there. Otherwise, this team very readily could be taking a week off vainly tinkering with preferential scenarios in the Pairwise Ranking Predictors. As dapperly dressed in vintage-inspired threads as John Wick, this team needs to reify his passionate indifference in the playoffs.
When Clarkson and Casey Jones ask this team and Coach Schafer, “are you here on business, sirs?”
The answer should be simple, clean, and measured.
“Afraid so, Casey.”