That went well.
Coach Schafer opened the weekend by praising Eric Freschi for responding to the choice to switch him out of the line-up. Freschi responded with a berserker-like effort against Clarkson after sitting against St. Lawrence. John Knisley responded similarly after being scratched in the weekend against the North Country. John Knisley put Cornell on the scoreboard early against a Yale squad that hoped to put Cornell on its heels in the early minutes.
Buckles, Knisley, and Kubiak outworked the Bulldogs in the corner. Kubiak found Knisley behind the net. The Pittsford native converted a small-circumference wraparound shot and sent the puck under Lyon. Cornell took a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the contest. Realizing it was antithetical to Cornell's mentality to take the easy route to do anything, the Big Red dutifully fell behind by two goals before the first frame ended.
Cornell allowed Yale to get several chances on Iles down low. The senior netminder made three quick saves in transition, but could not quite stop a blast from the left face-off circle for Yale's first tally. The second goal saw Yale borrow a page out of Cornell's script as the Bulldogs found the back of the Red net with less than a minute remaining in the period. A bad neutral zone turnover at Yale's blueline led to an odd-man rush that neither Ryan nor Iles could prevent.
It was up to the likes of Buckles, Knisley, and Kubiak again to lift the Big Red onto their shoulders. Cornell came out for the second period buzzing and dominating more than it had in the closing minutes of the first period. However, an early penalty in Yale's favor managed to abet the seemingly inevitable for a few minutes.
The line rushed in on Yale. Several chances developed. Then, Buckles re-directed the puck cross-ice to Knisley to snipe it into the net. The shot was slightly off-target, but Kubiak recollected the puck in a scrum and buried it in the twine. It was apparent which line was the hardest working consistently that night.
The game was knotted. It would remain that way for nearly 40 minutes. Cornell may have grappled its way to a tie on the mantra of expecting the unexpected, but the game was won in a way that was truly expected. Cornell's stars came out to down the defending national champion.
The goal was highlight reel-worthy and left an impression on Yale fans. Joakim Ryan blocked a shot and deflected it toward Brian Ferlin. Ferlin collected it on his stick and rushed in on an exposed Alex Lyon. The entire Yale squad on the ice gave pursuit. It was to no avail. Ferlin bounded over the line with his characteristic skating style and the new-era Yale skaters could not keep pace. Yale's Obuchowski made a last-ditch effort to hook Ferlin as the Cornell forward's sights zeroed in on the net. It was for naught. Ferlin wrist a shot mid-breakaway onto the top shelf of the net. Appropriately, 17 seconds remained.
Coach Schafer in post-game interviews after the Brown contest implied what many of the Faithful feel themselves. The Cornell-Yale series has become such a proving ground that the emotional letdown after it is dangerous, especially when a talented Brown laid just ahead. Cornell weathered the cathartic letdown and won the contest.
In a goal that many, including this writer, thought was potted by Jake Weidner, Cornell took the lead off of a gritty pileup in front of Tyler Steel. The goal was eventually awarded to Buckles with Kubiak and Weidner receiving assists. The game-winning goal was scored off of a play from Joel Lowry in the neutral zone. Lowry muscled a Brown skater off of the puck and broke out into the Bears's zone. Lowry passed the puck to Bardreau who found the back of the net. It was the first goal for the Lowry-Bardreau-McCarron line since an outing against New Hampshire.
The efforts last weekend were satisfying. Cornell played like a Cornell squad of the 2010s. It dazzled opponents and college hockey fans with goals of sheer beauty like those of Knisley, Ferlin, and Bardreau, but also had the grit and resolve to score the ugly goals that are needed with the tallies from Kubiak and Buckles. Some of the hardest working players who were most integral to Cornell's victories this weekend, Buckles, Knisley, Kubiak, and Weidner, have been the least sung.
A Note About Importance
Anyone who does not follow WAFT on twitter missed a few historical notes that we shared after Cornell's victory over Yale. Contests against the reigning national champion are not all too common. In the NCAA era, Cornell has played the defending national champion only 23 times. Cornell's record against the defending national champion is 10-10-3 all-time. When the national champion also is an in-conference foe, Cornell's record improves to 9-5-1.
The two times that the defending national champion has been a member of ECAC Hockey since the Divorce, RPI in 1985-86 and Harvard in 1989-90, Cornell never swept the series with those teams. The Big Red went 1-1-0 against RPI and 2-2-0 against Harvard when each was the reigning national champion. Coach Schafer's sweep of Yale gave Cornell its first post-Divorce sweep of an in-conference national champion in program history.
The Next Challenge
Cornell will face no new foes until the national tournament begins. The back half of a series with Colgate looms ahead for Cornell. Both programs have much to prove in this rematch.
Some from the Colgate faction have acted as though Cornell's play and status is stationary while their performance is dynamic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Colgate and Cornell are very different teams than when the two met in early December. Both have gained particular strength and exposed certain weakness.
The offense of the Raiders has improved to the degree of scoring 17.9% more goals per game. Colgate now comfortably averages more than three goals per game. Perhaps more startlingly, Colgate surrenders a modest 2.33 goals per game to its opponents in the second half as compared to the 3.53 goals allowed per game that the Raiders carried into Lynah Rink. Want to belabor a point? Colgate's power-play unit has converted on 25.0% of its power-play opportunities since the Raiders settled for a tie in Ithaca.
Colgate's special teams have increased on the defensive side of play as well. The Raiders's penalty kill has upticked from allowing conversion on 20.3% of opportunities allowed to since allowing opponents to convert on only 18.4% of opportunities. Colgate during its recent run of success, including a shootout win against Minnesota, has become a very difficult team against which to play.
Colgate's offense has become more balanced since the meeting in December. Prior to the December meeting, only seven skaters averaged more than one-tenth of a goal per game. Only Kyle Baun, Darcy Murphy, and Tylor Spink averaged more than 0.40 goals per game. Since the encounter on East Hill, 12 members of the Raiders now average more than one-tenth of a goal per game. High-end production has given way to a balanced attack. No player averages more than 0.50 goals per game now, and only Tylor Spink remains above 0.40 goals per game, but seven skaters average one-third of a goal per game or more. Spiro Goulakos has tied for second in terms of offensive production per game since the first game in the series.
Charles Finn between Colgate's pipes has gotten much better in addition to becoming Don Vaughan's de facto starter. His save percentage has improved from a 0.878 to a 0.922 since he held Cornell to two goals. Despite these performances, Colgate has averaged a scoring margin in its recent run of less than one goal per game in its favor.
Colgate is a great team this season and is a very difficult team to play against. Cornell is too. Cornell's offense has become more balanced. Every line from Ithaca has contributed over its last two series. Frankly, it is amazing to watch.
If Joel Lowry regains his scoring touch that carried Cornell early in the season, then the point of the Red's offense will become even more precisely honed. Lowry has generated considerable opportunities, but the involvement of such a talented scorer cannot be long absent from the line-up without eventually costing the Big Red. His linemates, Cole Bardreau and John McCarron, also need to prove that last weekend's game-winning goal marked a return to production, not an aberration in the second half of the season.
Do we need to mention Andy Iles? He has played very well since the contest against Colgate. Furthermore, over his last three outings, he has delivered performances that are up to his expected level as senior Cornell netminder. His goals-against average is below two goals per game in the second half and his save percentage has inched above 0.930. Iles will be an essential element in almost all foreseeable contests. He realizes that and he will continue to be central to Cornell's success. Cornell's balanced attack should help do more than erase any mishaps that inevitably happen.
Cornell needs to score on the power play. What happened? Cornell has generated offense and has nearly perfected opportunistic finishing on even strength, but has failed to find the back of the net even on its best executed power-play opportunities. Only a few times since the first Colgate game has Cornell's power play looked hapless, but that provides only minor consolation when considering the recent drought of power-play scoring.
The Big Red faced the Raiders with a power-play unit that converted 26.2% of the time that it took the ice. This second-half Cornell squad has converted on 4.8% of its power-play chances since the first Colgate game. Over the same span, only Alabama-Huntsville has a worse conversion rate on the power play. This drop-off of 81.7% in efficiency, despite any glaring shortcomings in the on-ice product, needs to be addressed this weekend. If Cornell does not solve this, it will be fatal.
Colgate is headed into this contest in the hopes of proving that last weekend was an anomaly. Cornell endeavors to prove that last weekend was not and that this Cornell squad is even better than a tie against a very good Colgate team. Both teams are determined and both teams are poised for post-season success. This game is a great test of Cornell, much like previous contests against Harvard and Yale.
Can Cornell prove that Colgate's success crested?