One example springs to this writer’s mind. It is one that has jumbled around in his head for some time. It is telling in how it reveals one of this contributor’s athletic pastimes and passions beyond his life among the Lynah Faithful.
Greatness is not known independent of time. Who was the greatest cyclist of the late 1990s and early 2000s if one excludes ex post punishments? Was it Jan Ullrich or Lance Armstrong? Armstrong won seven Tours de France on the roads of Europe. Ullrich won the Le Tour in 1997, finished second to Armstrong three other times, and fell third to the American’s first on one other occasion. The German had one other second-place finish that the Texan did not exact.
Reader, if you do not know, five wins in the Tour de France is the gold standard for the legends of that most celebrated of the Grand Tours. Armstrong is the only rider to have worn the yellow jersey on the last day of the race more times. It could have been Ullrich. It was Jan Ullrich, not Armstrong who was suffering from cancer in 1996 through 1998, who was rumored as the one likely to win more than five Tours. Armstrong’s return prevented that.
Removal of Armstrong alone conceivably would give Ullrich five earned victories. One finds it tempting to assume that German with a penchant for off-season debauchery would have won six Tours but for Armstrong. It never will be. The era of Armstrong defines and throttles Ullrich’s legacy through no fault of his own.
Both were two of the best cyclists ever. They competed mightily. However, one will be remembered (now, for more reasons than initially thought). One will not.
This reader watching the resurrection of a dormant Harvard program after the arrival of Paul Pearl has wondered in this era of the Cornell-Harvard rivalry: Who is Armstrong and who is Ullrich? Cornell clearly is building toward something big. The tales of the recruiting trail foretell that. However, is Harvard building toward something bigger?
The Red may prove that it is superior to Crimson. That possibility is weeks in build-up. Let’s live now.
The Master's Plan
To the sincerest chagrin of this contributor, college hockey is in the vicious throes of the at-large bid victor. Union is the only program since Where Angels Fear to Tread launched to have won the national title in the traditional way. Yale lost twice in championship weekend. Providence got swept at home. North Dakota lost and tied before it strung together four wins. The Dutchmen alone won their way into the Frozen-Four field.
Conference titles should matter. Conference titles do matter. However, only one of the last four national champions lifted conference-sponsored silver before it hoisted NCAA-sanctioned lacquer. This writer ventures that Coach Schafer has noticed this trend. He has built this team for this type of four-game run.
Success in a conference tournament bears little correlation to success in the tournament that culminates in the Frozen Four. Half of the champions of the Frozen Four have failed to win their conference’s top prize since the NCAA adopted its current balanced four-round format in 2003. Only four teams not named Boston College have won in this current era with winning their conference tournament.
The triumphs of fourth-seeded Yale and Providence invite the assumption that this trend will grow only starker.
This team all season has been focused upon getting to the Frozen-Four tournament through whatever means that it can. Coach Schafer and its members know that this is the formula that has served well recent national champions. A team need not win its conference tournament to prove that it is the best in the nation in this era. It need only have an account full enough to buy a ticket to the dance. Cornell was not overdrawn this season.
Like Armstrong and Ullrich, Cornell does not choose its era. It just has to win in it.
Now, it is time for Cornell to make good on this timely plan in the ways that Denver, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Duluth, Yale, Providence, and North Dakota have.
The River Hawks of Lowell are more than a pothole. They may in fact be more like the Category 2 climbs that thin the pack on an expectedly mundane stage. Sure, they never would be declared hors catégoire like…on second thought, do not even think about the other side of the bracket. Norm Bazin and Lowell are nothing to overlook.
The River Hawks never played in ECAC Hockey despite their winning three of the last five traitor’s trophies in the Hockey East Division. Aficionados of ECAC Hockey might not know this without engaging in a bit of research, but that means Lowell is now more decorated in the East’s other conference than is New Hampshire.
New Hampshire, now there is a program that imbues fear and disdain in the hearts of generations of the Lynah Faithful. The River Hawks have won their conference now more times than have the Wildcats. Cornell cannot afford to allow Lowell to gain similar footing in the national tournament against it as has the host of the Northeast Regional.
This is the fourth time that Norm Bazin has led Lowell into the Frozen-Four field. Three of those four tournament appearances ended with the River Hawks bowing to a program from ECAC Hockey. There will be no amount of underestimation in the opposing team’s locker room. Norm Bazin never has lost in the Frozen Four First Round.
Bazin has a perfect record in “the first game” not because of luck of the draw. Sure, his River Hawks have beaten titleless Miami, Minnesota State, and New Hampshire. They have slain a Frozen-Four blue blood in Wisconsin.
Fans of the designed haves of Hockey East often malign Norm Bazin’s system as one that presupposes that a game can be won 0-0. They often say that watching paint dry would be more exhilarating. Generally, Lowell’s approach is viewed as a flattened, less creative version of the scheme for which Coach Schafer is known.
Lowell has not had to win many games 0-0 lately. The River Hawks soared scoring four or more goals in three of its four victories en route to a Hockey East championship. It has averaged outscoring opponents by 3.25 goals per game over that run. This satellite school on the ice need not orbit anything It brings its own gravity to bear.
So, instead of a team that seeks to win 0-0, the Lynah Faithful should look at Lowell and see a disharmonious union of the elements that make Cornell and Union such dangerous teams this season. Lowell, like Union, will not defeat itself. Lowell, like Cornell, brings a balanced offense that relies on no line for its survival than others.
The River Hawks are neither as sound as the Dutchmen nor as balanced as the Red. The weakness of Lowell’s backside on the power play was on full display against Notre Dame and Boston College at the TD Garden. Only Boston College converted, but it was apparent why Lowell has the ignominious distinction of allowing the third-greatest number of short-handed goals this season. Alex Rauter or Mitch Vanderlaan may crack the history books if either can spring for a shortie in Manchester.
Lowell exhibited sloppy play in the neutral zone against Boston College. Jerry York’s Eagles only made good on those mistakes enough to fall one goal shy of the ospreys. War is always built for wars of attrition in the neutral zone. The Red’s comfort in such battles as this game will be may give it a catalyst to precipitate victory.
The balance of Lowell’s offense still sees its top line of C.J. Smith, Joe Gambardella, and John Edwardh produce 40.3% of the team’s goal scoring. Its contribution was relatively consistent over the Hockey East tournament. Freshman Colin O’Neill found his form in the playoffs and doubled his regular-season production in just five games.
The River Hawks have versatile weapons. They have weaknesses that Coach Schafer and his team can exploit on the ice of Manchester. Those are not numerous. The Cornell team that played in Lake Placid will win this game.
The question remains if that team is the one that laces its skates on Saturday morning. Cornell dominated a team sounder than Lowell in Union in the 2017 ECAC Hockey Semifinal like few teams in the nation can. The Red was relentless. It never saw a puck that it did not want. It never doubted the prospect of a rebound and bore down to finish through when one emerged. Beau Starrett was the hero of that story. Cornell’s power play was dynamic.
Cornell played no differently on Saturday. The difference largely was a product of luck. Luck is not an excuse from failure. It is one from disappointment. The Red did almost everything right. It was not rewarded for it. The difference between the Schafemen’s 4-1 dismantling of the Dutchmen and 4-1 humbling to the Crimson was misfortune. Ted Donato conceded that Cornell had his talented Harvard squad “on the ropes” for much of the game.
The car just came off the rails last weekend. It is time to get in line for the next ride.
The River Hawks like to pounce early. Cornell will need to weather that storm or, better, bring its wrath to Tyler Wall’s doorstop early. Lowell scored within the first half of the first period in its last three wins. It took only 66 seconds to best Boston College. The Eagles gave the River Hawks all that they could handle.
A disallowed goal went in Lowell’s favor. Boston College still got within one when Lowell nursed a two-goal lead in a defensive shell. For those who fancy outmoded metrics, the team rated 14th in the Pairwise Ranking took Norm Bazin’s Lowell to the brink. What can the 11th-rated team do to them?
Focus and determination appear like anger to some. Anger can be distracting. Cornell needs to be ready Saturday.
Whether it is the usual suspects of Anthony Angello, Jeff Kubiak, Mitch Vanderlaan, and Trevor Yates, those more infrequent contributors who rise to Cornell’s generational call for playoff glory like Noah Bauld and Eric Freschi, those whose name the Lynah Faithful cannot wait to yell in this postseason like those of Matt Buckles and Alex Rauter, or the throngs of Lynah Faithful harassing Norm, his River Hawks, and his misnomer of a netminder, everyone who bleeds carnelian this time of year must give everything to start this four-game season with a win.
Match-ups between Minnesota and the fourth-most dominant playoff program in college hockey, Cornell, are unique. No, not literally, but very close. The two programs have met only twice in their storied histories.
Cornell and Minnesota were the best teams in the nation regularly during the 2000s. The 2002-03 season set the two diametric styles and histories on a collision course. The final conflict never happened.
The one time that the Red tangled with maroon and gold was in the 2005 Frozen Four Quarterfinal. Cornell had the privilege of playing the late game in that regional. Oh, yeah, it was played at Mariucci Arena too. The less-rested Cornell squad fell to Minnesota, 2-1, in overtime. It seems only appropriate that the Red repays the favor if given the opportunity with the Gophers on our ice and playing in the later game.
Gopher leader Don Lucia will need to defeat his alma mater for a rare Cornell-Minnesota meeting to occur.
Cornell’s history with Notre Dame hockey is far richer than one would expect. The series is also deeper than the one that Cornell shares with the Fighting Irish’s first opponent. The non-sectarians of New York’s land-grant university have skated against the golden domers twice as many times as the former has against Minnesota.
The recent drama of the series relates largely to developments off of the ice. The Irish envied Cornell hockey for one thing after the 2004-05 season. Paying no mind to this commission of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, the Fighting Irish who recently had decided to take hockey more seriously resolved to lure Coach Schafer away from his alma mater.
Notre Dame Athletics marveled at what the legend behind the bench could do at an Ivy-League institution. They salivated at the prospects of him leading their hockey program. They knew that Cornell and the Lynah Faithful never could offer Coach Schafer as much in staying as Notre Dame could to induce his leaving.
Coach Schafer thankfully was not led into temptation.
That is when Notre Dame learned its most important lesson about Cornell hockey. We live it. If the opportunity presents itself, Cornell is fit to deliver another lesson as this team will reach its ninth Frozen Four with a victory over Notre Dame while the Fighting Irish languish with their two appearances under Jeff Jackson.