In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?
Are lyrics from "Seasons of Love" from Rent a bit off-base for opening a season preview? Not for anyone who endured last season with the Big-Red hockey team. Devoted fans, much like lyricist Jonathan Larson, found themselves engaged in a pleading, frantic search for valuation of the priceless and worthless in last season. Oh, yes, there were moments that will live long in the memory of this contributor as they will in the memories of the Faithful who witnessed them. Then, there are the moments that cause us to stir at night and comb through a calendar yearning for this new season.
Fittingly, the tradition of Cornell hockey is rent, torn in tatters, lying somewhere as a fallen banner in the dark recesses of Lynah Rink. Last season did end in Puccinian melancholy. None of this is new to the current team. With great maturity and humility, the coaches and team have acknowledged this off-putting reality. They accept its challenges. Now. The past is the past.
The line of figures atop this piece gives dimension to how long the Lynah Faithful and alumni of this proud program have been waiting for various benchmarks of success. Among those figures are the number of days that will have passed by October 30 since the Red's last game of consequence, last meaningful win at Lynah Rink, and last time hoisting the Whitelaw Cup. Careful readers can discern the other benchmarks on that list. They will measure a season of the program. Only one of those dials is guaranteed to zero this weekend. No others are certain to change this season.
This team will decide exactly how many of those figures truncates. This writer will say that the composition of this team has the potential to reduce all of those figures to the minuscule. Last season colors this prognosticator's daring in doing so. A piece on Where Angels Fear to Tread quipped last season that "potential" might as well be a four-letter word for its frequent effect on fans. We endured how last season resolved. Tepidity mitigates any hope that this writer may engender in the fanbases and readers based upon personal observation.
No more will be said of the ultimate potential of this team until concrete results warrant it. In this regard, this contributor hopes to resemble the approach of Coach Schafer. Much like Schafer has demanded of his team, every inch of leeway, every moment of ice time, and every modicum of respect must be earned, Where Angels Fear to Tread will avoid premature optimism. The burden of proof rests squarely with this team.
This piece doubly could have been entitled "dazed" for the state in which the Faithful were left at the end of last season. This team has the chance to give direction to this cloud of disorientation this weekend and in the following weeks.
No more games, I'm a change what you call rage
I was playin' in the beginnin', the mood all changed
In this way, Cornell is finally acting a bit more Cornellian. Gone are the presumptions of greatness, but Cornell is no less great. It does not need to act great, it needs to be great. Cornell University is about hard work. The greats of Cornell hockey reflected this in their play, demeanor, and backgrounds. Hailing from the industrial Rust Belt of the United States to the prairies of rural Canada, the wearers of the carnelian-and-white sweater have played as a team and with an edge as can only the students of a university that christened itself America's Oxford despite being 229 years the junior of North America's oldest university. The war heroes of the 1911 team, the bonds of blood and toil of the 1967 team, or the galvanizing of college hockey's greatest assemblages of players in the 1970 team share valuing team and the University above all else.
The leaders of the 2015-16 team and its coaches promise that this soul of Cornell hockey has returned after a hiatus too long. This writer joins the Lynah Faithful in hoping that this is not a hollow talking point. It is worth noting that nothing has created any doubts about this. Last season shows that disappointment creeps into a season even when it is least it expected. Measured optimism with a healthy skeptical eye is the prescription for this writer. The Lynah Faithful can elect to follow their own courses of approach in watching the early moments of the season unfold.
Supplanting hubris with angry hunger is the obvious tonal change this season. There are other changes. Anyone who listened to Schafer in his post-game interviews after both exhibition contests noticed that the Red strategist is invoking a new strategy. The defensive system will remain that same. It is the offense that will change.
Yes, I said change. Last season, Coach Schafer in disappointment after the Union series said that he would return to how he had done things for years. It appears that the bench boss may have re-evaluated and elected for a new heading. The Lynah Faithful should welcome this tack. Any arguments purporting his current offensive philosophy is a return to a previous system seem amiss to the opinions of most journalists who have covered college hockey for years more than has this writer, including Adam Wodon of College Hockey News, and this contributor.
The most recent Schaferian approach to generating offense, the one that most observers claim has experienced only minor changes over the first two decades of the legendary defenseman's career, is one that relied upon taking only the high-probability shots. In the Frozen Apple 2014, Adam Wodon saw Guy Gadowsky's no-shot-left-untaken and Mike Schafer's high-probability systems as nearly perfect foils. Fans knew that Schafer believed that a team could win regularly on one well positioned shot, shot-blocking, and superb goaltending. Something new is afoot in ECAC Hockey's infamous house of horrors.
Coach Schafer has placed an emphasis on shooting. Often. He wants players at every position to put the puck on net when they have the opportunity to do so. You do not think he is serious? Well, consider that in his two post-game interviews after the Big Red's last tune-ups, Schafer referenced his team's need to shoot frequently nearly once a minute (0.92 times per minute) over the course of more than 13 minutes. To put this another way, in emphasizing a point, Schafer said that he wanted his team to shoot more far more than twice as often as his team actually shot last season.
Schafer is serious on this point. He threatened players with less playing time if they did not "shoot the puck." "We have to have a shooting mentality," summarized the five-time Whitelaw Cup champion coach. This departure is welcome.
It is especially welcome one season after offensive anemia resulted in certain disaster. Many factors may place a lower-than-desired ceiling on this Cornell team's offensive production. None of them will be the loss of last year's senior class as journalists and commentators insist. One thing needs to be made clear: Last season's seniors were not last season's seniors. They did not have the senior seasons that the Lynah Faithful should have been afforded the opportunity of expecting.
Nothing else needs to be said. Their legacies will be decided at a later time. Their offensive contributions last season were afflicted with whatever scoring ailment doomed the Red last season. In many ways, the seniors were more afflicted. Cornell returns three of its top four goal scorers. The Big Red can expect the services of six of its top ten contributors in terms of goals per game production last season.
This topic is exhausted. Where Angels Fear to Tread expounds on from where Cornell can expect scoring and at which rate the team should produce in a four-part series from the offseason. The data therein becomes moot at 7:00 pm on Friday.
Discussions of last season's scoring problems are hereby closed.
The team will be consolidated into a working whole if all goes according to plan. This should not preclude discussing the individual talents that should work within that whole. Injuries were the undiscussed topic of late last season. Many of the returning players were partially or wholly incapacitated at some point last season.
It seemed but moments after Patrick McCarron sank an extra-attacker goal against Princeton that rumors of injuries to the offensively talented defenseman began to swirl. These came mere days after Joakim Ryan was removed from the line-up due to an injury sustained in the Nebraska-Omaha series. McCarron had two points in three games up until that point. Reece Willcox rose to the challenge and began to fill an offensive void along the back end. The often slightly more defensive defenseman Willcox tallied four points in 10 games at one point. A late-season injury prevented the junior defenseman's participation in a single shift during the playoffs.
Both McCarron and Willcox were ready to play expected and new roles, respectively. This season they will have the chance to start afresh and take all elements of their game to opponents. They will not be alone.
Yale may have Rob O'Gara and Ryan Obuchowski. St. Lawrence has Gavin Bayreuther and Eric Sweetman. Neither will have the most versatile corps of defensemen in ECAC Hockey. The two-way talents of the Big Red go beyond McCarron and Willcox. Newcomers Alec McCrea and Matt Nuttle both suit up with expectations of offensive contribution. The former has incredible vision on the ice while Schafer dubbed the latter an all-around scoring threat. When Brendan Smith recovers from an injury that befell him before arriving in Ithaca, his ability to move the puck in all zones and into the net will make the Red blue line even more fearsome.
Holden Anderson ever-seems on the cusp of breaking out with the scoring flash from his career in Hawkesbury. His shots are well positioned in time and space. Dan Wedman, well, Wedman is Wedman. He became quietly the league's best defensive defenseman last season. This may not get him acclaim in some hockey towns, but Ithaca values a few frills, even fewer mistakes defenseman. This overlooks the defenseman who should be poised to make the most journalistic hay.
Ryan Bliss dazzled offensively on a team dinted with scoring woes of every variety. The freshman led the blue line in goals scored per game. His two goals on the season temper bold predictions. If a rising tide raises all ships, then Bliss should improve his offensive output if the team as a whole improves dramatically. Bliss skates with the fluidity of a forward and represents with McCarron the player most likely to fill a vacant historical position in the Cornell arsenal. ECAC Hockey observers will find themselves asking who Rob O'Gara is if Bliss has the sophomore campaign that he can.
Balanced scoring from front to back requires the traditional source of goals, forwards, to contribute as well. The last use of this contributor's model will predict which forwards are expected to have big seasons. Predictably, top goal scorers Matt Buckles and Christian Hilbrich are expected to fuel the Red's offensive resurgence. Given average improvements for their respective years and performances last season, the two should combine for 25 goals in the regular season. Not to ratchet up demands too high, I will allow them to decide the division of that total throughout the season.
John Knisley melted the ice in Europe last summer with his offensive game's white-hot heat. An injury, fitting with the narrative of the season, set his offensive game back from what it was on the Big Red's European tour. The Pittsford native has one last run in the carnelian-and-white sweater. He has been a solid player for three seasons. The chance of living up to the legacy of another famous Western New Yorker, Sam Paolini, attracted Knisley to New York's land-grant university. Knisley still has more than an opportunity to bring those dreams to reality. Paolini is immortal for one (okay, maybe two) goals. If Knisley has a great senior campaign, he can give Cornell the stage to have a similar moment and then guarantee history.
Little weight can be given to exhibition contests. Too often players or teams have tremendous preseason or exhibition slates then implode in the regular season. Jeff Kubiak is determined not to have that happen to him. Kubiak returns with a vigor to play on every inch of the ice. His doing the little things well has improved his scoring statistics. The Lynah Faithful hope to see his considerable progress continue when the points count for real.
One thing that probably can be deduced from the Red's exhibition games is that the freshmen are ready for the Red to roll. Freshmen scored five goals and eight points over the course of the two tune-up contests. Four of the six freshmen who rotated into those games tallied at least one point.
Anthony Angello, honoring the sweater of "score monger" Doug Derraugh, found the right chord in a tune-up. Angello scored four goals. A feat that if accomplished in a game of consequence would have been the first time a Cornellian scored that many goals in a game in nearly a quarter of a century (24.8 years). Even Derraugh never scored four goals in one game for the Big Red. Hopes are running high. They need to be reified in the regular season.
Dwyer Tschantz played in neither exhibition contest. It was revealed during the offseason that Tschantz played most, if not all, of last season injured which explained his sporadic inclusion in the line-up. The highly touted freshman from last season tied for the scoring lead among freshmen and did so in 12 fewer games. His 0.11 goals per game paced him as the seventh-most productive in-game player on Cornell's team last season. His multifaceted physical and scoring game would be an asset to the more honest, physical, and shooting-oriented system put in place this season. It would be great to see what a healthy Tschantz season in a carnelian-and-white sweater would look like.
This piece opened with the lyrics from "Seasons of Love." The song was released in the Fall of 1996 and penned during the course of time shortly before that date. In other words, its writing and release directly overlay the arrival of Schafer in 1995 and his team's build-up to a successful Whitelaw Cup defense in the 1996-97 season.
The song is a throwback to the beginning of the era when Schafer believed his coaching skills were at their zenith. He promises that they have soared again. Time will tell. Until confirmation of the accuracy of Schafer's promise, the measures atop this piece will quantify the lingering dissatisfaction of the Lynah Faithful. One measure matters most now.
The distance between Ithaca and Lewiston. Dwyer Arena and Lynah Rink are the extrema of this season's opening weekend. The Purple Eagles made one thing certain last weekend. The results of one night do not foretell the results the next evening. Niagara was obliterated in one contest against Derek Schooley's Colonials. The Purple Eagles tied the other contest. Niagara will not quit. This Atlantic-Hockey team will be a good opening test of the professed returned work ethic of Cornell.
Travel the distance. It will be cathartic to travel to the land of some of Cornell's greatest players. Go there to see Cornell visit Niagara in Dwyer Arena. The trip will provide you an opportunity. We will see how far that this team has come.