Cornell has controlled contests against Clarkson, Yale, Brown and Penn State to date. The Frozen Apple contest saw Cornell impose its reserved style on the Nittany Lions for 35-40 minutes of the game. In blunt terms, the first period at Madison Square Garden was frightening. The Big Red was stitched into its own end while Penn Staters dashed in and out of the slot unchallenged.
Offense was not the problem. Defense was. Oppressive defense produces deadly offense. There were no outlets to release the cascade of an offensive rush. There were no battle lines drawn along the blue line.
The first intermission passed, then the game belonged predominantly to Cornell. Rather than recount the entire game, take a minute to marvel at the effort it took Penn State to best Mitch Gillam even when the Red's defensive play was not at the level to which he is accustomed. It took a high-speed transition play, forwards crashing the crease unchallenged, and, from Penn State's perspective, traffic so beautifully close to goaltender interference without crossing that subjective line to slip one by the sophomore netminder.
The fact that Penn State had such a wide berth to maneuver is troubling. Gillam's performance is confidence-inspiring. Cornell's collective opinion, expressed in the comments of Schafer, Lowry, and Knisley after the game, assuages any fears that the Big Red viewed its first period as anything better than poor.
Then, Cornell won in the most Cornellian, or as this writer dubbed it after the game, Schaferian, way.
Cornell played Cornell hockey from behind. That is the story of the Clarkson, Yale, and Penn State contests.
It is easy to play cool, calm, and collected defense with a lead. It is even easy to do it in a nil-nil contest. It is an exercise in absolute mental discipline and restraint to execute such a game plan when trailing. Nevertheless, that is what Cornell has proven that it can do. This reflects a hallmark that deserves proper appreciation.
The Schaferian game has many valuable assets. The ability to chase down a leading foe has not been one of them historically. Even Schafer's five ECAC Hockey championship teams found it difficult to mount comebacks. This team has begun to manifest an eerie calmness.
The scoring drought has receded. Temporarily, at least. Does this writer have faith that this Cornell team can and should score? Yes. Am I terrified that another scoring slump may come? [Insert preferred exclamation here] yes!
Mike Schafer said it best after the Frozen Apple, "we have to be comfortable with that...Be comfortable with who we are...Produce offense, but produce it our way." He is absolutely correct. The identity of Cornell hockey has never been one of haphazard, all-star-style efforts like one may find at other programs. It is about reservation and patience.
Cornell can produce offense in a myriad of ways. This writer must concede that those in the deflection crowd were equally right that more traffic and redirecting sticks would break the drought. They have. However, as this writer anticipated, creativity and taking the high-probability transition play have contributed to the Red's current run of goal-scoring fortune.
Joel Lowry found Eric Freschi to take down Clarkson on a breakaway in overtime. It was an improvisation on an apparently blown transition into the offensive zone and a never-say-die effort from Cole Bardreau that led to Christian Hilbrich's game-winning goal against Yale. John Knisley, Joel Lowry, and John McCarron jumped into the play that bested Skoff for the winning marker in the Frozen Apple. Neither means should be preferred. Both are now clicking.
Schafer's teams win when they are scoring dirty goals off of traffic, tips, and deflections, and undressing opponents with creativity in transition without becoming dependent upon either method but doing each as well as the best teams at either.
No member of the Lynah Faithful, especially this writer, would ask for Cornell hockey to change its identity. The tight battle of a low-scoring contest is for what we live from the moment that we become initiated into the traditions of Lynah Rink.
The Class of 2015 stepped up over the last few contests to defend that tradition. In Cornell's four most recent wins, the Big Red has scored 12 goals. Only three of those goals have not benefited from the contribution of a senior. Joel Lowry and John McCarron have shone in particular.
Lowry is in the midst of a five-game point streak while his defensive play remains of a high quality. McCarron has assisted on Cornell's last two game-winning tallies and registered an assist on every Red goal against Penn State. John McCarron has not potted a goal yet, but in an unselfish manner befitting a good captain, he has changed the flow of games to guarantee his team victory. He realizes that it is the captains who lead who are remembered, not necessarily those who score.
Denver comes to town. The Pioneers bring with them a style of play that is slightly more physical than that of Penn State, but nearly identical in terms of its LMFAO-like clamoring for shots. The series will be one for the ages. It will be a battle between two of the four most dominant programs in the history of college hockey. Joey LaLeggia expects Denver to need to generate its own energy because road venues do not carry the energy of Magness Arena. Not everyone can have a building whose typical crowd averages below 80.0% capacity, Joey. The Lynah Faithful will do their best.
In keeping with the topic of LaLeggia, this weekend's series has the makings of an all-star showdown between two of the nation's best defensemen. Joey LaLeggia leads all defenseman in terms of goals scored per game. That is until Joakim Ryan laces his skates again. It is rumored that the nation's best defenseman could return to the Cornell line-up for this series. Both LaLeggia and Ryan are game-changing players. Their showdown on East Hill would be an intriguing storyline.
Ryan's return is not the only component that could propel Cornell further in the right direction. John Knisley found his scoring at Madison Square Garden. He has the determination and touch to continue to be a major role player. A fellow Rochester-area native, Cole Bardreau, has been knocking on the door for an explosive game since a modest showing at Princeton. At one point, he was on a four-game point streak. Where John Knisley found his touch, Jeff Kubiak got excruciatingly close. When little was going right for Cornell in the Frozen Apple, it was Kubiak who threatened most to tame the Lions.
Calmness and patience are the emerging hallmarks of this team. Even knowing that it will play a defensive game, it displays the character and psychological strength to play hockey its way when chasing a lead. This is uncommon resolve. Even though not that common among Schafer's teams, it is appropriately Cornellian. This team has shown the ability to weather the storm, endure misfortune, and bide its time while laying in wait like a predator poised to pounce.
It cares not how it hauls down its prey. It cares merely that it is the hunter, licking its teeth after slaying its challenger.