Last weekend was exactly what this Cornell team needed. The fears of a postseason-dooming slump are slightly allayed (for another week). Readers may call me a pessimist. However, a team is only as good as its next sweep, split, or swept (? yeesh), and programs are only as good as the dust that they can keep off of their banners.
Cornell beat a Quinnipiac team that has mustered only four favorable results in 12 attempts since leaving Central New York in November. The Tigers of Princeton meanwhile are six games below 0.500 in ECAC Hockey. This is not to diminish the accomplishment of last weekend’s road sweep. It was a big deal.
Trust me, there was much jubilance and celebration at the Tower-overlooking lair of Where Angels Fear to Tread after the last second expired on Saturday. A lens of perspective is needed. The road only gets rougher.
Clarkson and St. Lawrence are two and seven (yes, seven) games above 0.500 in ECAC Hockey so far this season. The North Countrymen have produced a 0.625 winning percentage since the page of the calendar changed days ago. Union’s lone blemishes on the ECAC Hockey regular season, a loss and tie, were inflicted at the hands of the Golden Knights and Saints in Schenectady. Yeah, things are about to get real…perspective-y.
Clarkson may have given Union its only loss in ECAC Hockey, but it is St. Lawrence that is poised to be the behemoth this season. The Saints are looking to get over that recent Carvelian hump of getting to the Whitelaw Cup Semifinals and then losing in overtime. The Laurentians have the talent to do it.
Gavin Bayreuther is a star of the game. His blistering overtime-forcing goal against Colgate in the 2015 ECAC Hockey Semifinal surely would have been one for the history books…if St. Lawrence had won its seventh Whitelaw Cup in Lake Placid that weekend. He is a star defenseman who leads the Saints in points still despite missing his team’s last four games. The rub therein lies.
The Lynah Faithful will not be treated to the display of Bayreuther on Saturday night. The dazzling defender likely will not appear even at Cornell’s game at Appleton in February. For better or worse, the Big Red likely will not face a Bayreuther-led Saints squad unless the teams meet in the post-season. The score as to which defensemen, Gavin or Paddy, drives his team’s offense with more aplomb will need to wait to be decided at another date. The two rank as the second- and third-most point producing defensemen in ECAC Hockey.
The services of the Saints’s leading goal scorer, Mike Marnell, were absent from the ice last weekend. Reliable contributor Jacob Pritchard returned to the line-up against Yale after a four-game hiatus. St. Lawrence has been playing with less than its ideal line-up considering its roster and remained dangerous. Another talent is why.
Mark Morris, varyingly of ECAC Hockey fame and infamy, followed Route 11 away from his previous coaching layover toward Ithaca and landed in Canton. Morris’s history with Cornell, much like the new chapters of the new series for which he now wields a quill as bench boss, is not without definition. The last game that Brian McCutcheon, a stealthy and cutting forward of Cornell’s 1969-70 team, coached at Cornell was against Morris-led Golden Knights in the 1995 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals during the Red’s decade-long championship drought.
The story got rosier when Coach Schafer called the lines at Lynah Rink. Coach Schafer amassed an 11-7-0 record against Mark Morris while the latter was at Clarkson. Cornell never met defeat against the denizens of Potsdam in the playoffs despite three post-season meetings in just seven years. Famously, the Schafer-led Ithacans completed a defense of their 1996 Whitelaw Cup in the 1997 Whitelaw Cup Final against Mark Morris’s Clarkson in Lake Placid. The loss was Morris’s first in ECAC Hockey’s championship game.
Mark Morris knows how to win if that is not self-evident. Only Jack Parker, Ned Harkness, Joe Marsh, and one other coach have won the East’s top prize more than has St. Lawrence’s current bench boss. Oh, yeah, that other fellow will be standing behind the benches on the South side of Lynah Rink on Saturday.
You feel it in the air, don’t you?
This bout will be the beginning of something big; something worthy of a series steeped in history. On Friday, this Cornell team will face off against a program whose leader is an alumnus of the ideology of Cornell hockey. Saturday brings a marquee that heralds a collision of two of the best coaches in the history of ECAC Hockey. It is fitting for the most decorated collegiate programs in New York (when RIT joins ECAC Hockey, this writer will decide how to credit its non-Division I success).
Were the trophy cases of the three programs to collide, there would be 23 Whitelaw Cups in the wreckage to distribute among the three programs. It is like one of those fabricated made-for-TV Wednesday Night Rivalries that NBC Sports and the NHL force upon you, you think about it, they tell you that it is matter because it is two Original Six teams, and then, by the end, you feel the passion. This weekend brings that to Ithaca.
St. Lawrence, Clarkson, and Cornell are the forefathers of New-York hockey and founding reservoirs of college hockey. The Red’s series with the Golden Knights is the ninth-oldest active series for the former. St. Lawrence plays Cornell in the Ithacan’s 12th-oldest active series. The Cornell-St. Lawrence series is second only to the Saints’s spat with rival Clarkson in terms of age. Cornell, meanwhile, is Clarkson’s oldest opponent.
At one time, these programs built up New-York and college hockey. This weekend, each aims to tighten their resumes as they aim to gain whatever advantages that they can to climb the precious standings in ECAC Hockey to carry their decorated programs back to the mountaintop (one can assume it is Whiteface, right?).
The standout of last weekend was unquestionably (wait, it has to be hat trick-scoring freshman Jeff Malott, right?) Holden Anderson. Malott’s following his first collegiate goal in a Cornell sweater with his second and third was the easy story of Friday. Anderson did the little things on Friday, especially, and Saturday that led to the Red’s success this weekend. The senior blueliner played responsibly in both zones including unleashing his blistering shot to punish goaltenders with regular reminders that “the redcoats are coming.” The Faithful are left wondering how Holden Anderson has not recorded a goal this season.
Assistant coach Flanagan’s work with the Red’s forecheck has produced a dynamic attack that had its first glimmers of true brilliance at Princeton and Quinnipiac. There was one downside as Cornell defended its lead in Hamden. Now, a weekend in which Cornell killed 90.0% of opponent’s power-play opportunities is not cause for concern on the ledger. Games are not played in spreadsheets. They are played on the ice.
The carnelian-and-white penalty killers looked unfocused and undirected on their penultimate call to duty against Quinnipiac. Nearly nine minutes remained in regulation when the Bobcats got their fourth power-play opportunity of the weekend which afforded Pecknold’s boys more than enough time to write a very different ending to the affair; One that would have been characteristic of recent tilts between the two programs. That ending never came no matter how much lapses in defense and special teams invited its arrival.
One can trust that Associate Head Coach Ben Syer and Coach Schafer noticed these missteps and corrected them in practice. If they did not, errors will continue to compound as unseasoned success masks the development of bad tendencies that will be much harder to remove if reinforced with time. Clarkson brings ECAC Hockey’s third-best power-play unit to Lynah Rink. The Knights will provide an early test as to whether last Saturday showed a team that took shifts off or that has taken a shift for the worse in its approach to the game.