That is the moment that proponents and opponents of Cornell hockey alike will remember from what likely is Starr Rink's last near-sellout. It certainly will be the last time that historic barn pulsates with the lopsided emotions of the Colgate-Cornell series. Angello's overtime winner is all but guaranteed to be the last goal of that series scored in that venue.
Such facets alone make that overtime winner standout. However, last weekend's series was one of many moments. Cornell dismantled a hopeful Colgate team into a hopeless mess during much of Friday's tilt at Lynah Rink. Colgate regrouped. The historic foes met for one last confrontation at Starr Rink on Saturday. It ended in that indelible moment. Where did it begin?
To answer that question, one must look to the moment that will stand out in the mind of this writer as the second-biggest turning point of the Red's last game at the true home of the Maroon (Cornell's killing of Colgate's second five-on-three advantage at the end of the opening period was most significant). It happened nearly two hours before Angello shone. Its genesis was even earlier.
The last game at Starr Rink (for all intents and purposes, that is what it was) did not begin as it should have. The Lynah Faithful began to wonder if their team was afflicted with a Saturday malaise this season. Colgate generated sustained pressure. The Red forecheck bounced off of the Raiders's blue line. Things got much worse before they got better.
Reece Willcox planted his skate, stumbling in the neutral zone, while handling the puck. As the senior defenseman toppled backward, one half of Colgate's forward box set, the worst Maroon players to whom to turn over the puck, saw the errant puck escape Willcox's blade. Spink 1 converted on Willcox's misfortune as Gillam was unable to make the coin-flip save.
The error was acharacteristic for the always reliable Willcox. The moment that this contributor will not forget occurred during the first intermission. The observation would not have been possible at many rinks other than Starr; a fitting finale. The senior defenseman stood in the alcove just outside of Big Red's locker room mere feet from fans passing by in the concourse. Willcox's eyes pierced through the walls of the concourse as he adjusted the tape on his stick. He was not looking back into the rink. He was looking to the future for a chance at redemption. He found it at 61:05.
Willcox intercepted a dump from Spink 2. He saw the play up ice. Jeff Kubiak and Anthony Angello were in the neutral zone ready to break into the Colgate zone. The home team's top line was exhausted. They could not match the speed of a rested Red attack. Reece Willcox accelerated the play. He chipped it to Kubiak. The relay continued. Then, the remembered goal.
While others may remember Angello's closing goal at Starr Rink as a singular feat or even the product of superb vision and passing, this writer will remember it for what it was. The redemptive act of a senior leader who failed to accept failure. Willcox captured what will need to remain the driving attitude and saving graces of this team. He improvised in refusing to accept defeat.
The play of Reece Willcox manifests a recurring trend this season. Anthony Angello and Mitch Vanderlaan get a great deal of the headlines about early-season performances. The rear guard of the carnelian and white quietly drives its team's successes.
This contributor mentioned during the offseason that Cornell desperately needed contributions from its defensive corps. Attack beginning from blue liners is a centuries-old tradition of Cornell hockey. Defensemen this season seem to realize that reality and lace up each game expecting to score at one end of the ice and prevent scoring at the other.
Only one program in college hockey has more blueliners who rank in the top 20 of defensemen in tallying points per game. Quinnipiac is that program with three defensemen ranking at that level. Cornell counts two defensemen among those vaunted ranks, Alec McCrea and Reece Willcox. The senior sits currently third among all blue-line point producers. Ryan Bliss is not far behind the rate of McCrea. Last weekend proved that assists were not the only trade of Red blue liners.
Patrick McCarron found the back of the net twice against Colgate. The Lynah Faithful have been waiting for McCarron to find his goal-scoring form from his days at St. Michael's. They now wait with baited breath hoping that they saw it last weekend. The junior's breakout weekend catapulted him to the top ten of goal-scoring blue liners.
McCarron's production is not alone. Holden Anderson and Reece Willcox are producing at over half the rate of their corps's current scoring leader. Only five programs in college hockey have a defensive representative among the top-ten goal scorers and top-20 point producers. Cornell shares the distinction with Boston University, Notre Dame, Providence, and St. Lawrence. Every defensemen who has suited up for every game for Cornell has tallied multiple points. Defensive contribution is back.
Defensive point generation underwrites much of Cornell's success. Other contributors drive this Cornell team forward. Christian Hilbrich is a beast. With his hirsute face and tall stature, the comparison to a giant is far easier. Hilbrich is far from a lumbering fee-fi-fo-fum'ing ogre. His play is a versatile weapon. His resolve is impressive. He impels much of the carnelian and white's victories in effort and result.
Two goals are not the measure of the towering senior. This was most stark on Saturday. Hilbrich did not record a single point. His play was as integral to Cornell's success as it was the night before when he opened scoring. Hilbrich was the only player during the first period Saturday who delivered a respite to a beleaguered Mitch Gillam and defense group. Whether through strength of will or physical prowess, Christian Hilbrich pinned the Raiders in their own zone several times throughout the game either allowing a line change or the Red to test Colgate's Finn. From scoring against Niagara in overtime to ensuring that the Red was not sunk too far in the first period on Saturday, Hilbrich stands out (more than literally) on the ice.
Mitch Gillam was Mitch Gillam last weekend. It was clearest at Starr Rink. Gillam faced shots in the first period that would have paced Colgate to 42 over the course of a regulation game. Statistically, Gillam averaged being called upon to make a save every 42 seconds in the first period. The junior netminder delivered with Teemu Tiitinen, who showed flashes of great speed but contributed most significantly during the game's pivotal sequence, in preventing a recently reopened one-goal lead from ballooning into a two-goal deficit despite five-on-three adversity. After that Gillam-Tiitinen kill, Cornell had won, Colgate just did not know it yet.
In the opening game of the home-and-home series, Gillam showed great psychological strength. Only sporadically did the Raiders challenge him. The lack of workload did not erode Gillam's focus. He was ready when the Red needed him. The architect of Cornell's last defense earned a 0.942 save percentage last weekend. His play in all games prior to the Colgate series warranted a 0.901 save percentage. Red skaters have bailed Gillam out when he has needed it. Gillam bailed them out Saturday to return the favor. Let's hope this dynamic continues. However, Gillam playing like Gillam is most desirable.
Someone should tell Jeff Kubiak that he has one more season left. The junior is playing like this is his senior campaign. He leads Cornell in points tallied and serves as the fulcrum of its emerging go-to line. It takes a calm leader to guide the fiery talents of freshmen like Angello and Vanderlaan. In Kubiak, Schafer has found a perfect buffer.
Jeff Kubiak serves as the heart of the Red's most productive line. How good is the trio of Angello, Kubiak, and Vanderlaan? Let's compare and contrast to learn. Carnelian and crimson are always intricately intertwined, right? Scoring in Cambridge was never going to be a problem this season. Never! Why? The Cantabs returned their entire top line unaltered. Commentators even dared to label the Vesey-Kerfoot-Criscuolo line as the anticipated best line in college hockey.
There is no way that a line of a junior who scored just two goals before this season and two freshmen could compete with the might of the mighty hyped of Harvard. People have begun meting out space and rearranging cabinets at Bright-Landry Hockey Center for Jimmy Vesey's inevitable Hobey. His line will be that good. So, more than one-fifth of the way through the regular season, how does the Vanderlaan-Kubiak-Angello line stack up against the Vesey-Kerfoot-Criscuolo line?
Vesey and the other guys have contributed seven goals for Harvard as a line. Constituent members of the dance card have varying contributions, but as a line, the three have been on the ice for seven goals. Seven goals. That is an impressive figure. That grouping averages more than one goal per game. Okay, let's check the statistics for Vanderlaan-Kubiak-Angello.
No. Wait. Let's recheck. That cannot be. How can it? The New Brunswick-Illinois-New York connection can not outproduce hype on ice. Yet, it does. Anthony Angello, Jeff Kubiak, and Mitch Vanderlaan have contributed eight goals for the Big Red. All of those goals were earned the hard way on even-strength hockey. The same cannot be said of the seven goals for Harvard's top line (as Ted Donato openly designates it, another way in which he falls short of the model of Coach Schafer). Two goals for Vesey's line came on the power play. One goal bested only an empty net.
The Vanderlaan-Kubiak-Angello conga doubles the even-strength output of the Crimson media-grabbers. The best element of that line is how it goes about its business with neither moments of selfishness nor flashes of entitlement. They play as a perfect foil to Harvard. In other words, they play hockey as Cornell should. Angello, Kubiak, and Vanderlaan bring a workmanlike attitude to every shift and every game. They play an honest, hard-hitting, and hard-working game well.
Something important happened over the weekend. Cornell swept an opponent including a victory at home. Cornell hockey owns the most fearsome home-ice advantage in college hockey. Such sweeps happen all the time, except when they do not. Before this season, Cornell had not swept a team with a home-stand victory in three years. Three seasons elapsed without a sweep involving a home victory. This season, Cornell owns two in the form of home-and-home sweeps against Niagara and Colgate. Both series tested the resolve of the 2015-16 team to begin and finish a series.
The Niagara series began with adversity. Cornell answered. The Red controlled the second contest. The Colgate series was the mirror image. Both series required an overtime game. Cornell found a way to guarantee a sweep in both. The fact that in these series the carnelian and white outscored their opponents nine to one at home hopefully bears a good omen. The postseason begins with a series. It ideally occurs at home. The twice proven ability of this team to close out a sweep involving a victory at home as well as the team's keen dominance at home give premature optimism about the future.
A long road lies ahead of these skaters and goaltenders before any meaningful conversations about the postseason can occur. In this way, the season resembles the game on Saturday. A long, twisting, and challenging road with ups and downs where only hard work can deliver the Red. Those ups and downs become the oscillating back of Ingalls Rink on Friday.