The legacy of Rodger Craig at Cornell will be an interesting one. What can one write about a grueling physical forward who intimidates opponents and wears down defenders, but finds the back of the net in the most pivotal games of his career? He is solely neither a finesse goal scorer nor a punishing forechecking opportunity creator. He can be both. He keeps his feet planted firmly in both camps. This acrobatic positioning is aided by his 6'5" frame.
Craig, or as Schafer calls him Rodge, played 24 games of the 34 games that Cornell played in his freshman season. Most of the Lynah Faithful expected the typical arsenal out of the towering Craig. They anticipated Rodger Craig as the strong power forward who would establish a screen while a more finesse-savvy forward or defenseman wristed the puck into the net. Perhaps they thought Craig would collect a few points off of redirections. Such anticipation would tell but a small part of the story and far less than the most memorable elements of Craig's game.
As a freshman, Craig found the back of the net in his second outing with the Big Red. He scored the then-equalizing goal against RIT. Cornell would go on to lose the game, but glimmers of Craig's oft-ignored scoring potential began to show through his other physical penchants. Craig tallied two more goals and garnered assists on his first season. This was in addition to his indefatigable punishing of other teams as he grounded them down for Cornell's subsequent scoring opportunities.
Ask anyone who has watched Cornell hockey over the last two seasons how Rodger Craig played in his sophomore season. Two goals cannot be far from any fan's mind. As a sophomore, Craig scored two points all season. They were a result of goals. Both were game-winning markers. They came in the two most pivotal games of the season.
Cornell's hopes of a second-life in the 2012 NCAA Tournament if it did not win the Whitelaw Cup rested on boosting the Big Red's pairwise rating. Cornell stripped three points from Colorado College and fell in a closely played, but controversial, game against Boston University. However, the game that would prove most valuable to pushing Cornell into the national postseason was against in-conference opponent Union College. The game was one of the loudest contests at Lynah Rink in recent memory. Cornell and Union exchanged blows. It was Rodger Craig who would play the hero.
Craig found an opening in the second half of the third period. Sean Whitney connected with him on a long pass to center ice. Craig's unexpected, but undeniable, speed and agility bested Dutchmen defenders. Craig unleashed a shot from the left wing that threaded the needle between Troy Grosenick's blocker and the post. The Union netminder was not in time as he slid across the crease. Lynah erupted as Rodger Craig celebrated his first of two goals on the season.
Giant slayer is a title apropos of Rodger Craig. He warrants the appellation after his performance in his one trip to the NCAA Tournament. Craig ensured throughout the game that the hubristic Wolverines could not intimidate Cornell in the physical game of the contest. He showed no signs of letting Cornell hockey wither in the face of a fellow elite program.
Overtime was an entirely different story. Dustin Mowrey, Greg Miller, and Rodger Craig broke out on Shawn Hunwick. Michigan had little defense committed back. The former two took their chances. The task was left to Craig. The puck bounced off of Hunwick's pads onto the blade of Craig's stick. Effortlessly, Craig flipped the puck into Hunwick's empty net slaying what many believed to be Michigan's best team since 1997. The most significant Cornell postseason victory of the last decade can be attributed directly to a Rodger Craig goal.
Craig played only 24 games during his junior season. He would not contribute any of the history-making goals that had become the hallmark of his play during his sophomore season. Nonetheless, his physical role and play was essential to Cornell's success over the season. Craig played an integral part in many of Cornell's winning efforts even though he did not add the flair that he had the previous season.
What to Expect
Rodger Craig will continue to play the role of disciplined but physical forward. He will block goaltenders and create openings for teammates. He will do all the little things that he has done well. Craig is a role player who delivers on a moment's notice, even in the middle of a shift. His skill from his performances in his sophomore season are not long gone.
It seemed amiss that Craig never found himself on the score sheet. This writer doubts very much that such a trend will continue. Rodger Craig is unlikely to play a pure goal scorers game, but that is great for Cornell. He does the things that smaller, speedier forwards cannot while adding a turn of speed and puck placement not expected of someone who plays such a dominating physical game regularly. Expect Rodger Craig to return to his sparing scoring form on occasion while playing the big game that the team needs.
If Cornell earns a berth to the NCAA Tournament, expect Rodger Craig to be a contributor to a key part of the Big Red's run. Cornell had few big-stage games at the end of last season while Craig had even fewer with unknown reasons keeping him out of two games during Cornell's postseason run. Rodger Craig has a knack for contributing in big games on big stages, so expect him to join in on the fun when those games present themselves in the regular season and as his senior class seeks its first tournament championship.
A Look Back
The glare of some of the gaudy statistics of number-15 wearers at Cornell masks the achievements of many others who wore the sweater. The achievements of Steve Giuliani or Colin Greening fall easily into that category. What of a phenomenal and decorated player who never happened to win a championship at Cornell? He should not be forgotten.
Randy MacFarlane arrived at Cornell for the 1981-82 season. He was a talented, albeit somewhat diminutive forward compared to the norm of the current era. His first season he would tally a respectable, but unintimidating, five points over the season. Cornell would change coaches from two-time champion Dick Bertrand who had served 11 years to new head coach Lou Reycroft after Randy MacFarlane's first season.
During Reycroft's first season, MacFarlane would increase his point production to 13 points on the season, but he would still rank eighth on the 1982-83 team in terms of offensive production. His junior season would see new talents such as sophomores Duane Moeser, Peter Natyshak, and Mike Schafer pass him on the scoring charts while MacFarlane's point production dipped to six points over the season. His scoring would witness an uptick to 15 points in his final season in carnelian and white.
What was noteworthy about Randy MacFarlane? To observers, it was his skating and playing ability. He approached the game with fine-tuned fundamentals and good hands. He may not have found the back of the net as often as others on his team but the honed skill with which he challenged for tallies and connected with teammates was unlike many other more prolific scorers on his teams. Furthermore, MacFarlane served as a captain during his sophomore junior seasons. The teams he captained may not have made the playoffs, but it laid the foundation for playoff success in the not-too-distant future.
Cornell made the 1985 ECAC Tournament. It was Randy MacFarlane's final season at Cornell. It was his first trip to the playoffs. Cornell hosted Yale in the ECAC Quarterfinals. MacFarlane contributed an assist as Cornell tamed the Bulldogs 9-2 in the first game of the series. He would do much more the next evening. Randy MacFarlane scored the game-winning goal that sent Cornell to Boston Garden for the first time in four years. Cornell would wait another year for a championship, but Randy MacFarlane contributed greatly to the program's efforts over his four-year career.
Randy MacFarlane was honored with postseason awards after three of his four seasons. As a freshman, he was honored with the Bill Doran Sportsmanship Award. He would be twice honored with that award. Randy MacFarlane received it again after his junior season. The award he received at the conclusion of his senior season best captures how Randy MacFarlane's career resembles the career of Rodger Craig in some ways. MacFarlane received the Cornell Hockey Association Award in 1985 as the player who displayed enthusiasm, dedication, desire, and unselfish willingness to give his team an extra ounce of energy. Craig honors this legacy because in small spans of time he delivers what his teammate