What if I told you ECAC Hockey's most offensively talented forward did not play on the league's most threatening line?
The storyline that the astute anticipated between Cornell and Harvard this season was between two freshmen: Anthony Angello and Ryan Donato. Both played junior hockey for the Omaha Lancers. Both kept their talents close to home to play for college hockey. Both distinctly represent the ethos of their respective program and university.
It is Angello who finds himself thrust into a far more intriguing narrative. The Central New Yorker's quarrel with the Harvard head coach's son can wait. Was Anthony Angello the Eastern flank of ECAC Hockey's most lethal line in the first semester?
Assistant coach Scott and Coach Schafer must have had other designs. It always comes down to Cornell and Harvard in one way or another, so how would the two Whitelaw Cup champions on Cornell's bench answer the challenge of a very hyped concoction of two parts senior, one part junior?
They entrusted the untested talents of two promising freshmen to junior pivot Jeff Kubiak. It paid dividends.
There wraps the subjective part of this piece for now. Time for the data. The Vesey-Kerfoot-Criscuolo line ("Hype") broke out this season as expected. The line put three goals on the Big Green in the first contest of the season. The story was going as time-saving journalists with half-written stories before print deadlines had written. The names of Vanderlaan, Kubiak, and Angello did not even appear sequentially on Coach Schafer's line chart for the Red's season opener.
The lag time in formally assembling the Vanderlaan-Kubiak-Angello line ("Hard Work") creates a considerable benefit for comparisons. Harvard played one fewer game than did Cornell in the first semester. Hype and Hard Work played in the same number of contests for the season's first semester. Both played in ten games.
Harvard's Hype factored in 15 goals in ten games. Cornell's Hard Work contributed to burying the puck into opponents's nets 11 times. The Crimson have the better line, right? Sometimes players are as good as expectations. That is likely the case in terms of Harvard's top line. However, at Cornell, where there is no top line, but there is a most prolific line, one needs to consider how the hyped talents of Cambridge, MA have driven those goals to create a reasonable comparison.
Reasonable fans and commentators can agree that despite some mishaps (thinking of you, Randy Wilson) the talent involved in scoring on an empty net is not substantial enough to lift a line from the category of reliable producer to best in the nation. Hype guided one empty-net tally in ten outings. What of power-play goals?
Power-play goals require considerably greater skill to score than do empty-net goals. The situation of a power play increases the likelihood of scoring for the advantaged team. The opportunism, strategy, vision, and, dare this writer say, skill involved in scoring on a power play are slightly less than that required to score on even strength.
Personnel choices affect comparing contribution rates when including power plays. A skater decides neither whether he plays on the power play nor with whom he plays on a power-play unit if he does play. A line that seldomly or never sees ice time on the power play cannot be penalized reasonably for having not scored on the power play because it is never afforded the opportunity. Likewise, when comparing lines, it is hardly equitable to allow a line to drive up its scoring totals by playing in an advantaged situation that its foil never enjoys.
Hype is the go-to power-play unit for the Crimson. Hard Work infrequently runs Coach Schafer's power play.
Power-play goals should be removed in the spirit of comparing likes to likes.
Suddenly, the production of the Vesey-Kerfoot-Criscuolo line takes upon a different appearance. The Crimson Hype's 15 contributed goals count seven power-play goals and one empty-net marker to its credits. Hype delivered only seven goals on even strength over the ten games of the first semester. The New Brunswick-Illinois-New York freight train benefits from one power-play goal over the ten games through which it raced assemble. Hard Work of the carnelian hue spurred its team with ten goals on even strength on as many games.
Superficial ledger reading sees Hype's production at 1.50 goals per game and Hard Work's rate at 1.10 goals per game. The Crimson's openly professed top line was not 26.7% more productive than was the most prolific line from East Hill. On even strength, when opponents's defensive systems were best drilled, Hard Work predictably outproduced Hype by 30.0%.
Harvard's top line factors when it is easiest. Greater than half of its goals came against either an unprotected net or a weakened opponent. Hype's even-strength production would not rank second on this Cornell team for offensive production.
Injuries plagued the Big Red during the first semester. Six line configurations saw action in three or more games over just ten contests. The Hype of the Bay State contributed on even strength less reliably than another line for the carnelian and white contributed overall. The work of the line of Christian Hilbrich, Jake Weidner, and Matt Buckles, a vintage line with its throwing back to when lines of Ontarians carried Cornell to glory, resulted in five goals in six games. Canadian Club contributed 0.83 goals per game compared to the 0.70 goals per game that Hype produced on even strength.
If one returns to the primary comparison, that between Hype and Hard Work, a few points remain. The top line of Harvard and the most prolific line of Cornell indistinguishably inspired four and three game-winning goals, respectively. The leading goal scorers for Harvard, Jimmy Vesey, and Cornell, Anthony Angello, both scored only one goal in the first semester without their associated linemates on the ice. The glaring reality remains that Hard Work is deadlier for longer stretches of game play than is Hype because few games resemble Cornell's game against Quinnipiac in November.
This argument does no discredit to Vesey, Kerfoot, and Criscuolo. The mere use of their play and style of a play as the bar by which a best line in ECAC Hockey can be determined speaks to their individual and collective skill. However, when faced with real opposition and unfavorable odds, Harvard's very talented and even more hyped top line was not Eastern hockey's Hanzō sword in the first semester.
Media, fans, and opponents (oh, how this writer hopes opponents) can disregard the reality that ECAC Hockey's deadliest line hailed from Upstate New York, not Massachusetts as expected. This contributor doubts that this Cornell team cares much. Like Jeff Kubiak working with his numbersake, Topher Scott, in the offseason to whet the edges of his game so that he was ready to balance his line as the unexpected rapier of ECAC Hockey, Cornell will focus on the grind.
Others can absorb the attention. This team understands that Cornell hockey is not about hype. It is not about individual attention. It is not about the elevation of one set of players above a team. It never has been.
It is about playing an impassioned pastime in a way that brings honor to their University.