[I]t’s easy for people to reach out when you’re having success. People are congratulating you...[Once things go the other way], those people go back into the woodwork.
The words were sufficiently pointed and powerful to change which piece that this particular writer drafted this week.
A crisis of culture seems to be afoot on East Hill. One of this team's determined leaders directly, and perhaps deservedly, challenged the loyalty of a faction of the Cornell hockey fanbase. I addressed such fair-weather fandom last season after The Game at Lynah Rink. No matter how embarrassing the loss was to Ohio State. True Lynah Faithful, not those of the face-timing variety, remain planted firmly outside of the thicket.
Yes, yes, I used that word again. Embarrassing. There is no contradiction between certain embarrassment with the effort of fellow Cornellians through two-thirds of their last game and agreeing with Knisley's sentiments that fans should support their program during the highs and lows. The creed of the Lynah Faithful is that carnelian-and-white gladiators are entitled to present support and the implicit hope that the next game will be better than the last, no matter how bad the previous result is. Cornell teams are not entitled to compliments, just like Cornell students are not. They are due support.
The metric for all of the writers at Where Angels Fear to Tread lays bare in a piece from last week. "[Cornell hockey] is about playing an impassioned pastime in a way that brings honor to their University." Whether one is a new initiand, Cornellian who remained Faithful since his days as a student, or someone born into the zealotry that is Cornell hockey, the sentiment should temper your approval or disapproval of a given effort, not the result.
The effort last Tuesday failed to bring such honor.
A disappointing outing does not excuse disloyalty. A collegiate fanbase should not expand and contract with real-time results. Its displeasure should be manifest in attendance. Attendance demands results at a program like that of Cornell. Lynah Rink has launched 14 postseason championships. The players live the expectations. They need an audience that exacts excellence from them. Attend games if you want results to improve. Express your dissatisfaction in disappointment.
No, I would not endorse the creation of an environment in which visiting teams would wonder with the reception that a floundering home team received if a Chickie's and Pete's had been installed in the eastern concourse of Lynah Rink. I advise strongly against that in fact. Do as the participants of Where Angels Fear to Tread did. Our emotions were stated clearly. We went nowhere. And, other than being momentarily swept up in the excitement of the Red giving Providence its first loss since last March, comments were equally divided and equally clear about our sentiments.
Do not flatter idly. Do not flee needlessly. Neither the thought of not supporting this team nor not attending the Merrimack series crossed my mind.
John Knisley, a loyal corps of the Lynah Faithful and we are not about to become part of the woodwork.
This team needs to reprove that it is deserving of exuberance, not loyalty.
Maybe all the texts and emails of congrats that we received on Monday night made us think we were invincible.
Why did that statement deliver so much hope? It differs so greatly from what Cornell's head coach said last season in far too frequent postgames. The keyword? We. Coach Schafer internalized and personalized the shortcomings of the team. He indicates that his leadership in guiding this team will adjust to provide the team with whichever push it needs after an apocalyptic hangover led to catastrophic second and third periods against the Buckeyes of Ohio State.
Loyalty, academic or familial, often requires telling people what they do not want to hear. So, out of loyalty to this team and the Lynah Faithful, here are several doses of reality. Grab a glass of water.
This is a new season. Cornell averages currently only 1.00 goals per game. The New Brunswick-Illinois-New York Express delivered the winner against the Friars. This kept the Red's most prolific line on pace with its "first-season" rate of one even-strength goal per game. Getting shut out in the next contest halved this production rate. Comparing likes to likes, Harvard's top line has upped its game to 1.25 even-strength goals per game since returning to action. This carnelian-and-white freight carrier may need to close the 150% deficit after outperforming Harvard's top line by 30% on even strength in the "first season" to stoke Cornell's success.
The need to get the Vanderlaan-Kubiak-Angello line and Canadian Club rolling again is paramount. After contributing an aggregate of 1.93 goals per game in the first semester, the two lines produced only 0.50 goals per game. What is most alarming? A Red team that once produced more than three goals per game gifted Christian Frey his first shutout in a three-year career. Frey averaged surrendering nearly as many goal as Cornell was accustomed to scoring.
A sliver of hope, like a sunbeam, cuts through the darkness of last Tuesday's contest to the present. Returners to the line-up added new life. The most obvious example is the magic that Eric Freschi and Jared Fiegl worked to know the contest against Providence. Fiegl missed both contests against the North Country. He returned and sank a goal reminiscent of his preseason performances last season. Freschi, well, the Minnesotan played as the Lynah Faithful expect when he finds his way onto the scoring sheet. He kills penalties and grinds out opponents, but when he aids in scoring, he is clutch.
Coach Schafer's elected to begin Cornell's bid to defeated the undefeated with Jared Fiegl, Eric Freschi, and Teemu Tiitinen. It symbolized a tremendous vote of confidence. Providence scored 27 seconds later. Fiegl, Freschi, and Tiitinen redeemed themselves. They restarted the game. They gave their team a chance to win. Faith was not misplaced.
It was not only Cornell's starting line against Providence that showed great potential in this new season. Brendan Smith began to impress. After shaking off the early jitters of wearing the carnelian-and-white sweater for his first time against Clarkson, Smith seemed poised against Providence in every situation. His reliability, already impressive, seems to be improving and after only one game of playing like a freshman, he fits nearly seamlessly alongside veterans like Patrick McCarron, Dan Wedman, and Reece Willcox.
At long last, Dwyer Tschantz returned. Return he did. The sophomore forward registered neither a goal nor an assist. One saw as soon as his blades cut the ice that his game was on the brink of being where he hoped it would be last season. He is averaging only one shot per game. Expect none of those totals to remain zero or so low for long. Last season, Tschantz appeared to play somewhat with the shaken self-assurance of playing through injury as a freshman. He still led his class in goals-per-game production last season. Tschantz will continue to play with a vengeance with injury hopefully behind him.
The whetted skills of Freschi, Fiegl, Tiitinen (it seems like this contributor never ceases to mention him), and Tschantz should allow Cornell to find more easily its scoring touch with more weapons. Other changes will need to be made to return a robust offense to East Hill. The Red insists on scoring the hard way. Cornell's power play, in bygone seasons known as the pride of Coach Schafer, has been poor at times and horrible at others at the close of "last season" and the opening of "this season."
When did Cornell last score a power-play goal? No, this is not a trick question to reinforce the mindset that the first semester was another season. Really, when did the Big Red last celebrate a power-play goal?
If your answer was Red Hot Hockey V, you are right. Remember that goal? Cornell has played four complete games since then without finding the back of the net with the man advantage. Cornell has failed to convert on 16 consecutive opportunities. The haphazard, no-rhyme-or-reason approach needs to end.
Against Providence, only Cornell's first power-play opportunity managed to gain the zone for any amount of time and try to generate the mismatch off of cycling for an open shooting lane. The other three opportunities were equally fruitless but appeared exceedingly clueless. Cornell, its personnel and coaching staff, can do this. The Red ripped open the Bobcats of Hamden on the power play with three man advantage goals after Quinnipiac had allowed none through seven games. Rand Pecknold's penalty kill still sits among the nation's top three. Solving this problem will prevent fears of a scoring strain.
The Warriors of Merrimack may be the perfect opponent for Cornell to find its scoring touch when it outnumbers its foe. Merrimack's penalty-killing efficiency of 80.8% resembles the current rates of the penalty-killing units at Colgate and Princeton. The bad news? Cornell combined for only one power-play goal against either opponent in three games.
Whether the Warriors will present the opportunity for the Red to finds its power-play edge is unknown. What is known is that Merrimack presents the right test at the right time. Cornell lost to Ohio State because it did not respect its opponent. The Buckeyes had few wins and fewer championships. The carnelian and white took for granted that it could glide past their Midwestern challengers.
Merrimack is not a blue blood of college hockey. Misguided arrogance could lead members of this Cornell team to overlook the Warriors of Massachusetts. The temptation is great. Succumbing to it will damn the Red.
This team needs to prove that it has learned to respect its opponents. If it has not already, hopefully this series will serve as an invaluable learning experiences. Imagine if Cornell were to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, what would happen if it met a program of less acclaim? Say, randomly, of course, a Bemidji State or Ferris State. It is better to learn now than later.
A frontier ethos that would make Frederick Jackson Turner proud distinguishes Cornell University from its Ivy League counterparts. This ethic demands rugged individualism. Resolve and perseverance, like that to return early from injury, are the hallmarks of a Cornellian. Those of this anima, like I am sure the Pittsford native who inspired this angle, want to earn respect and deserve success, not be given them devoid of merit.
Hours from now, this contributor will be bound for "the woodwork." Captain John Knisley's choice of preposition will inaccurately describe the setting of this writer. This contributor, like fans, students, and alumni, will be headed onto the woodwork; the woodwork of the lacquered benches at Lynah Rink. We will be there. The burden of prepositional or verbal changes belongs to the team. This team decides if we remain seated on, stand upon, or leap above the woodwork in ecstasy.