What cliches can one rely on when discussing a captain whose demeanor seems less captured in the poetry of Walt Whitman than the rhymes of Marshall Mathers? That's not to diminish John McCarron's role as an academic. One need only read his information on twitter to see that he emphasizes the scholarly aspects of being a student-athlete as much as the athletic element. However, John McCarron is an emotional, sometimes in-your-face forward and leader of the Cornell hockey team.
John McCarron came to Cornell from the USHL. McCarron earned a reputation as a sincere and grinding forward for the Lincoln Stars who was unafraid to tangle with players to motivate or defend his teammates. Schafer and his staff no doubt appreciated that attribute in the future captain when they recruited him. They knew that they would need to focus those tendencies toward productive ends.
McCarron made it known early that he was unafraid to tangle with the best in the league: whether that be in defense of his teammates, or outmaneuvering and outperforming some of the best forwards in the nation. As a freshman, he scored his first career goal against Colorado College at formidable World Arena. The goal was the game-winning tally. He would pour two more assists into his column the next evening.
The freshman’s real knack for leadership became apparent at the press conference before Cornell’s appearance in the 2012 NCAA Regional Semifinal. The media in Green Bay, WS was intrigued by the spectacle of a native Michigander playing for a team from Upstate New York against the flagship university of his home state. John McCarron fielded the questions with ease. He quipped that his family sided with Michigan State in the historic intrastate feud, so it would be no problem for him to revel in dismantling the Wolverines.
Revel he did. In a now-legendary contest, Cornell fell down one goal early. Cornell had regained its footing but had not clawed onto the scoreboard. Sean Collins and John McCarron rushed down on the maize zone with most defense committed to high-scoring Collins. The senior flipped the puck over to McCarron who corralled it on his stick and unleashed a blast of a shot from the wing. The sophomore bested Shawn Hunwick and began Cornell’s unforgettable rally.
As a sophomore, John McCarron showed great chemistry on a line with John Esposito and Cole Bardreau. The dynamic between McCarron and the lattermost was keenly apparent from their first shift on the ice together against Colorado College. When a violent hit ended Cole Bardreau’s season, it was McCarron who tallied the goal scored on the resulting major penalty.
McCarron left an indelible mark on the Pioneers of the Mountain Timezone. Questionable officiating in Cornell’s second game against Denver at Magness Arena resulted in a chippy game between the Big Red and the Pioneers. The hallmark of the series was that WCHA officials meted out major penalties to two of Cornell’s least penalized players. The second game was particularly lopsided, as Cornell seemed poised to defeat the Pioneer. Cornell kept pace with the Pioneers in scoring while killing off 17 minutes of penalties. In the first period.
Frustration on the parts of both teams resulted and the officials lost control of the game. These frustrations gave way to post-game antics in which Cornell was assessed all of the after-the-whistle penalties. John McCarron initially received 15 minutes of penalties after the whistle for use of “obscene language.” McCarron merely stated the truth. He informed the officials that they had created the post-game fracas with losing control of the game. The future captain showed no fear in stating his mind.
Necessary changes to Cornell’s line-up undoubtedly stunted McCarron’s offensive production during his sophomore season. He could no longer play with Bardreau on a line. Mowrey, Esposito, and McCarron played well together down the stretch to the playoffs, but the intangible flow in play between Bardreau and McCarron could not return for the remainder of the season.
What to Expect
John McCarron is the right captain for this Cornell team. This is a pivotal era in Cornell hockey. No one should mistake that. The proverbial ball is in Cornell’s court to rebut the bids of Union and Yale to become the dominant forces in the ECAC. The task will fall to John McCarron and Mike Schafer to ensure that the 98th team to represent Cornell understands that institutional pride and integrity is easily at stake this season.
The last time that a fellow ECAC team won the national championship marked an inflection point in Cornell hockey history. RPI won in 1985. Cornell rebutted the next season with its seventh ECAC Championship in 1986. Harvard became a national champion in 1989. Cornell did not respond the next season.
The 1989-90 season saw Brian McCutcheon begin his third season and Casey Jones captain his team to a showing in the 1990 ECAC Championship Semifinals. The duo did not do what Cornell needed. A championship banner would not hang after archrival Harvard broke through. Cornell slid into a near-decade of dormancy. Cornell graduated six classes that did not win a tournament championship following that season. It was the longest such drought in Cornell hockey history.
Leadership is what could have prevented such a slide; fiery, determined, and motivating leadership. That is what John McCarron provides; a constant, burning passion for his program and winning. Cole Bardreau is the inspirational speaker or the jolt of energy during a shift. Andy Iles leads by his unwavering example. John McCarron is the stern and demanding leader that lies somewhere between the extremes. The trio has the right chemistry to achieve the goals on which the 2013-14 team has set its sights.
Some detractors have used terms like “bruising” as pejoratives for the way that John McCarron has approached or will approach his game. These reductionists who seem to get their opinions from perusing the columns of college hockey stats rather than watching a game miss the style that McCarron plays.
Is he physical? He is a Michigan native who plays on a line with Upstate New Yorker Cole Bardreau, what do you think? McCarron plays on a line whose role is not only to grind opponents down but to be opportunistic when it does. McCarron has the grit to wear down opponents and the hands to make them pay. While some lines may be more decidedly grind-oriented, McCarron’s lines typically play a genuine and physical game, typical of Cornell hockey, with a wide-open flare that puts the puck in the back of the net. Reducing The Captain’s game to punishing checks is inaccurate.
McCarron never has ranked lower than seventh in terms of point production. The Captain recorded 19 points in each season with goals contributing six and seven of those points in his freshman and sophomore seasons respectively. His scoring usually begins in the second half of the season. Look for that to change.
This writer thinks that the C on his chest will motivate John McCarron to tickle the twine far earlier in the season and slightly more often. He will remain among the top-five or top-six scorers on the team while guiding the team through a very important season.
Shall we address the elephant in the room? John McCarron was the most penalized player on the Cornell roster last season. Some outside of the Cornell hockey establishment view it as jaw-dropping that the wearers of the carnelian and white would choose such a player to lead them. A statistic cannot be viewed out of context.
Approximately 36% of those penalty minutes came over two games. The first such game was game two against Denver at Magness Arena when McCarron was on the receiving end of 15 of Cornell’s 40 after-the-whistle penalty minutes. The second game was Cornell’s game at Cheel Arena. An unpenalized and violent hit on Kirill Gotovets, which resulted in injury, led to John McCarron standing up for his teammate. He sent the message in the North Country that Cornell would not tolerate cheap and dangerous hits on its players. His choice to hold one of the Golden Knights accountable resulted in his being whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct.
No one considers Brian Ferlin an undisciplined, bruising player, nor should they. However, if one removes just those two games from McCarron’s statistics last season, Ferlin and McCarron have identical levels of penalization in terms of minutes. Furthermore, Cornell choosing players as captain who have ranked highly in terms of penalty minutes during their prior season is a veritable tradition.
The comparisons of John McCarron to Mike Schafer are common. They are appropriate. Mike Schafer was a dynamic and passionate leader, much like John McCarron will be. Schafer was the second-most penalized player during his sophomore season; the season before he wore the C as a junior. These comparisons are far from unique for Cornell captains.
Dan Lodboa who wore the C and 14 for Cornell during its perfect 1969-70 season was one season removed from being the most penalized member of the Big Red’s 1968-69 squad. Doug Murray sat in the penalty box for one hour and seven minutes during the course of the 2001-02 season. A few months later he captained the winningest team in Cornell hockey history and led them to the 2003 Frozen Four.
Leaders like Lodboa, Schafer, and Murray are not afraid to fight for what they believe in. They are not afraid to defend their teams. It is for these reasons that they inspire great achievement. John McCarron's taking the reins after being the most penalized player on Cornell’s team should give the Lynah Faithful hope. Past holders of a supposedly dubious title have led Cornell to greatness in subsequent seasons. McCarron plans to do the same.
A Look Back
Cornell players who wore 14 are among the greatest in Cornell hockey history. Dan Lodboa stands as a player overshadowed by no other wearer of the number to date. Lodboa scored a hat trick in the 1970 national-title contest, was selected as the most valuable player of the 1970 NCAA Tournament, and led Cornell through a perfect season. His name should be ingrained in the minds of all of the Lynah Faithful. It is another wearer of 14 who helped Cornell achieve greatness who is more easily overlooked because of the stature that one of his teammates has gained.
Few members of the Lynah Faithful forget that Mike Schafer was captain of his senior team that won the 1986 ECAC Tournament. How many can name the other two captains of that team? The answer is Duanne Moeser and Peter Natyshak. The latter wore 14 as his teammates and he guided one of the most dynamic teams in Cornell hockey history to playoff glory.
Lou Reycroft and his captains including Peter Natyshak were determined to return to Boston Garden. Getting to Boston Garden was a principal goal of the season. Then, Cornell hoped that its flash of scoring and demolishing defense would deliver the historic crown of the East to Lynah Rink.
Over Natyshak’s career, his point totals exploded. The Oakville, ON native notched a mere 29 points over his first two seasons. His point production rose to 44 points in his junior season and 51 points in his senior season. Score lines never tell the full story of a player and his leadership.
The importance of a player is captured best in the words of his peers. A season after Natyshak graduated, then-captain Joe Nieuwendyk commented, “as the season went on, we began to realize the importance of Moeser, Natyshak and Schafer. Those guys were good players but they also showed leadership off the ice.” Peter Natyshak led his team both on and off the ice. The goals for his Cornell players were not limited to those in the rink. They included those in the classroom.
Furthermore, Cornell’s ultimate success in the 1985-86 season rested on Peter Natyshak’s ability to inspire his teammate to greatness. Natyshak received the Mark Weiss Award at the end of his senior campaign. The award is given to the player who exemplifies the determination and passion that the late Mark Weiss had for life and the sport of hockey. Wearers of 14 have come to embody those principles.
McCarron, like Natyshak and other wearers of 14, will find ways to ignite the passions of his team throughout the season. Wearers of 14 do not accept failure. John McCarron will not accept failure and will use his refined skating, scoring touch, and physicality to give his team the edge it needs when it needs it to win. McCarron is The Captain. The fiery junior is what Cornell needs this season. The Captain realizes that the season’s too short not to go for broke.