"…pure focus, commitment and sheer will"
Reader, you might find yourself asking aloud, “how can advancing in three rather than two contests be advantageous?” Well, to you, this contributor says, did you watch last Friday’s game? Cornell clearly was not playing in that contest. It took Friday off and played only on Saturday and Sunday. I kid, I kid. Mostly.
The rest is now history. This team defended Lynah’s hallowed playoff ice with the home team’s 34th post-season series victory. Coach Schafer mashed a fruit of his coaching tree. The Red won with its back against the wall in patient fashion. Real senior night occurred on a Sunday evening.
Cornell will participate in its 37th Eastern championship weekend. ECAC Hockey got the semifinal of its dreams.
There are two ways to win a college-hockey series in three games. Option one is to win game one, surrender game two, and win game three. Option two is to forfeit game one and win out the series’s remainder. The former builds no momentum. It also creates little urgency. The team could remain an oscillating tempest of inconsistencies.
Winning two games in sequence when each serves as a de facto single-elimination game from playoff glory requires far sterner stuff in the traveler. Momentum must be built and not seized in this case. The benefit of possessing already the credit of a game won to leverage later is unavailable. Everything must be earned in the present.
Cornell played itself into this mindset last Friday. It ensured that its next loss would jettison this team from the ECAC Hockey tournament and end its pursuit of a Whitelaw Cup. Cornell did not play either of its last two games with the benefit of tomorrow’s promise. Value therein lies.
The Red will begin every contest in the post-season as it did on Saturday night: knowing that if it delivers less than its best, it will be its last chance to advance toward associated championship glory. The same stakes will accompany every game that the members of this team play and the journey on which they take the Lynah Faithful.
These stakes loomed like banners hung above the ice on Saturday and Sunday. The astounding thing was how this team played its methodical, calculated, and cold-blooded style of hockey nearly faultlessly with knowing the task. On Friday, the Golden Knights ought to have chartered the Mystery Machine for how they unmasked the fraudulent ghoul that they faced. Carnelian and white became Baba Yaga and showed no mercy on Saturday and Sunday.
Like the emblematic John Wick, this team had to return to workin’ from a state of grave despair.
If journalism is the first draft of history, then social media and blogging now chisel the first lines of legend. If this team lifts the Whitelaw Cup, Frozen-Four trophy, or both, the moment historically identified as the beginning of the run occurred in the first half of the first period of game two of the 2017 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal.
Jake Weidner leapt to snag the puck out of the air along the blue line. The captain connected with fellow senior Eric Freschi who sent the puck across ice. This contributor’s call for an offensive defenseman to lead this team as was the championship tradition of Cornell hockey since Frank Crassweller in 1911 did not go to voicemail. Paddy answered with an unstoppable snipe from the blue line making good on Freschi’s disorientation of Clarkson’s defenses.
Everything changed then. The improvisation and teamwork of seniors gave Cornell its first lead of the series. It was the fitting beginning to a series rally. Cornell did not need to score first as it proved the next day. However, its scoring first altered the course of the series. The seniors saved the series.
The last two hours of play during the 2017 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal demonstrated exactly how Cornell hockey wins. The team trusted in itself to a player. A simpler team would allow the fear of elimination give rise to frenetic play that would eviscerate a season each shift. The members of this team played confidently, believing in themselves and each other, on Saturday and Sunday.
Clarkson’s scoring the first goal did not unravel these carnelian champions. Cornell answered in little over two minutes. The Red was contented defending leads while responsibly challenging Clarkson. It was a complementary balance of give and take. Cornell capitalized when it needed on the opportunities presented. Clarkson presented few.
The Ithacans did leave a handful of goals on their home ice. The peskiness of the Golden Knights cannot be ignored, but if this team hopes to go yard on the shot that Mitch Gillam called before the season turned to Schenectady, it will need to convert the promise of what it generated into capitalized results. Too many shots from the slot were directed wide. Too many breakaways led to gasps rather than taunts. Too much hesitation closed once-open lanes.
These deficiencies would have sent a lesser team to the locker room for a week of rest and anxious hope. This team is neither simple nor less. It is Cornellian in its character. Cornellians deliver in the clutch, when it matters most, when it is the proverbial or actual playoffs. They often do this after putting much unneeded drama in the tale to historic achievements. It is perhaps the demure arrogance or youthful brazenness of our University that causes these lapses. It remains archetypally Cornellian to dare greatly, often overthinking or second guessing, and to fall from grace. However, with swelling pride, whether it is in college admissions, prelims and final exams, professional licensing exams, graduate studies, employment opportunities, or college-hockey playoffs, Cornellians will deliver like none of their predecessors. They rarely need more than a second chance.
This weekend marks these seniors’ second kick at ECAC Hockey’s championship weekend.
Union reached Friday’s semifinal contest against Cornell in the fashion that many expected. Mike Vecchione scored a scripted overtime game winner to send the Dutchmen to Lake Placid. Oh, as if that storyline needed a more dramatic flourish, the winner was scored off of a penalty shot awarded to Union’s hero. Cornell and Union won in the ways that one would expect of their teams this season.
ECAC Hockey’s Baba Yaga embodied pure focus, commitment, and sheer will in its patient grappling with Clarkson over the two games that it played against its first playoff opponent. Clarkson held sway at times over that run. Cornell never lost control. It relied on discipline and focus. It lacked some of the thrills of the semifinal gun fu classic, but the determination of our hero was no different.
The determined standpoints of Cornell were not necessarily those that leap from the series’s box scores. Noah Bauld was a nuisance and pest in generating offense despite not registering a point. Eric Freschi and Jared Fiegl were the woad warriors with their omnipresent threats in the blue paint. Jeff Malott, previously handled as “Ffej,” did what he could to tilt the ice toward Clarkson and was rewarded mightily with Saturday’s crucial game-tying goal.
Luc Lalor failed to stand out which was a good thing for a skater who made no major missteps appearing in just his fifth and sixth games of his career in the crucible of the playoffs. Cornell’s power play cycled with moments of brilliance each time that it was called into service in the last 120 minutes of it series.
Noteworthy was the play of Yanni Kaldis who played all weekend with the form that the Lynah Faithful attributed to him most of the season. Anthony Angello’s point in every game of the series and two goals indicate that the sophomore is hitting his first-half stride from last season at the season’s most pivotal time.
Mitch Gillam proved beyond a doubt that he is ready to win as a Cornell goaltender in his senior season. Gillam defied the laws of logic and physics with several of his saves last weekend. This criminality will need to continue if Cornell wants to double dip on playoff glory. The senior netminder showed no signs of slowing down.
Union advanced with little hiccups in a predictable fashion. The Dutchmen scored eight goals over their series. Only four of Union’s skaters deposited the puck behind Colton Phinney. Mike Vecchione rifled nearly 40% of Union’s salvos. Spencer Foo contributed one quarter of the Dutchmen’s offensive output against Princeton.
Cornell played as Cornell does. Five different skaters for the Red recorded a goal in its quarterfinal series. The carnelian and white scored two fewer goals than did Union, but it did so with more players finding the back of the net. The Red attack remained lethal and multifaceted. Union’s front proved pointed and potent. Predictable.
Cornell and Union have written the greatest emergent rivalry over the last seven years. The programs are equal. Their coaches are bound for lists of all-time greats. The teams play their similar but respective styles unapologetically and with few mistakes. Garnet and Red have clashed five times in the last seven post-seasons.
The seniors on the ice Friday night will have played this series in every post-season of their careers. The legacies of the seniors at both institutions is interwoven forever. Mike Vecchione returned to Union College for his senior season to elevate its hockey program to its level when he joined the program. This alone indicates why he is one of the best in college hockey. That lofty target on which he has trained correlates to Union’s possessing only the second run of winning three consecutive Whitelaw Cups of current members of ECAC Hockey.
Cornell is the possessor of the other run. Oh, the Red won four that time too. Vecchione’s ambitions run afoul of those of this senior class at Cornell University. Cornell’s seniors have not wavered in seeking to uphold the traditions of Cornell hockey since they faithfully committed to the University and program. They lack presently a rite of passage for Red skaters: a Whitelaw Cup to call their own. They return for that goal.
This senior class in carnelian has had one heck of a run. Last weekend, they righted the wrong of a game-two quarterfinal loss in their freshman campaign against the same opponent. They did it their own way. They nonetheless got a sweep. This writer was disappointed at times, but emerged proud. Poignant history is again in play Friday.
The lake below the Olympic Center will cut as a plane through this senior class’ legacy. It will bisect the careers of these seniors between their sophomore and junior seasons. This plane, much like the lake, may stand as a mirror.
These seniors ended their freshman season with a semifinal loss to Union. They ended their sophomore seasons with a first-round sweep at the hands of Union. They repaid the favor a year later with ending the Dutchmen at Lynah Rink in a sweep. Their sophomore and junior seasons mirrored each other.
Will the reflection continue? Can this senior class close this saga with a semifinal victory over Union? Will their careers come full circle?
A moment unnoticed to many made this contributor realize that this team knows that it has the potential for greatness. Players from Clarkson tried to goad several players into fisticuffs on Sunday to draw the Red into foolish penalties. Even Cornell’s most pugnacious members did not bite. Beau Starrett noticeably laughed off such an invitation in the second period.
This team did not need to become mired in the pettiness of the moment. It knows that it has better things, bigger things to do. Cornell draped in carnelian went to Union on Friday, February 3 in search of a signature win. It got it. Why stop there? It seeks the first letter of a signature season on Friday against those same Dutchmen.