The Princeton game was nearly everything that a fan or member of the Faithful could hope for. The building roared. At times it lulled, but when captain John McCarron and his squad needed to be lifted, it was the assemblage of devoted hockey parishioners in Central New York who provided the needed boost.
Cornell challenged early, but in predictable fashion, the Big Red struck first on the power play. The golden boy of Nassau Hall was called for hooking to give Cornell the man advantage. The combination of Joel Lowry, Brian Ferlin, Dustin Mowrey, and John McCarron proved dangerous. As if there can be any doubt with those combinations. Ferlin maneuvered with his unique skating style. He connected across ice to Joel Lowry. The relay of passes was not over as Lowry flicked the puck to John McCarron just feet from the crease who backhanded the puck past Bonar into the back of the net.
The Captain made the environment electric and ecstatic. Many must have thought that this is what it is like to win at Lynah Rink wearing the carnelian and white. John McCarron would continue to do the little things phenomenally well. He forced turnovers, found open men for goals later in the game, and played a responsibly physical game along the corners. Schafer and the ghost of Harkness were pleased.
The second Red tally of the evening came off of a John-McCarron assist. In a scrum in front of the net, sophomore Christian Hilbrich controlled a loose puck and deposited in into Princeton's net. A few moments later, some in attendance may have thought the sweepstakes that WAFT mentioned in its preview was answered. It appeared that Jake Weidner had re-directed a puck into the Princeton net. But, upon further review, it was Brian Ferlin's on-target shot from behind the net that caught Bonar's equipment and landed in the back of the net.
Having his former linemate notch a tally enlivened Lowry who would tally Cornell's final goal. Christian Hilbrich broke out on a quasi-breakaway with Joel Lowry in pursuit. Hilbrich would lose the handle, but Bonar was unable to stop the puck, and few can stop the skills of an onrushing Joel Lowry with a puck laying free in the crease. Lowry did what he does best and put a loose puck down low into the back of the net.
Princeton would record two goals by the end of the contest. It was disappointing not to preserve Iles' shutout. The Ithacan netminder deserved one for his heroic efforts. Cornell allowed two goals to get by its netminder. However, the team and its iron goaltender did more than enough to win the contest. The score may seem close on reflection, but the game itself was not. Cornell dominated all facets of the game from an early stage.
Cornell's efforts included killing off two five-on-three opportunities for Princeton during the second period. Then, after a pile-up in front of Cornell's net, the officiating crew awarded a penalty shot. It was the second that Andy Iles had faced in three games. And, true to any script that could have been written, it was Andrew Calof who took the puck at center ice to challenge Iles. The crowd, filled with fans, family, alumni, and students, cheered of their support for Iles as he loosened up for the challenge. When Calof began skating, the Faithful let him know that he was overrated. True to form, Iles stifled Calof's attempt. And the parting praise of the Lynah Faithful informed Calof that, as he proved, he "just sucks."
The steely, gritty determination to score goals and kill penalties that was there Friday evening evaporated for entire portions of Cornell's contest on Saturday. Quinnipiac came onto the ice Saturday slightly dazed. Cornell obliterated them. Cornell outraced them. Cornell outhit them. The game was Cornell's for the taking. It was perfect execution in almost all regards. Cornell's defense gave Quinnipiac neither time nor space.
Then, the Bobcats handed Cornell the dagger to plunge into their hearts: three consecutive power plays. A reasonable observer would assume that this was when Cornell would bury Quinnipiac. Taking penalties against Cornell at Lynah Rink with the Big Red's power-play unit clicking on all cylinders with a middling goaltender at Quinnipiac's end of the ice seemed like a death wish. That is, until it wasn't.
Cornell squandered three power-play opportunities in the first period alone. This is not counting the two or three ideal opportunities that Red skaters did not convert on even strength. The game could have and should have been put away in the first period. The captains and Schafer invoke the Cornell teams of the 2000s as models of their efforts. Those teams would have buried Quinnipiac under three or four goals in the first period.
I am not sure which coach of the Bobcats speaks to them in the locker room, but whatever he said, Quinnipiac came to play sound hockey in the second and third periods. The Bobcats endured two Cornell power-play opportunities. Cornell would not convert. A mess of roughing activity led to Cornell having two of its skaters sent from the ice to Quinnipiac's one. The Bobcats converted on the resulting power play.
Cornell did not unravel, it deserves credit for that, it still fought back, but the lack of an ability to convert became more exaggerated as time continue. On power plays, some leaders of the team would miss the puck when cycling. The Bobcats were on their heels and then a Red skater would allow the puck to leave the zone.
Quinnipiac would score a second goal off of an obvious penalty on John Knisley that produced an odd-man rush. The penalty would go uncalled and the Bobcats would convert. Matthew Peca would tally his first goal of the season to add insult to injury.
That was the final margin. 3-0. It was Cornell's first loss of the season. When did Cornell lose the game?
The answer to that question will be an unpopular one. The skaters for the carnelian and white lost the contest to Quinnipiac before they even laced up their skates. It is apparent in the mental lapses that were visible even early in the contest. Cornell seemed reluctant to pull the trigger to tame the Bobcats in the first period. Several players missed open nets on rushes. These are not mistakes of mechanics and they were not caused from Quinnipiac's defense that was far from stifling in the first period. They were mistakes of psychology.
Every player who was interviewed before the contest mentioned that he had circled the game and was excited for it. They wanted revenge for Quinnipiac's ending Cornell's season last year. They remembered that the Bobcats made them suffer a 1-4-0 record last season. It is obvious, whether players admit it or not, that Quinnipiac has gotten in their head.
Compare how players and coaches say they prepare for every game of the season with those comments. Each player and coach recites from rote that they prepare for every game the same way with no regard for which opponent they play. Obviously, this is not entirely true. Fans know that contests against Boston University and Harvard draw particular attention, but this was Quinnipiac, a far cry from either opponent in all regards.
The leaders of the team need to get through to the players that Quinnipiac matters no more and no less than any other team. Until they do, Quinnipiac will have inordinate control over the players on this Cornell squad who remember the 2013 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals series loss. Control that extends beyond sheer talent. Cornell displayed the talent to have decimated the Bobcats in the early portions of the game.
Why should Cornell be intimidated? Players from the Big Red should use the banner test. How many banners would Quinnipiac have hung if it followed the rules of Cornell? Quinnipiac did not win a Whitelaw Cup. It did not win a national championship. It won a participation trophy for the regular season. Cornell recognizes only playoff titles. Quinnipiac would have gotten one banner for earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Compare that to the three that Quinnipiac hung including two banners commemorating a Frozen-Four berth by different terms. What does that tell an observer? Quinnipiac is a program where success is the exception, not the rule. Cornell does not need to forge history, it has it. The rafters are cluttered enough commemorating real success. It does not need to hang a banner for making playoffs that all teams make. Quinnipiac would have three banners in total if it was governed by the same rules as Cornell. The only real championship that Quinnipiac won was in 2002 when it played in the MAAC. Its season ended in a resounding 6-1 loss. To whom? Cornell.
Players and coaches at every rung of the Cornell hierarchy this season have invoked the history of Cornell winning championships as their inspiration and motivation. History is only talk unless it is lived. And, on Saturday, Cornell was living and playing with the historical consciousness of seven months rather than 113 years.
That series loss to Quinnipiac will be a forgotten moment in the history of Cornell hockey. The Class of 2013 won its championship as freshmen. If the Class of 2014 wants to ensure that they become champions, it needs to make sure that its members and the team's leaders psychologically put last season to rest. No game matters more or less, and no outcome can be exaggerated. Both occurred before and after Saturday's game. Both ill serve Cornell's ambitions.
My final thoughts for the weekend are highlighting the exceptional play of several players on Cornell's team. John McCarron has been taking well to the role of captain on the team. He plays with increased physicality, but he has gained an impressive knack to generate offense when Cornell needs a lift. It is noteworthy also that The Captain was not on the ice when Quinnipiac scored any goals on Saturday.
Another player whose play was awe-inspiring the entire weekend was Joel Lowry. Lowry hit responsibly all weekend. His fore- and back-checks were punishing while effective. At one point, it seemed that he was not going to miss a clean hit all weekend. Lowry's scoring touch is still there as he scored an insurance goal for Cornell in Friday's contest and assisted on Cornell's first goal at Lynah Rink of the season. But, Joel Lowry is a more intimidating defensive presence than he has been in seasons past. He has blocked several deadly blasts and often in one swift motion gets the clear on the same shot. So far this season, Joel Lowry has been the most dynamic players at both ends of the ice. Arguably, he is Cornell's best player now.
Dustin Mowrey and John Knisley delivered phenomenal outings against Quinnipiac. When little else was going right in Cornell's game plan, Mowrey and Knisley would gain the zone and threaten Quinnipiac's control of the game. Mowrey created offense despite punishing and clearly directed efforts from Quinnipiac to bottle him up in Cornell's zone. The fast-paced and skilled play of Mowrey and Knisley will pay dividends later in the season even if they could not topple Quinnipiac.
The freshmen who impressed most this weekend are Patrick McCarron and Jake Weidner. Patrick McCarron followed a perfect seam between defenders to challenge Princeton's Bonar. He did not convert, but the ease with which he gained the zone, skated like a forward, and threatened a goal indicates that Cornell's arsenal of weapons behind the blue line is far greater than many would expect. Remember, Patrick McCarron had played only two collegiate games before that challenge. Offensive play from defensemen has propelled Cornell's success historically and it appears that by the time the playoffs arrive, Patrick McCarron will join Joakim Ryan as a break-out offensive threat.
Jake Weidner is the highest point-producing freshman on Cornell's team. He has averaged one point per game. He has not found the back of the net, but on several occasions over the weekend, it appeared as though he was bound to do so. His skill is as good as advertised and he will only get better. It will be exciting to see if once he bests a netminder if he can continue to pour on tallies.
The historic power of ECAC Hockey takes its talents on the road to Houston Field House and Messa Rink next weekend. The freshman class will experience what it is like to play at some of the livelier buildings of ECAC Hockey. The roadtrip may prove beneficial for the team's cohesion. Let's hope the team as a whole heeds alternate captain Andy Iles's message that "it's a long season" and that teams that grow win championships. The Lynah Faithful should look for growth this coming weekend. This Cornell team has the talent to dominate ECAC Hockey, but it needs to take steps toward that goal this weekend.