The Brown series fell in the midst of Cornell's two streaks last season. Brown was the third team to which the Big Red lost in the beginning of its seven-game skid. The Bears were in quick fashion the fourth team that Cornell bested in a five-game undefeated streak at the close of the regular season. Cornell won the second contest by a margin of four to one. Christian Hilbrich scored his first collegiate goal in the mum Meehan Auditorium. The Big Red accumulated three goals before the Bears even could answer, which they did early in the third. The game was an exercise in sheer domination of the Brown Bears from the initial face-off to the final handshake. It was a far cry from the way in which the Bears exerted their will over Cornell at Lynah Rink just over a month prior. The Bears finished the season as the only team to play in ECAC Hockey's first round of the playoff to make it to the league's championship weekend. Brown is slowly, but gradually, becoming a force with which to be reckoned in ECAC Hockey. Brown has appeared in two of the Conference's last four championship weekends. The only programs to appear in more are Cornell and Union. The Bears deserve and demand respect.
Brown is a team whose role changes quickly during the transition from the regular season to the postseason. The Bears play spoiler during the regular season. They are talented enough to defeat any, and I say this with no sense of hyperbole, team, but rarely compile gaudy totals of wins. When the playoffs arrive, Brown becomes a reliable and bona fide contender for a Whitelaw Cup.
The Bears sit at 0.500. If Brendan Whittet's comments are any indication, he wants to break the aforesaid cycle and become a force during the regular season. Brown has taken early strides toward that goal. The lone loss that seems striking is against the Wildcats of New Hampshire. Even that loss after last weekend seems less striking. After a lackluster beginning to New Hampshire's season, the 'Cats are back in the black. The combined record of teams that have beaten the Brown Bears is 27-9-3.
That's not to mention that two of those losses came against teams that rank in the top six nationally in terms of winning percentage. Still think these are the Brown Bears of old? Those same teams that defeated Brown also toppled Cornell. Clarkson and Quinnipiac downed Brown with margins identical to those by which the Golden Knights and Bobcats trounced Cornell.
Unease comes with uncertainty. Even though Brown cannot be discounted for its losses, very little can be gleaned from its wins. One win for the Bears came against still winless Dartmouth. While Brown's losses came against teams that win regularly, its wins come against teams that have combined for a modest 6-16-2 record.
The one reasonable barometer for adjudging the level at which Brown is executing is its victory against Yale. The win opened the season. However, that 4-1 Brown win was against Yale's now-starting netminder and sent a message. Furthermore, the Saints of St. Lawrence who had grown to expect four goals per game were held to three by the might of Brown.
Despite that successful note, Whittet has mentioned that his defensive corps has not jelled as quickly as he would like. Brown has suffered some injuries throughout their line-up and in some of their more recent contests have been forced to dress injured players to keep a standard bench in tact. Among the injured players were Joey de Concilys, Ryan Jacobson, Nick Lappin, and Brandon Pfeil.
Last season Matt Lorito and Mark Naclerio made it known that they were skilled enough to dissect any team in ECAC Hockey. Nick Lappin was not far behind. The three predictably are the most potent offensive threat on Brown's squad. They have contributed 52.2% of Brown's offense this season.
Despite this lopsided statistic, Brown presents a united front and a team-first mentality. Consider that of the players who have played in all seven contests that only four have not registered a point this season. In seven games, ten different scorers have found the back of the net.
Defense is the forte of Whittet-led teams. It has been difficult for the Bears to find a replacement for Anthony Borelli. Brown averages allowing nearly three goals per game. Paradoxically, it is Brown's netminder, Tyler Steel, a freshman, with a save percentage of 0.895 has recorded two of Brown's three victories as well as the tie against St. Lawrence. Whittet has been following a rigid platoon of Marco DeFillippo on Friday and Tyler Steel on Saturday. DeFillippo did see action on a mid-week tilt against New Hampshire over a week ago.
Brown's special teams are a weak point in their season. The Bears rank in the bottom ten and bottom 15 in the nation in terms of penalty killing and power play respectively. The Bears surrender few opportunities when on even strength and are coalescing quickly around the defensive mindset and style that led them to the 2013 ECAC Hockey Championship Final.
What to Expect:
A defensive battle is what should be on tap for Brown and Cornell on Friday evening. Both Whittet and Schafer prefer closely contested and sound games, and that is what both likely will get. Brown has been scoring at a higher average rate than has Cornell, but the disproportionate contribution of three players on Brown's squad should allow Cornell to shut down most of the Bears's offensive threats. Cornell has shown that it consistently can shut down teams that rely on one, two, or three players for most of their offense, like it did against the Brothers Carey last weekend, and the Big Red should be able to do the same against the Bears.
Assuming that Whittet maintains his rigid Friday/Saturday rotation, Cornell will face DeFillippo. DeFillippo is the statistically more threatening of Brown's netminders who have seen action this season. DeFillippo has won only one contest, but he has not won a contest since Brown downed Yale in the Liberty Invitational to open Brown's season. DeFillippo has not proven that he is a winning goaltender, but he has proven that he is a skilled and reliable one. If his team delivers a sound effort in front of him in both zones, Andy Iles will need to be his usual self in net to give Cornell a chance to win.
Brown has not won a contest in which it has scored fewer than four goals. This should give Cornell and Iles the breathing room to win the contest. Every opponent that Brown has faced after its first contest has scored at least three goals. Cornell should be no different.
If the game trends toward a high-scoring affair, expect a Cornell victory. Cornell can keep pace with most teams in the nation if given the defensive lapses that provide it with ample opportunity. If the game remains low scoring, especially if Brown clings to a lead late, expect the balance of the game to favor the visitors especially with Whittet expecting all of his injured players back for this contest and after a week of rest.
Cornell should jump on Brown early while over a week without playing is still heavy in its players's legs. The Big Red's first priority should be to break the dam and keep Cornell's high rate of scoring from last weekend rolling. If the Big Red can achieve that goal, even a team as sound in defense and discipline as Brown, will fall.
What Cornell was to RPI's streak at the end of the regular season, Yale was to Cornell's rousing regular-season-ending streak. The Bulldogs marred Cornell's triumphant run to the playoffs. Cornell snapped its losing streak and proceeded to establish a five-game unbeaten streak. Yale ended that streak. Both contests with Yale last season were one-goal affairs. Both seemed like they were decided in overtime. Only the second contest was. At Lynah Rink, John McCarron appeared to score an overtime goal that would have down the Elis. It was disallowed. Then, late in the second meeting of the Ivy-League foes, it was John McCarron again who appeared to score a tying goal. It was disallowed. The contests were excruciatingly close. Joel Lowry's fast-paced goal was Cornell's lone marker in a 2-1 contest at Ingalls Rink. Lowry collected a rebound in front of Malcolm, a goaltender who would seem indomitable in April, and deposited the puck into the back of the net with seeming ease. The quick response of Lowry to Yale's first goal silenced The Whale. A power-play goal spoiled Cornell's chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games. Cornell had the opportunities to win both games and proved more than talented enough. Oh, yeah, I am pretty sure Yale went on to do something else later in the season.
Yale neither lost the number of seniors to graduation that Quinnipiac did nor suffered the emotional blow of losing players early to the ranks of lower professional leagues that Union did, but graduation took its toll. Antoine Laganiere, Jeff Malcolm, and Andrew Miller graduated. Keith Allain has made it apparent that he expects his Yale program not to suffer rebuilding years. The new players that he has brought in to replace the vanguard of the most successful team in the more than one century of Yale hockey seems up to the task.
Frank DiChiara was a highly touted teammate of Eric Freschi on the Dubuque Fighting Saints. DiChiara chose to wear the number of soon-to-be-legendary Yale captain Andrew Miller. Apparently, the luck of 17 for Yale is slow acting and the highly touted freshman is only the second-highest point producing player on the squad. This is not to discount DiChiara. Mike Doherty, the other freshman, outpaces DiChiara by one point. Both have contributed goals.
The depths of Yale's offensive weapons is what is most dreadful for opponents. No player for the Elis has tallied more than four goals. Eight players for the Elis have scored two goals or more on the young season. Consider this fact, potent forward and clutch goal scorer against Cornell, Stu Wilson, ranks a mere fifth in point production. Yale's captain, Jesse Root, who sent his Bulldogs to his hometown for the Frozen Four last season, leads the Yale Blue goal scoring while Anthony Day leads the team in points produced.
Kenny Agostino made headlines in the offseason when he stated emphatically that he was going back to Yale. Not to defend the national title, a semantic choice that Keith Allain has grown to despise, but to win another championship for Yale. Agostino returned to New Haven for his senior season. He deserve great credit for that for embodying what the real principles of a student-athlete. Agostino was expected to lead Yale in scoring this season after he finished second only to Andrew Miller in his junior campaign. Kenny Agostino has not met those expectations. He has played in all contests for Yale, but has notched only five points and scored but one goal. He ranks six in terms of points produced and is far off-pace of his 1.11 points per game performance of last season.
Keith Allain has not been satisfied with the performance of his special-teams units. He has made that clear. His power-play unit finally clicked against Sacred Heart last weekend. Yale's power play contributed two goals of Yale's five goal total. The penalty kill of the Bulldogs surrendered one power-play goal to a Sacred Heart squad with a power play ranked barely in the top half of the nation. The power play of Yale ranks behind that of Sacred Heart at 30th in the nation in terms of conversion rate. Yale's penalty kill is among the ten worst in the nation.
Yale has not scored fewer than three goals since Brown held it to one in the Bulldogs's first outing of the season. Oh, yeah, the Bulldogs have not lost since that contest either. Yale has notched wins against Clarkson, Princeton, Quinnipiac, and Sacred Heart since then. Greg Carvel's Saints spoiled Yale's literal banner night with making the Elis settle for a tie.
This is a Keith Allain team. Yale tries to run a high-paced game with a wider open system. The transition game is what fuels Allain's successful teams. High shot totals are what Allain expects. This season's Yale squad averages 32.71 shots per game. A total that places it in the top 15 in the nation.
Has the void of Jeff Malcolm been filled? Alex Lyon had a shaky start against Brown. His performance was far from mediocre. Lyon registered a 0.900 save percentage in his first collegiate start. He turned away 48 shots as the Bulldogs battled Quinnipiac to a tie much more recently. There should be no doubt that Lyon is ready to be a starter for Yale.
What to Expect:
Yale is Yale. The meaning of this statement has changed drastically since Keith Allain took over duties behind the bench at Ingalls Rink in 2006. The Bulldogs, like Union, have proven that they are consistently a force to be reckoned with in college hockey. Their up-tempo style wears down unconditioned and undisciplined teams. Speed is the cache of their success. Allain-coached teams leap on mistakes and spring out on transitions to unleash a flurry of well-positioned, strategic shots. That is the exactly what Yale will try to execute at Lynah Rink on Saturday evening.
Well, Yale has not seemed very Yale-y (not to be confused with Yalie). The overall size and weight of the Bulldogs squad has increased from seasons past. The speed of the team has appeared to lessen. Yale still plays like it is the fastest transition team in the league, or the nation, but it does not currently hold that title.
Yale continues to pinch and commit players to the offensive zone, thinking that it will be able to neutralize any odd-man rushes with its speed and discipline, but it is unable to keep pace. The St. Lawrence contest is a model that Cornell could follow to topple the Bulldogs. The Saints converted twice on break-out plays against a speed-first Yale team. The success of the Saints came on a night when Yale wanted to lose least in the regular season. St. Lawrence was a team no faster than Cornell last weekend on the Saints's home ice. Pouncing on transition opportunities is the readiest way for Cornell to exploit Yale's early season Achilles heel.
Cornell will need to respect Yale's speed. However, the speed of these Elis is far from fearsome. Coach Syer mentioned that a quick decision-making and smooth execution are the desired hallmarks of this season. Perhaps unexpectedly, it is against Yale that these tenets can be best put to use.
It is not often that an Allain-led squad gives Cornell a dagger to plunge into its heart, but that is what appears to have happened at this early stage. Cornell's power-play unit is the most efficient at converting on opponents in the nation. Yale's penalty kill is in the bottom ten in the nation. If Cornell clicks on the power play, it will be a long evening for the Elis. If Cornell fails to carry its power-play rhythm back from the North Country, a contest that could be lopsided narrows considerably and begins to gain a blue tincture. Special teams easily could decide the result.
Last season, Cornell mounted a dominant effort against Yale on Friday evening in a nationally televised game. Cornell nearly won the contest against the eventual national champion. The next evening, when the Big Red squared off against Brown, Cornell fell flat. The game would become the third loss in a streak that would extend to a now-infamous length. It was the manner in which Anthony Borelli and Brown left no question that they would shut out Cornell through much of the contest that left an impression on most attendants at Lynah Rink that evening. It was a historic event. Brown had shut out Cornell only four other times in a series that was in its 54th year. Ned Harkness suffered a shutout in his first season. He would suffer no others to Brown. Mike Schafer earned his first shut-out loss to Brown last season. One might view it as a rite of passage. It was only the second time that the Bears of Brown shut out the Big Red of Cornell at Lynah Rink. The first came in the second-ever meeting of the Ivy-League foes in March 1959. Never has Cornell suffered two consecutive shut-out losses to Brown at Lynah Rink in the history of the series. This Cornell squad will look to defend that streak when it plays Brown in the 119th meeting of the programs.