Cornell's last trip through the North Country is one that the Big Red wishes that it could forget. Clarkson was Cornell's opponent on the back half of the trip last season. The Big Red suffered a disappointing loss to the Saints the previous evening. All things seemed right when Joakim Ryan put Cornell on the board with less than a minute expired. All was right in the world. At 18:08 of the first period, with Cornell still nursing a 1-0 lead, Cornell was assessed a five-minute major. Casey Jones's Golden Knights made Cornell pay. The Golden Knights scored three power-play goals on the resulting major. Cornell went from what seemed like an all but guaranteed victory to the depths of despair. Cornell clawed back to a 4-3 margin by the time that the second period expired, but despite a Herculean effort, the damage was done. Clarkson expanded the lead to 6-3 as Cornell pressed to re-zero the contest. As if such a disseminating and deflating loss was not sufficient, Cornell lost work-horse defenseman extraordinaire Kirill Gotovets to injury on an unpenalized hit. Gotovets would be out until last season's playoffs.
Clarkson opened its season as early as it could. The first foes of the Golden Knights were the Purple Eagles of Niagara, a 2013 NCAA Tournament team. Clarkson downed Niagara by a combined margin of four to one.
The 2013 Ice Breaker Tournament is where the Golden Knights fell next. New Hampshire was expected to be a major national contender this season. The 'Cats dominated Casey Jones' squad at Mariucci Arena. New Hampshire had the game well in hand with four even-strength goals to slay the Golden Knights. Two things detract from the quality of this loss: New Hampshire would continue down a winless skid for its next six contests and it was the first game of the season for the Wildcats.
Clarkson returned to its winning ways of old against Mercyhurst. A win and a tie against RIT began a three-game winning streak for Casey Jones and his Golden Knights. That streak included the program's first-ever win and sweep of Colorado College. The emotional high continued as the Golden Knights beat Brown, just to fall to the defending national champion.
Clarkson committed too many penalties. Yale's power-play was the difference. The Bulldogs scored two power-play goals to generate the margin of victory excluding Yale's empty-net tally to put the game formally out-of-reach. The next weekend Clarkson took two points out of a winless and tieless Dartmouth team. Clarkson prepared for this weekend with another one-goal affair and win at Bright Hockey Center.
Seven of Clarkson's 12 games have been decided by one goal or less. The Golden Knights have won six of the contests. The other result was a tie. Casey Jones has made the Golden Knights comfortable in a controlled duel of a contest where one break decides the outcome.
Goaltending was Clarkson's looming question mark last season. How could the Golden Knights replace Paul Karpowich? The answer was that they really could not. The result was obvious. Clarkson allowed over three goals per game and permitted opposing teams to converted on nearly 15% of their shots.
All that has changed. A tenet of this Casey Jones squad is holding opponents below 25 shots per game. His Knights have done well in reaching this goal as opponents average just 26.6 shots per game against Clarkson. Clarkson's defense is much improved. The improvement in Clarkson's netminding was inevitable. Sophomore Greg Lewis and freshman Steve Perry nearly have split time.
The two netminders have save percentages at or just above 0.925 while allowing just 1.86 and 1.94 goals-against per game for Lewis and Perry respectfully. This pace keeps Clarkson's tandem in the top 20 of the nation in both categories.
Clarkson's special teams have produced respectable, but modest numbers. It is the combined talents of its skilled players on even strength that have slain most opponents. No players on the team produce one point per game. However, ten talents on the team have scored at least five points in ten to 12 outings. Ben Sexton, Allan McPherson, Paul Geiger, and Pat Meganetty are the top four scorers. Do not ignore the fifth-most prolific scorer for Clarkson. The top four cannot be overlooked, but Joe Zarbo is a potent threat farther down the columns of the statistic sheets. He has made two of his four goals on the season stand as the difference maker. These players are talented and committed to playing responsibily at both ends of the ice. Oh yeah, do not forget that their playing with the motivation that only being chosen to finish last in one's conference can give.
What to Expect:
Cornell closed last weekend with a loss in a contest that could be described as Cornell vs. Cornell. The Big Red will open this weekend with a similar contest. Clarkson, Cornell, and Union play a tight defensive scheme that limits opportunities, makes penetration of the neutral zone difficult, punishes the opposition with physical play, and waits patiently for precious few opportunities to open, then pounces. This is Cornell's chance at redemption in an encore of a similar contest.
The game should be tight. The scoring opportunities few. Casey Jones has stated already that it would be very unwise for his team to put his alma mater's team on the power play. Cornell needs to prove that Jones's Cornell degree was not for naught.
Finishing will be the name of the game. Cornell semi-regularly got down low on RPI and Union. Some of Cornell's most skilled forwards managed to cut deep into the opposition's zone on several occasions, but could not convert. That will need to end if Cornell has any hope of leaving Cheel Arena with a victory. Cornell will get chances, they will be few, and the yoke of propelling the team likely will need to fall on the shoulders of Cornell's most touted forwards to put it in the back of the net after less-than-stellar, zero-point weekends.
Cornell will need to avoid any implosions like the major penalties from last season that turned an all-but-guaranteed weekend sweep into a weekend of getting swept.
Special teams is where Cornell will crack an opening or expand a lead, but it will not be sufficient in downing Clarkson. Cornell's power play will need to return to its highly productive form of the season's first five games. And Cornell's forwards will need to be better on even strength than they were last weekend.
This game will be a grinding slug fest between the master and his one-time apprentice. It will be obvious early if Coach Schafer's comments after the Union contest were a fleeting veneer or real passion. If a real message was sent in a vintage Schaferian fashion, Cornell will impose its will early.
There was an eerie resemblance between Cornell's two contests in the North Country last season. In many ways, the contests were mirror images of one another. The way the contest against the Saints ended, the clash against Clarkson began. St. Lawrence knotted the game early in the third period. Cornell did not yield the flow of play. Cornell had the better of chances and it was the Big Red that seemed, even to partisan broadcasters in Canton, NY, it was inevitable that Cornell would win. Cornell was on the verge of snapping its losing streak at three consecutive losses. The fates had other things in mind. The Saints were given the opportunity to capitalize on a Cornell penalty with a five-minute major. Barely more than five minutes remaining in the game. St. Lawrence broke the deadlock approximately 30 seconds later. The goal was scored on the major penalty. Cornell was forced to chase the lead with an empty net. The Saints sank an empty-net goal to take away a 4-2 victory in a game that Cornell dominated. Instead of stanching the wound of a three-game losing skid, the loss to St. Lawrence propelled Cornell into a seven-loss slide.
The Saints were chosen to finish modestly in ECAC Hockey's preseason polls. The contributors of WAFT dared to place them even higher than we placed Cornell. Does this writer think Cornell is a team built slightly better for the playoffs? Yes. But, do I think that St. Lawrence has the talent to accumulate more wins during the regular season than the Big Red? Absolutely. St. Lawrence has taken to proving the contributors of WAFT correct.
The Saints rattled off quick wins against Maine and Ferris State. The first two at home and the third on the road. Ferris State salvaged a split at Ewigleben Arena in the second game. The Bulldogs of Ferris State have not lost since they fell to the Saints of St. Lawrence.
The Saints slid in their next contest against Northeastern when they allowed a season-high six goals. Greg Carvel's team exacted revenge the next evening with a a 6-4 victory. St. Lawrence tied out its trip through New Haven and Providence. It is the Saints's tie against Yale that had most talking about the skill of this team and its ability to compete with the best of college hockey's greatest conference.
A roadtrip to Dartmouth and Harvard was next on their slate. The Saints pasted the Big Green and Crimson by combined margins of 11 goals to six goals. They converted on 25.0% of their power-play opportunities while allowing their opponents to convert on slightly more, 37.5%. It is worth considering that when Yale downed St. Lawrence's North-Country rival on the power play, the Saints held the Bulldogs to just one conversion on six opportunities.
Despite a lackluster outing last weekend, St. Lawrence's power-play is converting at a rate that places it in the top six in the nation. The Saints make their opponents pay for their infractions 27.9% of the time. Penalty killing is the exact opposite story as Saints rank in the bottom quarter of the nation in their ability to kill off opponent's power plays.
As one may expect with a team that struggles on the penalty kill, St. Lawrence's netminding is solidly average, one may even dare say slightly below average. The numbers from which Clarkson fled from last to this season have found home in neighboring Canton. Matt Weninger is very talented, but his numbers do not show it yet. He has produced a sub-0.900 save percentage, 0.894 to be exact, while allowing more than three goals per game.
What saves the Saints? The fact that Greg Carvel's team has been scoring goals in clusters. The Saints average four goals per game. St. Lawrence ranks fifth in the nation for scoring offense. Boston College and Minnesota are among the few programs that rank higher. The Saints have not scored fewer than three goals in any contest this season. In nearly one-third of their games, the Saints have scored five or more goals.
The unavoidable result of high-scoring offense and lackluster defensive statistics? St. Lawrence has not played in a contest that has seen fewer than four goals scored. Two of the Saints's contest have witnessed ten or more goals scored. St. Lawrence prefers high-scoring affairs and has been winning such contests all season long.
Much may be made of Greg Carey, and deservedly so, but it is his freshman brother Matt who has found the back of the net more often this season. Matt Carey has scored 20% of St. Lawrence's goals. The Brothers Carey combine for 32 points. The only player without said surname who scores even half as many goals as Greg Carey is Patrick Doherty. 35% of St. Lawrence's offense comes off of the stick of either Greg or Matt Carey. All other lines contributed evenly outside of the Brothers Carey, so the Saints produce an element of an even attack, but it is apparent who hones the sword's edge.
What to Expect:
This contest presents so many possible scenarios. There are so many ways for Cornell to win it, yet there are equally as many ways for Cornell to drop the game in spectacular fashion. The likely predictability of the Clarkson contest vanishes when trying to predict how Cornell and St. Lawrence will fare against one another.
Goals for St. Lawrence have come easily and often. That goes as well for the opponents of the Saints. The surest way to defeat the Saints is to shut down the Brothers Carey. Upon doing that, St. Lawrence's offense becomes 65% as potent. Or, producing approximately 2.60 goals per game. The real question is if Cornell can achieve that feat.
Cornell over the last several seasons has become adept at shutting down pointed line-ups that have a noted and extreme spike when certain players are on the ice. Consider that last season Greg Carey averaged 1.34 points per game. Cornell held him to 75% of that rate in the two meetings of the teams despite Cornell allowing five goals against the Saints last season. The task of shutting down Greg and Matt Carey will not be an easy one. If it proves impossible, then Cornell's offense by committee will need to ignite a response.
Cornell's power play will need to be at full steam on the ice of Appleton Arena. St. Lawrence has the sixth-best power-play unit in the country. Cornell has one just better. The Saints will make Cornell pay if the Big Red gives them too many chances. Cornell will need to return the favor. The power-play units of both teams will exchange blows at some point in the contest. Cornell will need to make sure that its statistically better penalty kill delivers.
Defense is what can win this for Cornell. Mire the Saints in a viscous neutral zone and Cornell likely will emerge victorious. If the wheels fall off Cornell's defensive wagon and the game's scoring opens, the advantage shifts to St. Lawrence. Cornell can keep pace with the highest of octane scoring in the nation, but it has not shown that ability in the team's last four outings. Andy Iles may need to be the difference as he was in Cornell's second game against Nebraska-Omaha.
A revelation for this writer last evening was that Clarkson regards Cornell as the second-biggest rival of the Golden Knights. The primary rival of green and goldenrod of the North Country is St. Lawrence. So, naturally, I assumed that the Golden Knights would dislike its fellow engineering institution in ECAC Hockey, RPI, the second most. Anyone who follows twitter or listens closely at Houston Field House can see or hear that the fans of Engineer hockey still say that "Clarkson still sucks" after the one-minute-remaining notification is given. But, apparently, as Casey Jones said in a recent interview, Clarkson views the Big Red of Cornell as a rival. This writer has viewed Clarkson always as a respected foe with a proud history, but not a hated one. And, for many, there needs to be animosity for the rivalry to exist. Most of the Lynah Faithful and this writer in particular feel no pent up animosity toward Clarkson.
The fans of the Golden Knights may have a point. Clearly, Clarkson and Cornell are among the most successful programs in ECAC Hockey. Cornell has the most wins in the national tournament with 18 victories. Clarkson has the third-most with 13 wins. The Golden Knights handed Cornell its first loss in the ECAC Hockey Championship game in 1966. Clarkson and Cornell have met three times since that first meeting in the title game. Cornell has won all three. Remember April when the media was emphasizing the fact that Quinnipiac and Yale were from the same state? New York State was the first state in the history of the NCAA Tournament to produce two programs that battled for the national title. Those two schools were Clarkson and Cornell. Currently, Clarkson is on a list with New Hampshire and Providence as historic programs without a national title. It is in large part to that first-ever intrastate feud that Clarkson remains on that list.
Cornell had won its first title in 1967. Clarkson had been runner-up twice before the 1970 NCAA Championship Final. Cornell stood between Clarkson and its first NCAA national title. It was both programs's third trip to the NCAA Championship Final. Cornell emerged victorious in a hard-fought, but spectacular game, to end its perfect season with a national championship. Clarkson has not returned to the national-title game since then. There may be more to a possible rivalry between Clarkson and Cornell than this writer initially thought. Perhaps, with a Cornell alumnus at the helm, Clarkson can overcome its veritable curse to become the fifth national-championship program of the current ECAC Hockey.