Series Record: 4-4-0
Friday January 4 & Saturday January 5
March 21, 1986 & March 22, 1986
Cornell and Denver have met a total of eight times. Half of those meetings have occurred in the NCAA Tournament. It is therefore unsurprising that the last meeting between the Big Red and the Pioneers was in the NCAA Tournament. What is most surprising is how long ago it was that these prestigious programs clashed on the ice.
The first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament saw the last meeting of Cornell and Denver. The iteration of the NCAA Tournament then involved eight teams. A two-game series constituted the first round. There were East and West Regionals that were hosted at the home rink of the number one seeds. The winner of the series would advance to the Frozen Four. The team that scored more goals over the course of both games would advance to the Frozen Four in the case of a split in the two-game series.
Cornell's appearance in the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament was at the University of Denver Arena. It was almost 13 years before Denver's current Magness Arena opened. Denver was the number one seed in the 1986 West Regional. Cornell was the number four seed. The other three first-round series saw sweeps with commanding goal differentials.
Cornell drew first blood from the Pioneers in the 1986 NCAA Tournament. Cornell struck midway through the first period. However, the Pioneers in their home building scored three goals that Cornell would not answer until the third period. The first game would end ultimately with the host team victorious by a 4-2 margin.
Cornell was undeterred. Sophomore Joe Nieuwendyk in his only appearance in the NCAA Tournament during his collegiate career struck late in the first period. The Big Red added to this total in quick succession as Cornell went up 3-0 before the close of the first period. One of the two additional goals Nieuwendyk added as well. Nieuwendyk connected for an assist on Peter Natyshak's second goal of the series just over halfway through the second period. Denver would tally three goals in the second game. Ultimately, it would be the carnelian-clad challengers from the East that would claim victory in the second game of the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament.
Cornell would not advance to the 1986 Frozen Four. Cornell produced the only split in the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament. The series tie-breaking procedure was invoked and Denver was the team to advance to the Frozen Four from the Cornell-Denver series. Denver had tallied seven goals in the series to Cornell's six goals.
Denver was at one point the flavor of the month, or perhaps more accurately, week for voters in both major national polls. Early in the season when both Boston College and Minnesota seemed less demigod-like and more mortal, some voters turned to Denver as the apparent successor to number-one status. The Pioneers climbed to second in USCHO's poll in the middle of November.
Denver then dropped a weekend series against Yale and New Hampshire while Cornell was preparing to slay the Wolverines in Manhattan. The voters of the polls proved that they were a fickle mistress and since have dropped the Pioneers nine spots. Gwozdecky's team around the end of Denver's first academic quarter continued on a seasonal slide that would end with a 0-5-3 stretch.
Denver ended that stretch emphatically last weekend when it played once-Cornell rival Boston University. The Pioneers demolished the Terriers in a commanding 6-0 win. It was Denver's first win in over a month.
It was the first time that Boston University had been shut out in over three years. The last time that the Terriers did not tally a goal was November 6, 2009. This shows that Denver's defense and goaltender Olkinuora are not obstacles that can be overlooked for Cornell's success. Olkinuora turned away all 29 challenges from Boston University.
The performance of Olkinuora and his defensive core have led him to post a 1.69 goals against average. However, this has not been a mere product of Denver's offensive and territorial dominance as Olkinuora has turned away 94.4% of the shots that have been taken on him in his eight games.
Denver can be expected to produce overwhelming offensive numbers. This Pioneer squad has been up to the task. It has scored more than three goals this season 12 times in 19 games. Two of those games were losses to UNH and North Dakota. The remaining ten were victories. Ten of those games including the loss to UNH saw Denver score four or more goals. Denver has lost scoring four goals, but has not when scoring five, a total it has reached eight times this season.
Denver tickles the twine an average of 3.42 times per game. This number should seem amiss to those looking at the obnoxious offensive stated previously. The reason Denver's average of goals per game is so low is because in four of the Pioneers's six losses, Denver has scored one or zero goals.
Fifteen players have scored a goal to add to Denver's current total of 65 goals over the season. Six players have scored five goals or more. The players to have accomplished that are Doremus, Knowlton, LaLeggia, Makowski, Ostrow, and Shore. Knowlton has scored 11 goals for the Pioneers. That total places him 17th in the nation for rate of goal production. The storyline herein is that while the fact that six different players scored Denver's six goals against Boston University gained much attention, there is a core that accounts for over 65% of Denver's goal production.
This week in college hockey circles Denver gained attention in addition to its win over Boston University. While Cornell received coverage for Bardreau's stellar performance on Team USA's grind line in the World Junior Championship, Denver was discussed in the context of losing a player to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Freshman defenseman Dakota Mermis departed Denver this week.
The defenseman had tremendous upside when one considers that that he was plus-22 while playing in the USHL for the Green Bay Gamblers. His plus/minus for Denver had not been as tremendous as of yet. Dakota Mermis, not to be confused with his brother who remains on the roster for the Pioneers, had accumulated a minus-1 during the first half of the season. Without delving into hours and hours of game footage and tape, what effect can we glean that this departure may have on Denver?
Gwozdecky this season has shown a penchant for rotating defensemen regularly. Within that systemic choice, he chose to play Dakota Mermis in all 19 games. So, while rotating defensemen in and out of the lineup, Gwozdecky chose to give ice time to the freshman against all opponents that the Pioneers have faced. Furthermore, while rotating defensemen within the game, Dakota Mermis managed to score a goal and add three assists.
Will the loss of Dakota Mermis cripple Denver? Obviously not. However, the blue line may be somewhat weaker than it has been as Denver acts to adjust to a loss of a defenseman who had until this point seen play in all of the Pioneers's games. Another fact that lends itself to concluding that Dakota Mermis may have been more integral to the Pioneers than many thought is the fact that in Denver's shut-out performance against the Terriers Mermis was plus-two with an assist on one of Denver's goals.
Keys to the Game:
Cornell has quietly and little fanfare accomplished an uncommon thing over the stretch of the last five games. Cornell during the middle of last semester could not score more than one goal in a game. The Big Red ended that trend in spectacular fashion with a 5-1 shellacking of the Michigan Wolverines at Madison Square Garden. Cornell has not scored fewer than three goals in its last five outings.
That trend in itself seemed noteworthy for a program that has been historically of a defense-first mindset. Cornell has accomplished similar statistical runs just six times over the last ten seasons. The 2009-10 team that ultimately included three 100-point scorers never accomplished that feat.
The record stretch of games over which Cornell has scored three or more goals is 11 games. The 2004-05 team that won Cornell's 11th ECAC Championship set that record between February 11, 2005 and March 26, 2005. That Cornell run included games against Clarkson, Harvard, Ohio State, Princeton, RPI, St. Lawrence, Union, Vermont, and Yale.
Only one team in the last ten seasons has put together a run of five or more games with three or more goals. Unsurprisingly, that team was the 2002-03 team. That team put together two runs of six games in which Cornell scored three or more goals. The first was between November 22, 2002 and December 7, 2002, and the second was between January 4, 2003 and January 25, 2003. Cornell met Boston University, Brown, Harvard, and Western Michigan in the former run, and Clarkson, RPI, St. Lawrence, and Union in the latter span of games.
Cornell's offensive law during the middle of last season plagues Cornell's offensive statistics. Cornell is 29th in the nation in terms of goals per game. Denver's lull has not undermined its standing as one of the most offensively dangerous teams in the nation. The Pioneers sit at ninth in the nation.
For those who want some semblance of normality in their lives, while Denver outranks Cornell in terms of goal production, Cornell's defense has been stingier than that of Denver. Cornell is ranked 15th and Denver is ranked 21st in the nation in terms of average number of goals allowed.
Cornell and Denver are ranked fourth and fifth as the most penalized teams in the nation. Cornell's case for its ascendance in that category was helped by an outburst of a lack of discipline in the 2012 Florida College Hockey Classic Championship game. Denver will make Cornell pay for such lapses with its top-15 power-play unit. The Pioneers convert on 20.5% of their power-play opportunities.
Cornell would have defeated Maine had it not allowed two power-play goals and an empty-net goal. Maine's power-play conversion rate is ranked 41 places behind that of Denver and converts 11.7% less often. Herein lies one of the primary keys of the game.
Cornell cannot take foolish penalties. When it did so against Maine, it could not win even behind a four-goal offensive performance. Denver is vastly more dangerous than Maine when playing with a man advantage. Bardreau, one of Cornell's penalty killers and best defensive forwards, is in Ufa, Russia preparing for Team USA's gold-medal game against Sweden in the World Junior Championship. This void in the lineup may aggravate any situation that may result in which Cornell takes too many penalties.
Some of the goals that Denver scored against Boston University were less a product of Denver's overwhelming offensive and more a result of defensive collapses. As the below video shows, Boston University surrendered the ice in front of O'Connor for Denver's exploitation in most of the goals while O'Connor failed to make several key saves on at least one unscreened shot. However, as the video shows, Denver's Olkinuora appears as good as his numbers imply.
When facing a program with a history of offense like Denver, it goes without saying that Cornell's defense will need to be stellar. I will not venture a guess as to which game, but in this two-game series, it is all but certain that Andy Iles will need to deliver at least one more memorable and spirited performance. Andy Iles will need to be as reliable as the Lynah Faithful have come to expect him to be for Cornell to have a chance at victory either night.
The formula of how to beat Denver has been written already. Yale defeated the Pioneers 2-1 in overtime. Nine of Denver's games have ended in a tie or a loss. Denver has scored fewer than two goals in seven of those games. Defense is key against Denver. Cornell's offense will need to keep rolling at Magness Arena. However, the game likely will be won or lost behind the blue line and in the penalty box.
There are many to mention. It would be amiss not to at least passingly mention that this is a rematch of the 1969 NCAA Championship game between Cornell and Denver. Denver ensured that Ken Dryden did not become the first goaltender to win two national championships during his tenure between the pipes for the Big Red. No Cornell goaltender has won more than one national championship. Denver defeated Cornell 4-3 in Colorado Springs for Denver's fifth national championship in what was Dryden's last game in carnelian and white.
Denver owns currently the distinction as the last opponent that another famous Cornellian faced in his last game as a player. The first-round meeting between Cornell and Denver in the 1986 NCAA Tournament discussed above as the last meeting between Cornell and Denver was the last game in which head coach Mike Schafer wore a Cornell hockey sweater as player. Schafer was then a captain of the Big Red. He did not record a point against Denver. His last point scored as a player was against Clarkson in the 1986 ECAC Championship Final.
The 1986 NCAA Tournament series that included Schafer's last two games as a player for the Big Red left Schafer in what would become familiar territory for part of his coaching career at Cornell. Cornell was just outside of the Frozen Four. Schafer's senior season was two goals short of a Frozen-Four berth. It ended in Denver, CO at the Pioneers's former home. This will be Schafer's first time coaching Cornell against Denver. Schafer during his term as an assistant and associate coach at Western Michigan never coached against Denver. This is Schafer's first time as coach meeting the program that his senior team defeated in his last collegiate game on the same campus where that series was held.
This post closes with a video that highlights how offensively potent and opportunistic Denver is when it is rolling. Cornell looks not to make the same mistakes that historic rival Boston University did at Magness Arena.