Mitch Gillam is transcendent.
Punctuate that. Capitalize that. Italicize that. Put it on a talisman and rub it for comfort when the "bad times" return this season. It needs to be said. Everything that went or may have gone wrong on and off the ice in Estero does not relate to him. Gillam has proven to be more than a worthy wearer of carnelian and white in the blue paint. If teams around him find a way to deliver results 178 feet down ice, he will have a decorated and glistening résumé at Cornell.
Back to Estero's exhausted euphemisms? Cornell's success in Florida has no correlation to its ultimate success in the season. Cornell has never won the Ned Harkness Cup in Estero in a season that ended in an ECAC Hockey championship. Only twice has Cornell won the Florida College Hockey Classic and made the NCAA tournament. In the banner years of 2003 and 2010, Cornell finished dead last in the Florida College Hockey Classic, much like it did this season. More recently, Cornell won the 2013 Florida College Hockey Classic to see its hopes of ECAC Hockey and NCAA tournament immortality melt away on the ice of Lake Placid in a semifinal match-up.
Okay, that is done, for those who care or who did not know. Florida never treats Cornell well.
A 1-5-0 record in the sunshine state belongs to Cornell championship squads. Only one shutout of the Red contributes to that dismissal showing. The lone glint of hope within that statistic is that the sufferer of that other shutout was the winning behemoth of the Schafer Era, the 2002-03 team. Regular-season shutouts do not matter unto themselves.
These two back-to-back shutouts are not just any other. No, this writer is not referring to the fact that the games against Lake Superior State and Miami in Florida were the first time in a boatload of years (51 years, to be precise, dating back to December 7-10, 1963) that Cornell has been shut out in sequential contests. Players, coaches, journalists, and fans should be indifferent to that alike. Who cares? A loss is a loss.
What matters is when exposed realities reify clandestine truths. Cornell gained deservedly, oh so deservedly so, a reputation as a team that could not score early in this season. That trajectory appeared to be averted. Until Florida. The alarming reality of Florida is not that Cornell was shut out in consecutive games. That ringing in your ears should be a response to a fear that the meager times may be returning. How bad is the Red's scoring dearth?
Schafer preaches that his patented system does not change year after year or season after season. This makes it a veritable control against arguments that Schafer's emphasis on defense and high-probability scoring opportunities is the reason why Cornell suffers from poor offensive output and getting shut out this season. Am I making too much of the former's role in contributing to the latter?
Cornell has suffered 14 first-half shutouts under Mike Schafer in 20 seasons. Three of those 14 have come in the first half of this current season. Those three correlate to 21.4% of first-half shutouts. One first half, representing 5.0% of the first halves that Schafer has coached, contains more than one-fifth of the times that Cornell has been shut out in the opening half of a season. Nine first halves witnessed no shutouts. Only one other, last season, suffered more than one.
The scoring problem is real. Assumption of its existence is now rightfully the default opinion of many members of the Faithful. This writer was loathe to say that the slump was in the rear-view window before the Denver series. Error in prognostication would have been appreciated greatly, but desiring did not make it so.
The consecutive shutouts do matter, just not for the reason that some are saying.
Things that this writer thinks can be shrugged off as typical Cornell-hockey Florida follies? The sloppiness and imprecision of Cornell's play. Those were episodic. Schafer, Syer, and Topher will have the team re-tightened and rededicated to the process. However, it is the players who will need to find their own road maps to the back of the net. Again.
The good news in this offensive downturn? Gillam has proven that if any goaltender in the nation can make one goal count for a victory, it is he. Gillam gives Cornell a chance to win every game. Neither history nor scale flap him. He is a Cornell goaltender in the purest sense. During a season that the senior class was supposed to dominate, Mitch Gillam has found the ability to shine as a star.
We all know what is next. Members of the ECAC Hockey community call it the North Country. It would be as appropriately called The Hills Have Eyes. Historically, if the venerated barns and on-again-off-again rabid local support do not kill Cornell, the officiating or stomach flu will. This is all said with much truth and much love.
In a conference that houses many pure hockey schools, St. Lawrence University and Clarkson University may stand as the purest examples. Thus, Cornell responds with appropriate desire to beat these historic, Upstate New York programs. It also may be because the Big Red has not swept the North-Country trip in a decade. If this 2014-15 team wants to grab a mid-season sliver of immortality, it only needs to return from the North Country with the pelts of the Saints and Golden Knights.
St. Lawrence's offense has simmered somewhat. The Saints marched into Lynah Rink owning a 3.56 goals per game average. The Laurentians own a mere 2.89 goals per game average now because of a dip to 1.71 goals per game since leaving Lynah Rink. They are a potent team, as Cornell learned, and have a fearsome netminder in Hayton.
Clarkson will want revenge. A five-minute major in overtime was the last break that went Clarkson's way at Lynah Rink. The rest was a blur as Eric Freschi and Joel Lowry raced past Casey Jones's bench to clutch victory from the digestive tract of defeat. Tech dislikes Cornell a great deal. The Golden Knights recently salvaged a home victory against the Yellow Jackets of American International. Salvage is the operative verb. They will want to do one better against the hated Red.
Clarkson has not lost a game in regulation in ECAC Hockey play. Casey Jones's boys have lost only one of those contests. That loss was Clarkson's only in-conference loss. One is the loneliest number, so Cornell should do the humane thing.
The Floridian occurrences imply that more than the sun ailed Cornell. Nearly two full weeks of rest and practice should have the Big Red primed to fire on all cylinders. Gillam will do his part. Scoring will need to return.
Joel Lowry was absent from the line-up during both games in Florida. He has been the spark, the heart, or whichever similar noun one invokes, of this team when it went on its 5-2-0 run to close out the first semester. His role is essential to restarting this Cornell squad on its hopeful path.
Joakim Ryan has not scored since his return. However, returning at what he stated was 70% in early December, it is understandable that it may take him time to snap into his unstoppable scoring groove. History proves that two-way defensemen in the truest sense, like Ryan, are indispensable to success of Cornell teams. Patrick McCarron and Ryan Bliss have proven that they have the flair for such a style of play. Adding Ryan to the mix of those two and the surprisingly lethal occasional contributions of Willcox will add another dimension to Cornell's stalled offensive threat.
Much has been made about John McCarron's scoring slump. This writer has not. Other than a few regrettable mishaps, he has served to generate for his squad when he knows that he does not have the touch to pot the goal from his stick. The good news? The Captain's scoring touch has been partial to halves of seasons. Sometimes it is the opening half. Other times it is the closing half. McCarron has notched five points and no goals so far this season. It is coming in the second half.
Cornell has 16 games. More than half the season lies ahead. 13 games have wilted away.
16 games are what remain for this contingent in carnelian and white to make a difference. Four-squared contests separate the Big Red from the moment that seeding for the playoffs occurs. The real season begins then. Cornell cannot surrender any footing and must regain some. The Formula, something that may become a refrain over the remainder of the season, is simple. The first step is attaining a top-four seed for the ECAC Hockey post-season. It will be a long, twisting, winding, challenging road. It is for what the Cornell ethos is suited. We are the blue-collar Ivy.
The #Slog4Seeding begins now.