What did you find yourself asking yourself after last weekend's series? I know what I did. Isn't a three-point weekend great?
Such is the mindset of a member of the Lynah Faithful after the jarring experience that was last season. The mental gash that remains from watching one of Cornell's most talented teams in recent memory not reach the championship weekend, something that had become all but a birthright for Cornell teams, is slow to fade. This lends itself to a certain degree of pessimism and alarmism. Who can blame us? It has been four years since a Whitelaw Cup was hoisted.
Further exacerbating the situation is the competitive congestion atop the ECAC Hockey standings. While Cornell got three points, the one other team in action above Cornell in the standings got four points. However, taking a page out of Schafer's and most great coach's playbook, I took a deep breath and realized that if the process is there, the results will take care of themselves. The process was there.
Last weekend, Cornell manifested archetypical Cornell hockey. The Big Red dominated Harvard from the first faceoff. More than half of the first period had elapsed before Andy Iles even had to make a save. During that time period, Harvard even benefited from a power play. Cornell came to win the contest. It would do that.
It was on said power play that Madison Dias collected an up-ice pass from Joakim Ryan at the blue line. Dias, who showed a knack for puck placement in the second half last season, slapped a shot into the upper glove-side corner of the net. It was Cornell's first shorthanded goal of the season. It was Dias's first goal of the season. It was not Cornell's last of the night.
The adrenal and theatricality of the rivalry between Cornell and Harvard was on extreme display. Christian Hilbrich and Brian Ferlin on a last-seconds rush down the ice before the first intermission generated an offensive opportunity. Hlibrich decided to opt out of the open pass and shot from Ferlin, and deposited the puck into the corner opened by Dias minutes earlier. A goal with four seconds remaining in the period usually breaks the will of opposing team, especially when it gives a team a multiple-goal lead. Harvard did not get the memo.
Harvard converted on two opportunities that seemed benefited oddly by Cornell defensemen backchecking Harvard forwards to the ice. The second of which was a talented execution from Sean Malone behind the net to Devin Tringale. Each time, Harvard celebrated in jubilant fashion in a manner that manifested well what Harvard's broadcasters stated was a perennial season goal of Harvard: sweep Cornell in the rivalry series.
The ante was upped and once again, Cornell struck when it seemed least likely. Harvard corralled the puck behind its net. The seconds were dwindling. The Crimson, contented with taking a tie into the second intermission, did not expect a dedicated and onrushing Ferlin to challenge with puck possession behind the Harvard's net. Patrick McNally, disgraced captain of the Crimson, seemed none the sharper after his hiatus from hockey at the end of last season when Brian Ferlin with superior skill and grit muscled him off the puck.
The junior forward slid the puck from behind the net to Christian Hilbrich at the red line who found Dustin Mowrey. Mowrey sized up Michalek and exploited the same glove-side void that had proven exploitable early. The senior forward punched the air viciously in overjoy as Cornell had retaken the lead again in the closing seconds of the period. Mowrey must have known his tally would stand as the difference.
Harvard clearly improved as the contest lingered. But, Cornell was undaunted. The game transitioned from sheer Red dominance in the first 15 minutes of the contest to a well balanced contest as Harvard had found reason to play well against its rival. Despite Harvard's improvement, Cornell still tallied two of its goals when Harvard had regained footing. Cornell was generally defensively sound and creatively offensively opportunistic. Some goals were left on the ice, but Cornell did what was needed to win the contest.
Gaudet chose to start unknown James Kruger against a Cornell team that exploited clearly the weaknesses of Michalek's goaltending. It may have been the wisest choice of the evening for the Big Green. There were certainly choices made that were far less wise. Mowrey scored his second goal of the weekend less than five minutes into the contest. It seemed inevitable that more goals would come for Cornell. They would not. Dartmouth tied the game before the midpoint of the game. The game was tied. Cornell generated considerable offense in the waning minutes of the contest, but could not convert. Dartmouth was held in check by responsible defense and a stellar Iles who made the Big Green's shot differential irrelevant.
Three points and a win against Harvard. All achieved on the road, well, at least technically. Nearly three weeks without a contest against a collegiate opponent and the hangover from the Harvard game were endured in admirable fashion. Many great teams have forfeited two points to Dartmouth because of attention to the more emotional Harvard contest on the road. This team kept its focus, defeated Harvard, and took a point out of a Dartmouth team that should improve over the second half of the season.
Prior to the weekend, Coach Scott fell victim to a Freudian slip when interviewed. When asked what did Cornell need to do last weekend, he responded, "get two points on Friday." It was an honest moment of accuracy and candor. Cornell needed points against Dartmouth, but a win against Harvard infuses a jolt of enthusiasm and focus into the season.
Cornell will catch those that it needs to before the playoffs approach. It is best to be getting hot when the playoffs arrive than continue an unquenchable burn that fizzles out before contests of championship consequences are played. Cornell is warm and getting warmer.
North Country Revisited
Clarkson is on a tear through the season. There is no doubt about it. This comes as no surprise to this writer. Casey Jones seemed all but destined to have a great season. Now, his Golden Knights come to Lynah Rink. St. Lawrence has been described as the laughing stock of the Conference. However, such criticisms are entirely misplaced. The Saints went into Ralph Engelstad Arena and took a victory out of a North Dakota team that surrendered only two out-of-conference losses.
Two theories as to the disconnect exist. Maybe ECAC Hockey is that much better than every other conference in the nation including the elite programs of those conferences, so even a low-standing team can dominate a great program in a hostile environment. Or, perhaps St. Lawrence is vastly underperforming from where it once was. Choose the former at your peril.
The Saints of St. Lawrence produce offensively among the best in the nation. Their offensive production is ranked in the top ten. The Brothers Carey may have fallen out of their lofty perch in the national standings for goals scored per game, but they are still in the elite of the top 15 of the nation. They contributed nearly 40% of St. Lawrence's goals. The power play from Canton converts 30.2% of its power-play opportunities; it is the one ECAC Hockey program more lethal than Cornell on the man advantage. The Saints average nearly one and a half power-play goals per game.
However, St. Lawrence cannot keep the puck out of the back of its own net. Three goaltenders have seen action this season. None of them have produced a save percentage above 0.890. Each has a goals-against average of more than three. Only six teams in the nation have a statistically worse defense than St. Lawrence. Take pause however. One of those teams held Cornell to one goal last weekend.
Clarkson is ranked 31 places behind St. Lawrence in terms of scoring offense and a mere 33 places ahead of St. Lawrence in terms of team defense. That disparity in itself indicates the way Clarkson wins contests. The Golden Knights play with incredible balance in their game. Their power play is toward the median in the nation. It does nothing the best, but it does many things well and executes on a consistent level.
No pairing of players contributes more than 25% of Clarkson's offense. Clarkson's offense is balanced. The majority of Clarkson's skaters, 65%, have scored multiple goals this season. Greg Lewis and Steve Perry have performed admirably. The former owns a 0.895 save percentage while a 0.919 belongs to the latter. Steve Perry has seen the last two starts and Greg Lewis took the team's last loss, but Jones has made it apparent that he is still waiting to determine a durable starter.
Clarkson's main advantage is a no-frills approach to the game this season. It resembles some previous Cornell teams. Such a description is no insult, because it yields great results. It makes a team difficult to defeat because no single thing is its tool for victory. The one intangible that Clarkson has his patience. While Clarkson and Cornell resemble one another this season in their opportunism, frustration and impatience rarely plague Clarkson. This combination defeated Cornell with a goal scored with 37 seconds remaining in a game.
Clarkson's apparent weakness? Clarkson has allowed at least one power-play goals in its last three contests. Clarkson ranks 47th in the nation in terms of penalty killing. Cornell's power-play unit finding its menacing form again may be essential to the Big Red avenging its loss in the North Country in a game when goals could come at a premium. Cornell was on the verge of winning the contest against Clarkson earlier this season, but for a momentary mental and systemic lapse.
Finishing chances like those generated last weekend that lay on the ice will be crucial to success this weekend.