It would be very easy to focus an analysis of Cornell's last weekend in such a manner as though it would appear to be an ode to Greg Miller. He may deserve it in many ways. Nonetheless, Cornell's spectacular weekend was a product of amazing team work.
The Engineers and Dutchmen left the Capital District with high hopes. Union had completed a weekend sweep of Brown and Yale, and RPI had extended its winning streak to six games during the previous weekend. Online media began to give RPI well-earned attention. "Engineer Pride" began to re-emerge as even sources outside of the footprint of the ECAC began to think that the Engineers were on the cusp of a return to the NCAA Tournament just two years removed from their last appearance. The haughtiness associated with Union's run to Tampa Bay last season crept back subtly as many in the sphere of the Dutchmen began to imply heavily that Union would exact revenge against Cornell at Lynah Rink.
What the weekend taught us was not that discussion of RPI's return to the NCAA Tournament was premature. RPI is still a very talented team and WAFT has insisted on several occasions that they deserve to be ranked nationally. Union is a good team, and is no better or worse than it was when it left Schenectady last week despite the much changed refrains from Schenectady.
The main lesson of the weekend is that Cornell's return to form and dominance during its trip to Dartmouth and Harvard was not a fleeting, flash-in-the-pan moment. Cornell scorched two very talented teams with highly skilled goaltenders over Senior Weekend. Will the overwhelming dominance continue? One cannot say for certain, but with this roster's talent and regained confidence all signs seem positive.
RPI began Friday's game as aggressive and fast-paced as it had when it defeated Cornell 3-2 in January. Neither team showed reluctance to engage the other and the Engineers appeared hungry very early on to defeat Cornell at Lynah. Both coaches, as is not uncommon, made a point to highlight the importance of getting the first goal of the game. Cornell struck first. The manner in which the Big Red opened scoring set the tone for the weekend.
Ferlin's finesse with his crucial assists this season has become a thing well worthy of note. WAFT mentioned it explicitly with his assist to Mowrey in Cornell's game against Dartmouth at home. The Floridian unrolled yet another highlight-reel-worthy assist to help Cornell's leading goal scorer open scoring for the Big Red. Ferlin drove hard into the corner in RPI's zone, he dug the puck out, and connected with Miller in open ice on the inside of the left face-off circle.
Miller and Kasdorf sized up each other. What transpired was one of the few events in sports that I have witnessed firsthand that appeared as though it happened in slow motion. Miller and Kasdorf positioned themselves and it was Cornell's senior forward who won the stand-off when he blasted a laser of a shot over Kasdorf's shoulder.
The Engineers were not entirely deflated. Lowry would deflate RPI just over a minute later. The Engineers would never regain their composure against Cornell that evening and the game was all but decided. Seth Appert would remark after the game that RPI "lost the game in the first period."
RPI's last gasp of life came as it drew three penalties from Cornell in less than seven minutes of game play. The first was divided between the first and second period leaving the Engineers with 51 seconds of a power play to begin the second period. Cornell killed that penalty and the one immediately following it.
When the whistle blew at 5:45 of the second period for the third consecutive penalty on Cornell in less than seven minutes, the composure of the team changed. Rather than the raw determination that overcomes most penalty killing units for the Big Red, the first penalty-killing unit on the ice acted as though the three penalties within seven minutes was burdensome at best and unjust at worst. One could tell that the team realized that it would have to make its own luck. A fact that it has learned all too well this season.
Cornell began killing the penalty. A rebound off of Iles's pad careened toward the blue line 26 seconds later. Greg Miller streaked up the ice toward the puck. Miller and the puck beat RPI's defenseman Dolan to the puck. This created another one-on-one duel between Miller and Kasdorf. Unlike the first time, this match was high speed but the result was the same. The senior forward converted on the highly skilled goaltender and put Cornell up 3-0 with a shorthanded goal. This Cornell team would not be denied on its Senior Weekend.
The final score of the game was 4-1 with senior John Esposito tallying the empty net goal. Miller was on the ice, but perhaps his classmate realized that he needed to give Miller something to aim for in the games yet to come this season. Friday's game was the second game in which Miller was working on a hat trick. Saturday's game against Union would be the third.
The senior class may have opened scoring Friday night against RPI, but Saturday night, it was the freshman class that had the honor. Freshman forward John Knisley wristed a shot past Troy Grosenick below the right face-off circle and began a cascade of offense that overwhelmed the Dutchmen. Ryan showed that D'Agostino's and his continued offensive generation helped Cornell as the sophomore defenseman scored just over two minutes later off of an assist from Miller and Ferlin.
Miller had tallied a short-handed and an even-strength goal the previous night. On some level, he must have wanted to complete the set. Miller tickled the twine on the power play midway through the first period against Union.
A penalty was called with 1:47 remaining in the first period. What transpired afterward was an odd sequence of events. Schafer called the officials over for an explanation of the penalty against Cornell that was called at the end of the frame. Then, Union's Bennett, noticeably irate, started waving his hands and gesticulating wildly at the officials after the last whistle of the period. Bennett made a bizarre post-game comment that "if [Schafer] want[ed] an explanation why doesn't he come onto our side of the bench and we'll give him one" to justify that exchange. Needless to say, Lynah Rink was in appropriate form as the Faithful serenaded the sinking Dutchmen and their coach as they left the ice for the first intermission with calls of "you just suck." Or was it "U just suck?"
The major intrigue of the remainder of the game was the need for Cornell to kill off a five-on-three opportunity for Union at the end of the third period. Cornell enjoyed only a two-goal advantage at that point in the game and going down two players with senior defenseman and captain Nick D'Agostino, one of Cornell's best penalty killers, put in the box for the second penalty made the task seem all the steeper.
The penalty called on D'Agostino was for a hit on Union's Carr. The whistle was blown. Carr began promptly to regain his feet then a Union player skated over to him, appeared to say something to him, and Carr somehow lost the ability to hold his own body weight.
Union drew the penalty. Cornell killed off the five-on-three opportunity with impressive poise. Then, just 1:50 after he could not muster the strength to lift himself from the ice surface, Carr, not missing a shift, mustered the strength to beat Iles and make the game a one-goal affair.
Cornell turned its offensive efforts on high again in a manner that seemed to imply that the Big Red had been operating under the goal of not embarrassing the visitors. Cornell retook control of the game and never relinquished it. The weekend's scoring ended poetically as Miller slid the puck into an empty net tallying the last remaining type of goal that he had not on the weekend and ending the scoring for a weekend series for which he had opened it.
Miller's performance is what will garner the most attention. His impressive offensive contributions with five points on the weekend are shown in the video at the end of this post. Miller's five points were more than the offensive contributions of highly and deservedly praised forwards such as Boston College's Gaudreau who tallied one point, Minnesota's Bjugstad and Haula who tallied one and two points respectively, North Dakota's Knight and Kristo who tallied three and four points respectively, and St. Lawrence's Carey who tallied two points over the weekend. Miller's four goals over the weekend is twice the total that Kristo and Haula scored, and four times as many as the total that Knight scored last weekend.
Miller's performance is astounding on paper and was breath-taking in person. His nomination as Hobey Baker Award candidate is well deserved. Any commentator who is not including him as a more than deserving nominated forward is not doing his homework.
Lost behind Miller's impressive offensive feats are several other key accomplishments. Few have noted that Ferlin was just one point behind Miller for his weekend point total. His ability to generate offense and find the opportunity to score or those who are in position to score is represented well in his four assists from the weekend.
Axell delivered a very impressive senior weekend. The senior forward and captain may have appeared on the score sheet only once, but his contributions were key to the success of Cornell. The determined and reliable forward gained the zone, corralled pucks, and most impressively cleared the zone on several crucial penalty kills on Friday in particular. His contributions ensured that Cornell's penalty killing remained stellar.
Cornell killed off 90.9% of penalties that the Capital-District visitors enjoyed. RPI and Union brought to Lynah Rink two of the nation's best power-play units. This Cornell team has maintained a penalty killing rate of 80-85% during previous weeks and managed to improve that number over senior week. The determination, confidence, and focus of the Cornell team left even some of the nation's best power-play units with only poor shots from the outside or just enough time to chase the puck at the other end of the ice.
The one statistical category that Cornell let slip away this weekend was shots on goal. This weekend was the first weekend in several weeks during which Cornell was outshot both nights. Schafer's system is one of puck possession and when defending a lead, it is not necessary and is sometimes foolish, to take shots on net. The lower-than-average shots on net for Cornell this season is likely a product of the development of the game less than territorial and possessive dominance. The only time over the weekend that the game noticeably slipped out of Cornell's control was after RPI's first goal. Cornell regained its composure within two shifts.
The shot totals are somewhat less startling too when one considers the manner in which Iles has continued to sustain his play at a heightened level of the last three weekends. Iles recorded a save percentage of 0.956 against RPI and Union while allowing only three goals. Those totals include Iles's crucial role in killing 10 of 11 penalties that Cornell faced over the weekend.
The other main accomplishment is off of the ice. The Lynah Faithful returned in full force. They had not been missing, but they had not been at their best. This last weekend, they were. The reaction of the Faithful during one of the most emotional parts of the night was spectacular.
Miller shot the puck into the empty net against Union. Iles took off his helmet and began motioning to the officials to acknowledge Schafer on the bench so that Cornell could make a substitution. Then, Arthur Mintz announced that Omar Kanji was taking the ice for the first time against an NCAA Division I opponent in his four-year career at Cornell. The Faithful erupted in applause for one of this team's and the Lynah Faithful's most beloved players. The spirit of family was back in full force among the Faithful and this team.
It could have been Senior Night. Or Senior Weekend. It may have been that the Faithful in Sections A and B as well as Sections D and E realized that their taunting of Kasdorf bothered the green goaltender noticeably.
Victory tasted just as sweet as it had when Cornell opened the regular season with a sweep of Colorado College. The embrace of the Faithful was just as warm. No matter the cause, whether it was on the ice or among the fans, something special happened last weekend with a team that WAFT has no hesitance in calling special.
Like families must, sometimes we will travel to the most depraved of places for one another.