The publication of this post was delayed because I decided that it was best to allow time to pass so that the passions of the moment would not motivate too heavily, either direction, my views of the events of the 2013 ECAC Quarterfinals. Also, on some level, it seems wrong on some visceral level that Cornell's season is finished.
This post will recap the weekend that was against Quinnipiac and what I believe it taught as its final lesson to Cornell fans about the 2012-13 team and season. WAFT will then direct its coverage to the 2013 NCAA Tournament later this week through the Frozen Four. When the college hockey season has concluded, WAFT will provide a reflective post of how we think that the 2012-13 season will be remembered in the annals of Cornell hockey history.
It was the playoffs. Quinnipiac was the number-one seed. As the week approached, the narrative shifted to a focus upon the league's runaway points leader confronting the conference's historic power that had been very hot through the end of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. Fans in Quinnipiac's circle began to emphasize that it was Cornell that had more on the line as the historic power of the ECAC and a team with its season on the line. Cornell and Schafer emphasized that it was Quinnipiac that would bear the burden of carrying the yoke of expectations and would need to prove that it could carry such a heavy burden.
Quinnipiac stood between Cornell and the Big Red's 13th Whitelaw Cup which would bring with it guaranteed entry into the national tournament. Cornell would have it no other way. Generations of players for the Big Red have defined themselves by their abilities to win championships regularly and to slay Goliaths of the college hockey world more prestigious and prodigious than the likes of Quinnipiac. Even in the Bobcats's best season.
Cornell took the ice in the sterile confines of Quinnipiac's corporately named venue on Friday. The Bobcats struck first. The ice that had tilted in favor of Quinnipiac for the first six minutes began to give way. The expectant build-up the week before for Cornell was about to be unleashed in a full onslaught. The Bobcats had awoken a sleeping giant.
Quinnipiac took a one-goal lead into the first intermission. It would not last long. Cornell's Ferlin struck just 23 seconds into the second period. The Bobcats would battle ferociously to fight back with Kellen Jones tallying another would-be go-ahead goal. Madison Dias had an answer less than three minutes later. Dias, in a play reminiscent of the one that yielded his goal against Dartmouth earlier in the season, skated an arc to the point and blasted the puck beyond Hartzell.
The second and third period of game one became a clinic in perfectly executed Cornell hockey against a dangerous opponent. The third period ended with Brian Ferlin scoring his second goal of the period and putting Cornell atop the home-standing Bobcats, 3-2. The sense in the air as Cornell made that goal stand as the go-ahead goal for the remaining 6:16 of the second period was that Cornell could defend this one-goal lead for the remainder of the game.
Cornell did exactly that.
Cornell challenged when it had clear and undangerous chances in the third period but it could not find the back of the net. It would not need to. Cornell's defensemen and forwards with Iles backstopping both forced all shots to the periphery and Iles was equal to the challenges that got through. Iles delivered a spectacular performance and a well-executed neutral zone trap allowed Cornell's players to return to their hotel rooms with a stranglehold on the 2013 ECAC Quarterfinal series against the top-seeded Bobcats.
An often overlooked event occurred during the first game that likely reverberated throughout game two and game three of the series. Quinnipiac's Van Brabant took a questionable hit behind the play on Cornell's senior captain Erik Axell. The senior Cornell forward left the ice excruciatingly slowly and would not return for what would be the remainder of the season.
Van Brabant's hit did not result in a penalty during the game. However, the Conference upon post-game review of the hit decided to impose a one-game suspension for the hit. Van Brabant was absent from game two of the ECAC Quarterfinal as was Axell.
The writing was on the wall early in game two. It was not Cornell's night. Quinnipiac found the back of Cornell's net just 24 seconds into the game after a blown play. Cornell was appreciably unsettled after that early goal and never regained its game. It was hard not to think back to the 2012 NCAA Regional Semifinal against Michigan in which Michigan got a quick goal against Cornell. Strong leadership pulled the team out of that tailspin. It was Erik Axell who centered and led that line in Green Bay, WI. His presence on the ice was sorely needed but painfully unavailable due to the injury he sustained in game one.
Cornell never regained control of the game. Quickly, Cornell and Schafer began to regroup mentally and physically for the game three that would occur the next day. Most starters for Cornell were benched to avoid fatigue and injury while Quinnipiac engaged in a display of chest-beating as they ran up the score to 10-0 by the time regulation elapsed. Hartzell was the only starter that Quinnipiac benched during the third period.
The interesting conclusion of game two was the reaction not of coaches Scott, Syer, and Schafer, but those of Pecknold and his assistants. The former group was almost unsettlingly calm toward the waning minutes of the third period. It appeared to focus on game three. The latter group transitioned drastically from hubristic and self-indulgent glee to dread. When the game ended, it appeared on the faces of the coaching staffs that Cornell had won the game, at least on some mental level.
Game three loomed for both teams. Quinnipiac felt in some way like they had been bested despite a resounding defeat of Cornell. The reputation and timber of the Bobcats was at stake. Cornell knew that it could close out the series.
Cornell would not wait long to make its ambitions known. Senior captain and defenseman Braden Birch decided that he would take the burden of the team on his back as he stickhandled beautifully between Quinnipiac's defenders and beat the much-lauded Hartzell. It was astounding to see arguably Cornell's best defensive defenseman outmaneuver and handle Quinnipiac's defense almost singlehandedly to put Cornell ahead 1-0 just 48 seconds into the game. Could this Cornell team be denied?
Cornell would kill off two penalties before the midpoint of the second period. Quinnipiac would equalize the game by that point. Ferlin, just two days removed from putting two goals up for Cornell, responded within 1:04 after Quinnipiac's equalizer to put Cornell ahead once more.
The play that resulted Cornell's second goal had distinct glimpses of greatness that had those who began the season with the highest expectations lamenting what could have been. Cornell was in the middle of a line change. Junior forward Dustin Mowrey saw a play developing down ice. He chose to remain on the ice in Quinnipiac's zone. Mowrey checked a Quinnipiac defender off the puck. Ferlin received the puck in the slot with two Bobcat defenders too dazed to react. He tickled the twine with a blast of a shot.
Cornell needed to kill off two more penalties in the second period. The Big Red did that with relative ease and poise. It seemed as though the game would be decided in the third period.
The feeling around the game was not altogether dissimilar to that which surrounded game one when the third period began. It became apparent early in the third period that Cornell had resolved to defend the 2-1 advantage that it owned at the opening of the third frame. The calm confidence that overcame Cornell fans throughout the third period of game one was absent. Apprehension replaced it.
Cornell made this uneasiness seem misguided for most of the third period. Cornell stood up most Quinnipiac rushes in the neutral zone and those who bypassed the Big Red blockade were met with shutdown defense in Cornell's defensive zone. More than ever, Cornell treated the final 60 minutes of regulation as though it was all a penalty kill. This approach worked well until the final two minutes of regulation.
A lapse in Quinnipiac's defense during a line change led to an odd-man rush. Cornell's Ferlin and Lowry found themselves rushing in on Hartzell. Ferlin had solved Hartzell three times already in the series. Cornell knew that Quinnipiac's last-gasp push to prevent elimination in the 2013 ECAC playoffs would be coming soon. If the Ferlin-Lowry rush could beat Hartzell, Quinnipiac's push likely would be for naught if it occurred at all and the game effectively would be over.
The duo that had combined for several flawless goals over the course of the season would not do it one last time. The pair did not convert. It was not a marvel of goaltending from Hartzell that prevented them. The play did not connect. This play shows but one opportunity where the ultimate result could have been averted. Ferlin scarcely can be faulted for this play as he scored 60% of the goals that Cornell notched against the Bobcats in the playoff series.
Cornell transitioned and retreated into its defensive zone. Hartzell raced to the bench with around 1:30 remaining in the game. Cornell and Quinnipiac battled viciously along the blue line as the Big Red was excruciatingly close to getting the ever-important clear as seconds ticked away. Quinnipiac kept the puck in Cornell's zone. The Bobcats found the equalizer with 1:04 remaining in regulation.
The game continued in overtime. Quinnipiac notched the deciding tally 34:08 and 29 phenomenal saves from Iles later.
When asked what will I remember about this series, what will I say?
I've asked myself that question over the last week and a half. Three things have influenced my general perception of the weekend. One that I wish would not, but naggingly persists no matter how much I try to ignore it. The remaining two I am certain will influence my memories of the weekend whenever I recount it.
The thing that I wished I could forget or, better, wish had not happened so that it would not tinge the memory of even a losing series occurred in game three. Both goals that Quinnipiac scored in regulation occurred under suspicious circumstances. Additionally, a Cornell goal from John McCarron was waived off in the first period.
Quinnipiac's first goal came from Tolkinen. There was a clear crease violation before and while the puck crossed the line. The game-tying goal from the Bobcats's Harvey that pushed game three into overtime was deflected into the net off of a high stick. The first period ended with a scramble in front of Hartzell's net. ECAC official Whittemore positioned himself behind the net. The puck jumped out from the scrum in front of the net into the open ice to the left of Hartzell's pad. Sophomore forward McCarron slipped it into the net. The goal was disallowed because of a whistle that according to accounts from all sides was very premature considering Whittemore reasonably could not have lost sight of the puck.
The ECAC community is populated by fans who think that Cornell's success is a product of systemic preferential treatment from Conference officials. Fans of other programs who explain away the losses of their teams to Cornell in such a manner should consider this game. It is upsetting when a blown call makes the difference in a game. It is tragic when three goal calls are blown in one game. Quinnipiac benefited from three poor calls that gave them effectively a three-goal differential advantage. Had the officials gotten just one of those three calls correct, Cornell would have won in regulation.
A failure of officiating so grand cannot even be simplified to a rallying cry of defiance and remembrance such as "no goal." In such resides another harsh reality.
The things that I will never forget about the 2013 ECAC Quarterfinal between Cornell and Quinnipiac are how Cornell and its student-athletes represented our community. They made us proud. I was asked after the game if I was even proud after the game-two blowout. The answer is simple enough, yes. Was the loss embarrassing on some level? Undeniably yes, but I think that pride can be taken in that the Cornell team had the maturity to accept that game two was not its night and to move on. The leadership of Kanji as he took the ice when a great deal of Cornell's lineup were recalled to the bench showed great resolve and character. The next night, Cornell was ready and showed the compartmentalization and prioritization that is required of all student-athletes and that all Cornellians learn keenly well at the University. So, yes, even despite the game-two loss, this team made us proud.
Games one and three captured the work ethic and tenacity of this team. This team from forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders and on all lines fought for every accomplishment that it enjoyed in the 2013 ECAC Quarterinal. It got nothing easily. It expected nothing easily. The team in the waning minutes of a second overtime never surrendered and fought endlessly. Even when the ice began to tilt more in Quinnipiac's favor in the first overtime, Cornell's core redoubled its efforts. The image of Birch, Ryan, and Willcox taking extended shifts in an already long-running game with battling along the boards, finishing all of their checks, and corralling the pucks out of the corners in hopes of stopping Quinnipiac's best chance and generating a Cornell rush are forever seared into my memory.
The team that had little luck go its way this season battled onward for two additional periods. It knew that it would have to make its own luck as it had throughout the season when it tasted victory. As a group, the 2012-13 team battled until the final tally of the series. This, I will never forget and this will be what defines this series in my memory for this Cornell team.
The other lasting image or memory is that of Andy Iles delivering one of the greatest performances of a Cornell goaltender in recent memory. Scrivens was called on to make 52 saves against Yale in a regular-season game in February 2010. McKee recorded 59 saves against Wisconsin in the 2006 NCAA Midwest Regional Final in three overtimes. Iles's tremendous performance in the deciding game three of the 2013 ECAC Quarterfinal equals or surpasses the performance in either of those games.
Iles seemed indefatigable. Iles made 60 saves during the game over less than two overtimes. He did what was needed for Cornell to keep it in the game when it seemed that it was about to lose control. The few times that little else was going in Cornell's favor, Iles made the difference. Words can scarcely capture how impressive and dominant his performance was. Cornell knew more than ever that it could rely on Iles. Iles gave Cornell more than a chance to win and his efforts in game three should be revered more highly than the two recent performances above cited. In the history of a program that largely is written in terms of famous netminders, Iles's performance against Quinnipiac in game three never should be forgotten.
The loss in the series ended Cornell's season. The series was not without uplifting moments. The team made the Cornell community proud as it did not quit. A team that was undeterred throughout the season by the most unfortunate of circumstances or steepest of odds found the collected strength of moral character to continue to fight until the very end. This work ethic and passion is what I will remember about the 2013 ECAC Quarterfinal series for Cornell. I will remember what this team made us do. It made us believe.