The reason is multifaceted. And, I find myself likening the emotions to the recent hit Blank Space from Taylor Swift (as the title of this post implies). Hey, if the men can rely on Shake It Off for Pink the Rink, why can't I coast on Miss Swift's coattails and use her lyrics to capture the dichotomy of this season for the Lady Rouge?
Like the star-crossed lovers featured in Blank Space, the love affair between the Lynah Faithful and their team has been a tortured ecstasy-giving one. A four-loss slide began the regular season. This writer did not get down on this team, as any readers will recall. Coaches Doug Derraugh and Dani Bilodeau, and Paula Voorheis all reiterated that unlike the red-hot regular season of last campaign, their goal was to get better and crescendo toward and deep into the postseason.
This writer did not worry. I bought into it. It made perfect sense in terms of sports theory. The goal should be to reach peak performance at the right time because the ability of a team to keep that form for a prolonged amount of time, say, four weeks in February and March, is exceedingly rare. So, Where Angels Fear to Tread bore that torch proudly.
We were rewarded. Brown, Yale, and Colgate were defeated in seemingly easy order. The disciplined execution of Minnesota-Duluth proved too much for a team in its fourth week that sought to get better over the course of the regular season. Heck, the 2-0 loss in the second game felt almost uplifting because of the response it showed. It was all okay. It was part of the plan.
The streak began next. This is when the early-season narrative picked up epic amounts of steam. The clouds billowed for weeks. In 16 games, the Big Red suffered defeat but once. Cornell won 12 of those contests. Those victories were arranged neatly in three sets of four-game winning streaks. Each of the three included teams that were Cornell's equal or superior at that point in the season. All was according to plan, right?
The unraveling did not occur in the lone loss in that run. There was much to be proud of in that contest. The Red played with a very abbreviated bench when the Crimson scored two goals and added an empty-net tally. Paula Voorheis wowed fans of every partisanship that evening much like she did in New Haven. Crimson fans leaving the event rightfully were heard wondering if their preferred team really won if Voorheis outplayed Maschmeyer, Cornell had a shortened bench, and, according to them, most importantly, Jill Saulnier did not take the ice.
This is not a season recap or a postmortem, so a retelling of the dramatics of the victories over Colgate and Quinnipiac is not required. Senior weekend was when the unraveling occurred. Could there be a more alarming time than that for question marks to emerge? Two weeks removed from the playoffs, Cornell put itself in the midst of its worst losing slide since the beginning of the season. A zero-point weekend when the program sends off some of the most celebrated players in the modern era of Cornell hockey is unacceptable. Say what you wish about the disallowed goal against Dartmouth. Is a one-point senior weekend that much better?
Which team will take the ice in the postseason? The one that found a way to put over four times as many goals as Chelsea Laden averaged allowing past her to guarantee victory or the one that acted like an early goal would defeat an archrival buoyed by giving Boston College its first loss just days prior? From fanatical Lynah Faithful to hard-working clutch play, Cornell hockey is supposed to be on another plane in the postseason. However, only one of those efforts proximate to the postseason resembles what will be required to win in February and March.
All of which is why Taylor Swift blares in my ears right now. She is quite right. "Magic, madness, heaven, sin." All capture how this season has felt to this point. It is truly an exciting insanity, but certainly not the that one any of us expected by this point.
This was not supposed to be a down year. It has been already in one regard. The fourth seed with which this team enters the postseason is the lowest accompanying a Cornell team in five playoffs. The good news for the Lady Rouge is that Cornell hockey in general does not remember teams for their seeding or brackets. It remember them for their moments and triumphs. This team has the makings of one that can be triumphant, and this writer knows with its players, it will be memorable.
There is a corps of players who have made sure that this is not a down season.
Emily Fulton has made those outside of East Hill realize that she is a bona fide superstar of women's hockey. A better pure goal scorer cannot be found.
The celebrity that is Jess Brown has outgrown the twittersphere and playoff goal realm, and now explodes consistently on the scoreboard making her always tenacious efforts all the more obvious to even casual fans.
Taylor Woods does not get as much praise as she may deserve from any quarter. Anyone whose listened or watched a game should know that her name and number are integral to Cornell's success at both ends of the ice. This season, Woods has become a linchpin for this team's success.
Then, at the other extreme, there is the freshman phenom in carnelian. In all of college hockey, there is probably only one freshman whose name has been spoken more. Frankly, when Erin O'Connor is mentioned in opposing venues, one in particular, the air of foreboding is far greater than any associated with any other popularly referenced freshmen, deservedly.
Finally, Paula Voorheis's play warrants her nickname as "Big Paula." Last season, she was playoff-tested. This season, she has proven that she can steal games and keep Cornell in games when momentary lapses may have deserved another fate for the Red skaters.
The last four games of the season, including the disappointing senior weekend and the home-ice-preserving weekend in the Capital District, Cornell recorded 29 points. The senior class, representing 23.1% of the skaters who saw ice time, was credited with 62.1% of those points. Taylor Woods contributed over a quarter of the non-senior points. The new stars of Cornell hockey will be needed to drive any deep postseason push for this team.
These playoffs begin in trying fashion. This writer is not sure what other members of the Lynah Faithful or this team see in St. Lawrence, but what I see in St. Lawrence is the makings of another Mercyhurst. No, this is not a commentary of the style of play of the Saints compared to the Lakers. This is a psychological and strategic commentary.
Mercyhurst is the bane of Cornell's existence. It is to the women's program what New Hampshire has been to the men's program. It is a program that is historic, but less decorated, that slays our giants that were expected to claim national glory. A brief history. Cornell dominated the Lakers, 4-0, in the regular season of the 2012-13 season. The Big Red succumbed to them, 4-3, in the national quarterfinals at Lynah Rink. A win and a tie marked Cornell's record against Mercyhurst last season until the playoffs. The Lakers again defeated the Big Red at Lynah Rink to advance to the Frozen Four.
How is St. Lawrence the same or even remotely similar? The second wave of Cornell's postseason dominance (the first was 1976-81) began in 2010. The postseason in the East has belonged to Cornell since March 2010. The Big Red suffered only one postseason setback in ECAC Hockey tournament play since then. That setback? The 2012 ECAC Hockey Championship Final. The opponent? St. Lawrence at Lynah Rink.
The plot thickens when one considers that Cornell earned a win and a tie against St. Lawrence during the regular season. The same record that Cornell had earned against Mercyhurst last season. A record that may create a very, very dangerous sense of superiority and premature finality about this series with St. Lawrence.
Cornell cannot underestimate the Saints like it may have twice underestimated the Lakers. Otherwise, the Lady Rouge will suffer the same fate that it has two postseasons in a row to a nearly perfect analog to the Saints. Yes, it is true that this go-around, the Saints will need to claim two victories out of Lynah Rink rather than one like it needed in 2012. This Saints squad is very talented. Don't think so? Why did it finish in a tie for points in the regular season with the Big Red then?
Two games in the postseason from Lynah Rink is a tall task to ask from any opponent. St. Lawrence will be ready with its ladder. If Cornell gives St. Lawrence too much on the ice or give the Saints too little respect, the openings will be there for the Laurentians to shatter the dreams of the Cornellians. This Cornell team is great, but the last few weeks prove that it is mortal.
This writer will not regale you with statistics at this time. If the playoffs continue, there will be a time for that. However, this writer will say, and I am sure others among the Faithful share the sentiment, that we enter the postseason with a little more hope and a little less confidence than we have in recent seasons. We know better than we have other seasons that this run could be remembered forever or become a saddening collapse in proverbial flames. All is the curve of the playoffs.
The mindset of one of the team's leaders is certainly in the right place.
A new season begins. It is time for this team to write its narrative. The postseason is indeed a blank space. The blank space of opportunity. The vacuous blank space of uncertainty. The blank space on the ECAC Hockey Championship trophy where each team hopes to write its name. We find ourselves hoping that Cornell's latter-season triumphant run was not "a nightmare dressed like a daydream." And, that in March, we will realize "the high was worth the pain."