Three more finish lines are glossed over the macadam on the horizon for Cornell University’s carnelian warriors. Eyes need to survey the course ahead and the potholes that pock the pavement before those demarcations. Nevertheless, while this team guzzles what any regular viewer of ILDN assumes must be Big Red Refuel, the Lynah Faithful can reflect upon the grueling terrain traversed in the last two weeks of play.
Coach Schafer said it several times between face-off with Union on Friday, February 3 and the post-game press conference on Sunday, February 12. The members of this team were going to get a taste of professional hockey. They did get just that. Collegiate athletics are the passion of the contributors here at Where Angels Fear to Tread, if you could not tell, but with the frequency with which this team’s last run of games was compared to those of their professional peers, perhaps a look at the professional ranks is in order.
Only ten teams in the NHL played as many games as did Cornell between February 3 and February 12. No team played more games than did the wearers of the carnelian and white. Yes, only one-third of the franchises in the NHL sent their paid athletes into competition five times in that span. How did those teams fare?
Those ten NHL clubs went 25-16-9. A winning percentage of 0.590 is respectable…if you do not play for Coach Schafer or on this team. The Red won at a rate 52.5% greater than did professionals in producing its 0.900 winning percentage during its five-game run. Only the Washington Capitals won every one of their five games.
The NHL runners-up to Cornell’s blitz through its five-games-in-nine-days stretch were the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins. The two tied for a 0.800 record in two different ways. The Blues went 4-1-0. The Penguins went 3-0-2. So, were Cornell an NHL team over that run, only the appropriators of the anthem “red!” would have outperformed the icers of New York’s land-grant university.
The most talented hockey players in the world play in the NHL. A grueling schedule of five games in nine days takes its toll. Conditioning erodes to fatigue. Mental acuity dulls. It must have an effect on the offensive output of even the most talented franchises. It certainly would at the collegiate level with the demands of the academy.
The Lynah Faithful from Schenectady to Ithaca celebrated 20 goals over five games. The offensively replete aquatic birds of the Steel City scored only 17 goals on the same calendar. The Penguins own one of the NHL’s four best records. The grapplers of the Beltway constituted the only club to outscore the 77-year elder Red.
Oh, yeah, the Caps currently lead the NHL in the hunt for the boondoggle of the Presidents’ Trophy.
Cornell was the second-best team in the NHL. This team is far from proving that it is the second-best or best team in college hockey. They were a solid nine days. Coach Schafer’s charges and he chilled one regrettable point on the ice in a very winnable contest against Keith Allain’s Yale. The professional hiatus retired.
The road ahead is no easier. If anything, it is more grueling. The players on this season’s roster have made their intentions known. Mitch Gillam, channeling the panache of The Bambino, most pointedly called his shot (save?) for his team when publicizing its goal to play in the 2017 Frozen Four Final.
A hack-the-Pairwise-at-all-costs mentality pervades the team. As reassuring as Cornell’s recent 4-0-1 run is, one needs to consider the quality of the opponents relative to the Red’s ambitions of gaining entry to the national tournament. The average of the projected Pairwise Rankings of Union, RPI, Colgate, Yale, and Brown is 40.6.
The average result that Cornell notched in that five-game run was equivalent to defeating a team that was roughly 26 spots out of the projected field for the Frozen-Four tournament. Meanwhile, somewhere on Route 11 between Canton and Potsdam must be 22.5 in the Pairwise Rankings. Cornell can check on its trip to Cheel on Saturday.
Friday night’s pitch at Appleton Arena pits the nation’s third-best home team against the nation’s third-best road team. St. Lawrence has dropped just four conference games. Three of those setbacks occurred on the road. The Saints have failed to win at home only thrice this season. Cornell has endured just three non-wins on the road.
One of those threes will become a four on Friday. It will be a very tall task for the Red to be victorious. Gavin Bayreuther unexpectedly returned three weeks ago. Immediately, he inspired St. Lawrence’s three-goal rally to defeat Union at Appleton. The defensive dynamo has recorded two points in three games.
The Saints have played two weekends without a win. Laurentians will demand penance for that sin against their program’s history this weekend. The Ithacans will need to bring with them all of the tenacity that they took to Messa Rink with none of the mental miscues if they want to force Canton’s equally raucous sylvan sanctuary and its talented denizens to part with points.
All the soothing history that fans of ECAC Hockey have come to expect and the disproportionate asymmetric loathing that serves as a salutation for the Lynah Faithful at select away venues attend the trip to Cheel. Clarkson-Cornell match-ups for the Whitelaw Cup are the second-most common championship pairing for the Eastern prize (tied with Clarkson-St. Lawrence meetings, if one is curious). Only Cornell and Harvard have met more frequently.
The last time that Cornell lost such an encounter to Tech was the Red’s first modern championship game in 1966. Clarkson and Cornell last met to decide a title when the bench boss of Friday’s opponent led the program in Potsdam. Three carnelian-and-white victories over green and goldenrod occurred between those meetings. The Red double dipped in 1970 with victories in the Whitelaw Cup and Frozen Four Finals.
Cornell bears little blame for this plight. The Golden Knights are evidently engineered as runners-up. No program has appeared in more Frozen Four Finals (three) without winning a national title as Without a Peer once reminded Clarkson’s fans. Fret not, champions of Clarkson, Quinnipiac is doing its best to usurp that ignominy.
Clarkson recently defeated St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac. It lost none of the opportunism that required heroics on East Hill to salvage a point for Cornell in January. The scoring specter that Coach Schafer exorcised from this team against Brown needs to haunt the barns of the North Country.
The Lynah Faithful should thank Anthony Angello. The sophomore forward from Central New York found the antiserum for Mitch Vanderlaan’s snake bite. Vanderlaan went nine games without scoring a goal. He scored seven goals in the season’s first 11 games.
The winger from New Brunswick has played phenomenally lately. His defensive game against Yale is proof. He plays the puck responsibly. Opponents are all but incapable of keeping him in his defensive zone. Toxin still coursed through his veins until his classmate upped the ante in taking Vanderlaan’s lead in goals. He responded. Vanderlaan’s goal against Brown could be the last piece fitting for his complete game this season.
A mainstay of Cornell’s defense seemed dazed all last weekend. These lapses will prevent the Red from earning truly historic victories if they continue this weekend. Appleton and Cheel are no places to make mistakes.
Harvard is the only team to have swept in the North Country. If that Harvard team can do it, why not this Cornell team? The rivalry lives in the North Country. The Red can prove it is the Crimson’s equal or superior this weekend.
Cornell began its stretch of five games with a public proclamation that it was going to Union to claim this team’s first signature win. It got it. Why should the sights of this team lower to a mere signature win? Why not seek out a signature weekend? It will take at least three signature weekends to punch a ticket to Chicago.
Assistant director of athletic communications Brandon Thomas made the Lynah Faithful and this team aware of a historic reality. No Cornell team has swept four road weekends in ECAC Hockey since the league has employed its travel-partner system in 1984. No, not 2002-03. Nope, not 2004-05 either.
The members of this Cornell squad already aim to one-up (two-up, more appropriately) the 2002-03 team when April arrives. Why not get started on the task early with foreshadowing penned against St. Lawrence and Clarkson?
Cornell and St. Lawrence are tied in ECAC Hockey’s standings. The readiest way to pass a team in a battle for seeding is to defeat that team directly. A victory against the Saints also would serve to give Cornell a tie-breaker over St. Lawrence which may prove beneficial on February 25. Cornell can clinch a top-four seed if Quinnipiac loses and Cornell earns three points this weekend. The Red could end the weekend as high as first or as low as a tie for fourth. This writer knows as a trained endurance athlete that the race is always in front of you. If Cornell is worried about the Bobcats, it has lost already.