The ECAC coaches and media polls were released last week. Union ranked first in both polls. That result is predictable and deserved. The Dutchmen have had three years in the upper echelon of the conference and after winning their first Whitelaw Cup deserve some respect. When one considers that they suffered very little attrition, they are the natural choice to finish first in the ECAC. Cornell was picked to finish second in both polls.
Examination of the margins by which Union beat Cornell in the polls is interesting to discern exactly how close voters feel the contest between Cornell and Union will be for a regular-season title. In the coaches poll, the margin between Cornell and Union was 8 points. A total of 838 points were awarded in the poll. The margin as a percent of votes between Cornell and Union is less than one percent at 0.95%. The margin between the Big Red and the Dutchmen in the media poll was 13 points. 2,343 points were awarded in the media poll. The 13-point Cornell-Union differential amounts to a percent gap of 0.55%. The narrowness of this gap indicates how the battle for supremacy between the historically dominant program of the ECAC and the recently dominant program is expected to be a very close one in the 2012-13 season.
The season will develop much differently than the last two season if the preseason polls are any indication. There is no anticipated "Murders' Row" of travel partners like there was in 2010-11 with RPI and Union, or 2011-12 with Colgate and Cornell for much of the season. The ECAC does have four program recognized as among the top-twenty programs in the nation according to USA Hockey. The programs included are Quinnipiac at 18, Harvard at 16, Cornell at 6, and Union at 5. None of the programs are traveling partners. The USCHO poll concludes that three ECAC programs rank that highly. Union and Cornell appear again at 5 and 6 respectively while Harvard is ranked 17. These rankings indicate that Cornell-Union games this season may have increasingly important 2013 NCAA Tournament ramifications as Union's 2012-13 out-of-conference schedule does not seem to lend itself like their schedule last season to obtain pairwise points directly.
The uplifting news for the Faithful should be that Cornell has not lost to Union in the very recent years of Union's success when Cornell is not solidly within a rebuilding year. Cornell will not be in a rebuilding year this season. Cornell's record against Union over the last four years when Cornell has not been rebuilding is 5-0-2.
Steve Fetch, a contributor to The Checking Line, a blog that covers hockey, has been counting down the sixteen best teams in the nation. The number was chosen intentionally for the number of teams at the end of the season that will compete for a national title in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Fetch ranked Union ninth. Recently, however, The Checking Line posted its prediction for the sixth best team in the nation. It was Cornell. Fetch had the following interesting comments to say:
"Although Union's Tony Grosenick has a higher save percentage, it would not be unfair to call Iles the most
talented goalie in the league."
I agree with this statement entirely. I think that Grosenick is a solid goaltender who can deliver behind a talented defensive core. I maintain however that in a high-stakes game or tough situation that I always would prefer to have Iles defending the goal of my team over Grosenick.
"As Cornell has grown into more and more of a national power, their recruiting classes have become better
and better. This year is no exception: even though it is a small class, the Big Red are big on incoming talent."
This statement was interesting primarily because it runs against the grain of what most recruiting commentators outside of the Cornell hockey community have been saying. The party line among such writers has been that Cornell recruited reliability over explosive talent this season. It is refreshing to hear an unaligned blogger agree with comments among the Faithful that this class is not short on talent. As I have said before, even if the out-group commentators are correct, Cornell lost dependability and reliability, not flashy scoring, so this talented incoming class will fit in well with and contribute to a team that was one goal away from a Frozen Four.
"...I will go out on a limb and predict that Cornell will be ECAC Hockey's second straight Frozen Four
Nice to have the sentimentalities of WAFT legitimated by an outside source. Very little can be added to this. However, I encourage all to read the Fetch post in its entirety because it provides an objective and fair look at the strengths and ambitions of the 2012-13 Cornell Big Red hockey team. WAFT will be more explicit about what we think that the Lynah Faithful will be able to expect of this team when the season gets closer. Suffice it to say, Fetch is on the right track.
The first game of Cornell's season against an NCAA opponent will be predictably against an out-of-conference opponent. This will not be an easy game as Colorado College has much to prove after missing the 2012 NCAA Tournament and after Cornell defeated the Tigers at World Arena in January. Colorado College will enter the game with two full weekends of NCAA play behind it. Colorado College was selected to finish seventh in the WCHA in the league's media poll. The first USA Hockey poll placed Colorado College at 20th. USCHO voters agreed with that ranking.
The next major out-of-conference game occurs in Manhattan when the Wolverines arrive in the Big Apple to face Cornell. Who will have the home ice advantage? Cornell of course. Why? Because "Cornell is NY" (for those who do not know, this slogan is a recent branding campaign for Cornell after being awarded the New York City tech campus land-grant). However, don't get your mind set on seeing the above away jerseys for the Wolverines because they enjoy changing their uniforms seemingly every season and they will have quite an array from which to choose for this season's tilt at The Garden. Why a program that professes to honor its history changes its jerseys nearly every season is perplexing. The Wolverines were selected to finish first in the CCHA in the media poll and second to Notre Dame in the CCHA coaches poll. USA Hockey in its first poll ranked the Wolverine team that likely will rely upon a freshman goalie at third in the nation. USCHO followed suit and ranked Michigan third in its first poll.
The annual trip to Estero for Cornell's and Maine's Florida College Hockey Classic will include a first-round clash against Cornell's 2012 NCAA Regional Final opponent Ferris State. Ferris State won its second-ever CCHA regular-season title during the 2011-12 season. The Bulldogs from Michigan were chosen to finish fourth in the CCHA media poll and fifth in the CCHA coaches poll. Ferris State was the lowest ranked team that participated in the 2012 Frozen Four in USA Hockey's first poll of the season that put the Bulldogs at 14th. USCHO voters were not much kinder when they placed Ferris State at 11th. The other two participants in the 2012 Florida College Hockey Classic are Minnesota-Duluth and Maine. Minnesota-Duluth was chosen to finish fifth in the WCHA in its media poll and was selected 12th in both USA Hockey's and USCHO's first polls. The Black Bears of Maine are expected to finish fifth or sixth (coaches and media polls respectively) in Hockey East while receiving a ranking of 15th in USCHO's first poll and 17th in USA Hockey's first poll of the season.
The last out-of-conference series for the Big Red involves a trip to Denver in WCHA territory. Cornell will face off with the Pioneers on January 4 and 5. The Pioneers are projected currently to finish third in the WCHA and are ranked in both USA Hockey's and USCHO's first polls of the season at eighth in the nation.
Cornell's out-of-conference schedule is particularly ambitious. No possible opponent ranks lower than 20th in the nation in either major national poll going into the season. All possible out-of-conference opponents are expected to finish in the top halves of their respective conferences. Every possible out-of-conference opponent except Colorado College and Maine is expected to finish the regular season near the top third in its conference. However, Michigan is the only out-of-conference opponent who outranks Cornell in the preseason polls.
This schedule is worthy of a team that has made it apparent that it has set its sights high.