For the more macabre of us, let us look at the evidence ever so cursorily in favor of Cornell drawing its own dirt bath. It took the 2014-15 edition of Cornell hockey five attempts to get its first win. The last time that the Big Red took five games to register its first victory was at the beginning of the 1989-90 season. Doug Derraugh was a junior then and Casey Jones had a much better wardrobe.
This is Cornell, we all know how steep the curve is. That season's team suffered only two losses in its first four games. How deep in infamy must one plunge to find a season in which Cornell had an equally bad or worse record than the one with which this team started? You know the famous "Dewey defeats Truman" headline on the Chicago Tribune? It had not happened yet.
Yes, the 1947-48 season, a year that one could call aptly a "program-shuttering" season for its role in impelling the cancellation of the program for nearly a decade, was the last time that Cornell stumbled so badly, scuffed up its knee, and limped to a crawling start. Now, in a perfect exercise of liberal arts education, let's deconstruct why none of this matters.
The legacy of Cornell hockey is about a few things. Labor, endurance, and championships are those facets. Real championships, the ones whose weight pulls banners to storied rafters, are won in March and April, not October and November. One can make too much of early season results.
People tend to make too much of early and late season results. The latter may indicate that a team has arrived at a formidable playoff mindset and level of execution that can help it endure single-elimination competition. Nothing similar can be said of the former. All regular-season wins count the same, despite what some commentators tell themselves.
Why then do the media and fans weight early season competition so heavily? The answer is because there is nothing else to talk about. Boredom in itself cannot be reason enough to pack up on a season, can it? The sky may not be falling.
If you do not want to take it from me, consider what Paula Voorheis said last weekend. Eerily, her sentiments that echo those of Coach Derraugh apply as well to the men's team as they do its female counterpart. She warned that a team cannot peak too early and must concentrate its winning at the right time if it wants to be successful in the meaningful postseason.
The postseason is months away. Cornell almost certainly will find a way to win. This is intended to give some solace, not encourage complacency. This team has clear deficiencies that need to be addressed.
Cycling has become more of a ritual than a tactic. Ineffective cycling on the power play carries with it at least the advantage of wearing down a team that is shorthanded. It has no such advantage during even-strength play. Nevertheless, in both situations, Cornell appears contented to pass around the periphery while pausing at times to stop, discern if a chance exists, and hesitate just long enough that the defense erases all such opportunities.
Yes, this could be run-of-the-mill being too choosy with shooting, but this season it brings in tow an exaggerated negative. Cornell, many seasons and recruiting classes away from being able to be classified as "big and slow," has become stale and uncreative in its offensive chances. Many a Cornell forward this season has created a needless battle in the corner to begin cycling rather than take a high-probability chance on net right down the center with only one defender backchecking.
This writer must concede that Cornell has little efficiency in converting breakaways this season, but resorting to a cycling-first and cycling-only preference for generating scoring chances has yielded 0.5 goals per contest. Yates's goal against Nebraska-Omaha and Buckles's goal against St. Lawrence were dirty goals that were scored on transitional plays. Neither involved cycling in their generation.
The Clarkson game speaks volumes to the failings of the cycle-only approach this season. Lowry, Bardreau, and Gillam stretched the ice and converted with steely ease on an unstoppable, up-ice transition play on the Golden Knights. Freschi did the same off of a fearless never-say-die Lowry breakaway while the Red was killing a five-minute major in sudden-death overtime. When unfettered, yet disciplined, Cornell can unravel most teams. Restraint must not be confused with responsibility.
Four of Cornell's paltry seven goals scored this season have come off of transition or improvised plays. Three goals have come off of grinding out an opponent in its own end. Nevertheless, this team, more stubbornly than any in recent memory, defaults to charging into the corners no matter what opportunities may lie before it. Continuing to stifle the creativity that even restricted has yielded 57.1% of the Big Red's goals and expecting a sudden improvement in offensive potency is tantamount to Franklinian insanity.
Finally, can we stop counting scoring opportunities? Apportioning some ego-boosting weight to the fact that Cornell has generated scoring chances but not converted is of little use. Patting someone on the back for generating scoring chances but not converting is akin to congratulating a student for bubbling in answers on the SAT without consideration of how many answers are correct.
Cornell has a great deal of time to find its scoring touch. If it does not find it, the Lynah Faithful will become acutely aware of exactly how long a season is. The Red's defensive play and goaltending have been bright spots, but no matter how reliable both are, they deserve to be given a margin of error greater than a typical game's bad bounce and hard-earned goal.
Yale comes to town on Friday. Brown follows it on Saturday. The Elis have grown quite gluttonous on oversized, undersped talent over the last few seasons. It shows. The once-high octane attack of Keith Allain has given way to a stingier, slower defensive style of play which explains why the Elis have scored more than two goals only once this season. Brown is on a skid. The Bears have lost four games in a row. Whittet always has his teams ready to compete at the highest level even if it does not show on the scoreboard. Allain, well, we all know how Allain prepares for Cornell.
Cornell should be focused on becoming the team that it needs to be to close out this season with a Whitelaw Cup and a run in the NCAA Tournament. It has months to finish that process, but it stalled last weekend on Saturday after two creative break-out plays downed Clarkson in a way that many fans will not soon forget. Out-of-conference opponents Penn State and Denver loom. Both are high-scoring opponents that present dual chances at padding or shredding a national resume.
Time, Cornell has. However, an essential part of tournaments is seeding. Winning the spittoon may not matter to the Big Red, but with every loss, Cornell digs a deeper hole. If Cornell does not stop bleeding seeding like a gymnosperm, it will continue to dig its own grave.