The first thing that struck WAFT while watching the game was the evolved chemistry of the team. Players who last season did not play on the same lines typically had heightened awareness of where each other would be that generated plays that could be described as only fluid and beautiful. The greatest chemistry, or at least that which impressed me most as compared to last season's performances, was the relationship between Bardreau and McCarron. Even though the two did not score a goal in either game, the offense that they generated together in the first period of the first game in the Colorado College series was particularly noteworthy. Bardreau and McCarron together tallied on Esposito's season-opening and game-winning goal.
Esposito proved that he had his ritualistic nap before the game for those who were questioning it early in the game. Espo went on to prove to Cornell's WCHA foe how dangerous he can be when healthy with scoring the second goal for the Big Red. The goal was again assisted by Upstate New York talent, Bardreau.
The offensive efforts of the likes of sophomores Ferlin and Lowry were awarded during the second game of the series. Saturday night Lowry scored two goals continuing the trend that Esposito began the previous night while Ferlin opened scoring for the second game at approximately the midpoint of the first period. Ferlin's goal was later awarded to de Swardt while Ferlin was awarded an assist instead of a goal on the play.
The dynamic of the second game was somewhat different compared to the first. Cornell outshot Colorado College by a margin of 28 to 19 in the first game. The second night, the reverse was true. This return to a dynamic more typical of Cornell hockey in recent years did not reverse the ultimate result. The Tigers outshot the Big Red 23 to 20, but Cornell's defense and special teams continued to control the flow of the game. Iles was reliable in net throughout both games and served as a key penalty killer.
The opening ten minutes of the first game witnessed Colorado College dictate the pace and nature of the game. The game was more track-meet-esque and far less physical. Around the midpoint of the first period, Cornell seized control of the game and began to introduce the Tigers to the fearsome style of hockey for which Cornell has become known. The series took upon the pace and physical tone of a typical Cornell hockey game after that point.
The Tigers grew noticeably frustrated during the first game from the physicality and stifling defense that held a team that had scored on 20% of its power-play opportunities entering the weekend and 29% of all Colorado-College goals going into the weekend had been scored on specialty teams to no power-play or short-handed goals during the series. The ten-minute game misconduct that a Colorado College player earned in the last half of the third period showed that frustration.
What did we learn? Some commentators have pointed to the fact that Cornell scored no even-strength goals over the weekend or that over the weekend at even strength Cornell was minus two. I think that such critiques miss the big picture.
Would I have wanted the Big Red to score an even-strength goal against a prestigious program like Colorado College in Cornell's first weekend of play? Of course. Do I think that there should be panic among the Lynah Faithful because the Big Red has not scored an even-strength goal in two games? Not at all.
Cornell entered the weekend with only a finite amount of time to prepare. The members of the Ivy League could begin practice only on October 19. The fact that Cornell was ready to play at both ends of the ice with only a few practice indicates several very important things.
Firstly, unlike some programs where captains's practices did not serve those programs well in preparing for opening and statement series, Cornell's captains and the players for the Big Red put in the time and efforts to be ready not only to compete with Colorado College but to defeat them handedly with all things considered. This proves that this team is committed to its stated goals in far more than lip service or a nice talking point. These players have worked hard to prove to themselves that they are able to accomplish their lofty goals and that they will be prepared to realize these goals when the times to do such arise. The leadership of the team has been placed in the right hands. No one can make light of the role of the captains in preparing the 2012-13 team for its first series.
Secondly, Schafer and his assistants had very limited time to prepare Cornell for one of the most offensively potent teams in the nation. The Tigers had averaged more than four goals per game before their trip to Central New York. They had outshot their opponents by an average margin of almost two to one. Colorado College had scored 29% of its goals on specialty team opportunities. Most of those tallies came at crucial stages of the game and capitalized on minor defensive breakdowns. Colorado College's series against Clarkson highlights this fact as game-changing goals against the Golden Knights occurred after such sequences of events.
The Cornell coaching staff had a few days of practice to get the team ready for this challenge. Both the power play and penalty kill were thorns in the side of the 2011-12 team. Cornell's power-play and penalty-kill units both ranked 41st at the close of last season. Cornell's penalty kill that was tied with that of American International allowed goals during 20% of its opponents power-play opportunities. It appears that strategically for both the future of the season and to meet the tasks of Colorado College specifically that the coaching staff chose wisely to emphasize special teams. It would be logical and sound strategy.
The strategy paid dividends as Colorado College's otherwise potent power-play and penalty-kill units were held scoreless in two games while Cornell won the series with five power-play goals converting 35.7% of its power-play opportunities and killing off 100% of its penalties over the weekend. Cornell held Colorado College to two goals during the series while it had average four goals per game before the weekend. Assuming that Hurricane Sandy does not disrupt athletics on the Hill too much (the least of people's worries), the coaching staff will have the opportunity to begin emphasizing play that will encourage capitalizing on even-strength opportunities while reinforcing the much emphasized fundamentals that Schafer has stated needs re-emphasis at this early stage in the season.
Thirdly, did these commentators watch the game? Cornell dominated 110 minutes of a 120-minute series. Some of the noteworthy contributions came from the youngest and less seasoned players on the rosters. Many of them did not appear on the score sheet. The player who came through in crucial times but did not appear on the score sheet who impressed me most was MacDonald. His almost-goal the second evening when his hard shot rang off of a goal post rather than arcing into the net has received the most coverage, but his defensive contributions on Friday cannot be overlooked. On at least two occasions when Iles had stopped two opportunities but the puck rebounded out on an odd deflection to his weak side, it was MacDonald's stick that prevented the puck from reaching a Colorado College player who was poised to tip it into the net behind Iles and cleared it from the crease. This allowed Iles to reset and kept his shutout on the first evening alive.
A few freshmen saw action on the special-teams unit. Even though there were some mishaps with allowing the puck to leave the offensive zone on the power play, likely caused by nerves, freshmen like Willcox gelled well with their units and shined especially on clogging passing lanes on the presently perfect penalty-kill unit. Forwards from the upper class began to heed the gospel of Schafer and began to become more involved in defensive plays than is common this early in the season. Bardreau, Ferlin, and Mihalek were of particular note in this regard. Bardreau and Esposito in addition to McCarron were particularly noticeable in their physicality that tired the opposition early in the first game of the series. That is unexpected for at least one of those players and for all they raised their level of physicality to a new level.
Cornell enters its second weekend of play with ten players who have tallied a point. The crediting of what was believed to be Ferlin's first goal of the season to de Swardt raised this total from the recorded nine players. Two players have scored two goals. Three players have scored more than one point. Additionally reassuring is the fact that Lowry has professed since the second game that he was trying to generate a juicy rebound for teammate Ferlin when he scored one of his two goals. When a team amasses these gaudy statistics against a respected and potent team, its highest scorers are more worried about helping the team than their personal goal totals, and it has stated national ambitions, one thing is certain: it is ready to play.
Is there room for improvement? Yes, I am sure the team has been informed of such. But, the work ethic of the team is already apparent and with such a work ethic, improvement should be all but guaranteed. This first outing has given the Lynah Faithful much to b
Cornell will face a tough test against Colgate this coming weekend as the Raiders upended a nationally and league well-regard Quinnipiac team last weekend, 5-1. I do not think this Cornell team will overlook them. It looks like it will be an exciting week leading up to a weekend of quasi-rivalry play.