The college hockey world seems to be in a bit of an identity crisis right now if we look at standings alone. The North Country and Colgate are undefeated in ECAC Hockey play. Cornell has taken two losses in its three opportunities. Both losses were solid efforts, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of RPI and a late 2-1 defeat in the Red’s debut at Riggs Rink. However, a loss is a loss. Steve Hagwell will not gift points and playoff position for a “good” vs. “bad” loss. The simple fact is: Cornell needs points. By the end of this coming weekend, it will have played over 20% of its league schedule. Two wins could propel the Red solidly to the middle of the pack while two losses would likely relegate the Red to the bottom of the heap and require seriously heroic efforts to find themselves playing at Lynah in late February.
But this piece serves neither as an omen of things to come nor as a strict preview for this weekend’s games against Brown and Yale. This piece is about a four-letter word that this writer cannot help but feel every time that the team plays: hope.
Cornell lost a lot of great players from last season to graduation, injury, and more. These players were not solely flashy scorers or brick walls of goaltending. These players brought heart, character, and spirit to the team. Does this team have what it takes to give more and do something that Cornell has not done in 3 years? Does this team have some special magic to pull off something that Cornell has never done?
This writer is not talking about merely maintaining a streak of consecutive playoff berths or entrance once again to the NCAA tournament. Oh, no. This is Cornell hockey. This is playoff success and playoff victory. Does this team have what it takes to win Cornell’s fifth ECAC Hockey Championship? Or perhaps does it have what it takes to win Cornell’s first NCAA national title?
In order to be a team of championship caliber, Cornell needs to first, get to the dance. It is obvious that teams who host playoffs at home have a significant advantage to those who have to travel, but Cornell has won its ECAC Hockey Championships both ways. But will Cornell have what it takes to dance?
At first gloss, one might be worried. The team has a very short roster: 17 skaters with 2 defensemen. It seems like injuries could plague the team. That is always a possibility. But size doesn’t always predict success. In fact, of the four championship teams that Cornell has had, half of them have had as few or fewer skaters on the team. The 2009-10 team which saw Cornell capture its first ECAC Hockey Championship and reach the finals of the national tournament had but 16 skaters and 2 netminders on the team. Eerily close to the number of players that Cornell has on its rosters presently.
Injury cannot be predicted, but healthy bodies alone cannot predict a championship. This team has some solid and dependable players, some stars in the making, and some reliable contributors. Character is something that cannot be measured on a stats sheet. Character will only be seen when a team is truly put to the test. But this team certainly has potential. Our situation in net is enviable. We have two goaltenders in Big Paula and Marlene Boissonnault in front of whom any team would be confident to skate. Regardless of whether 31 or 1 backstops the game, the team has a fighting chance to win. You don’t lose games 1-0 and 2-1 when the goaltender is at fault. Our forwards are clicking in a way that hopefully will only improve with time and our defensive work from all players, d-corps and forwards alike, has been impressive thus far.
The one thing that gives this writer that dangerous four-letter word is something that is viewed as almost a truism in college hockey: in championship teams, freshmen do not play like they are freshmen.
Look at Cornell’s recent championship history: in 2010 were defensive dynamos Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau playing like freshmen? How about another defensive duo in Alyssa Gagliardi and Hayleigh Cudmore, or forwards Brianne Jenner and Jessica Campbell, or freshmen netminder Lauren Slebodnick in 2011? What about last year’s graduating senior class? The character and skill of Cassandra Poudrier, Anna Zorn, Morgan Richardson, Taylor Woods, Stefannie Moak, and Jess Brown were far beyond those of mere freshmen in their first years donning their sweaters in 2013. That leaves some still familiar faces for this team: the 2014 ECAC Hockey championship was anchored by newcomers Hanna Bunton, Brianna Veerman, Caroline DeBruin, Sydney Smith, Kaitlin Doering, and Paula Voorheis. Those standout freshmen helped in no small way to lead Cornell to its fourth ECAC Championship. Their experience will be invaluable as the Red seeks its fifth title.
So while it is dangerous to suggest that all of the Red’s success rests on the backs of the septet of freshmen who have yet to take their first collegiate final exam, they’re already working to etch their way into Cornell history. Will we remember the names of Grace Graham, Hanna Mutschellknaus, Valerie Audet, Jaime Bourbonnais, Paige Lewis, Kristin O’Neill, and Amy Curlew in the same way that people discuss the near legendary players from above?
As the trusty magic eight-ball says, the answer is foggy, try again later. Maybe in March. After all, all we as contributors can do at this point is have hope.