Disappointment. Shock. Those are the words that capture most accurately the sentiments of many of the Faithful, including me. No, I did not think that the 1969-70 record would be challenged or that rivaling the 30-win season of 2002-03 was a guarantee. I knew losses would occur and, as I predicted, they feel all the sourer with realizing the latent potential of this team. I mean this as no disrespect to either Princeton or Quinnipiac.
Quinnipiac is an emerging program that has established that it will be consistently competitive among the elites of the ECAC as well as those of the nation each year. The Bobcats aim to earn their first Whitelaw Cup this season. That accomplishment was always well within reach for them this season in my mind. I think that Cornell will provide them stiff competition as it seeks its thirteenth ECAC Championship, but the Bobcats have real potential despite the fact that they dropped a game to AIC recently.
Princeton was a team chosen to finish near the bottom of the league (most media placed it at 11th and none placed it higher than tenth). I felt that its rank was deflated too much. A shutout of a potent Colgate offense and a win over the ECAC's historical juggernaut in its home opener seems to verify that fact.
Princeton and Quinnipiac are good teams. The latter may be considered even a great team if it plays to its potential. Headed into the weekend, I thought that a sweep for Cornell was possible, but that anyone who thought it was all but guaranteed might have underestimated grossly the feline travel partners. However, Cornell and the Lynah Faithful do not face a weekend of a Cornell sweep, a win and a tie, or even a split. Collectively we face a very much unexpected sweep.
My first reaction was to turn to history to see the last successful Cornell team to have been swept on the road in such a fashion. Then, as I delved into the annals of schedules and results, I realized how futile it was. Yes, I found an answer to the last time an ECAC Championship-winning team from Cornell was swept on a weekend or the last time that Cornell was swept in a non-home-and-home series. But, I realize that it was moot. It was wholly irrelevant to the task at hand.
Even though the rafters at Lynah are adorned with banners, WAFT's twitter background and banner image commemorate those banners, and we embrace our history as the most dominant program in the ECAC, when this team seeks to do something unprecedented, history is a poor guide. The college hockey landscape has changed so much since the 1966-67 and 1969-70 seasons that ultimate national tournament success in the current era can no longer be measured by those metrics. As we wade into uncharted waters, the our focus as fans and the team must be on the future rather than the past.
Where do we stand now? I would assert that next weekend is a second starting point of sorts for this team. It is a chance to prove that Cornell deserves the national spotlight, as I believe it does, and to recapture the imagination of many of its fans again like it did after its dominance in the Colorado College series.
Andy Iles ranks 20th in the nation in terms of goals against average (2.14) and 17th in terms of save percentage (0.927) currently. Three of Cornell's forwards rank nationally in terms of goals per game. Ryan ranks nationally for his point production per game. These totals exclude the contributions of Esposito because he has played 67%, not 75%, of Cornell's games to date. Cornell ranks 42nd in scoring offense with only 2.33 goals per game. Cornell's power play conversion has dipped to 21.9% since opening weekend against a very good Colorado College team. Cornell ranks 13th in terms of penalty minutes with 15.3 penalty minutes per game. Cornell ranks 18th in defensive scoring allowing 2.33 goals per game. Cornell's penalty kill has plummeted to 48th in the nation.
Those statistics convey mixed messages. Cornell has experienced great offensive contributions from many key players who have generated nationally well regarded totals. Lowry has matured greatly in every aspect of his game, and Esposito and Miller have begun to build upon their already impressive success from last season. D'Agostino and Ryan have provided key offensive contributions when needed as well. However, despite that, Cornell has won three games through three weekends of play. Andy Iles has been as dependable as always and is still one of the best goaltenders in the nation, but Cornell's average defensive numbers as a team need to improve.
Inconsistency. I started with the emotional reactions of most fans to this weekend. Now, I turn to what I believe the cause has been so far. Logic dictates that one of the teams this weekend could have upset Cornell. Reason would assume it to be Quinnipiac because they are the more skilled program. However, with a team as skilled as Cornell, dropping both games indicates likely that the Big Red defeated itself in some aspect of the game.
Cornell showed its utter dominance in the last forty minutes of the second game against Colgate. It did the same against Princeton for a more concentrated time. Cornell erased a two-goal deficit and took the lead in a matter of less than five minutes against a Tigers team that went on to score four goals against 'gate en route to earning a shutout against the Central New York Raiders the next night. Cornell dominated the first 20 minutes of play against the Bobcats. Quinnipiac head coach Pecknold narrated the game in much the same way when he said that it was Hartzell who kept Quinnipiac in the game for the first 20 minutes. The problems arose in the remainder of the almost 94 minutes of the weekend where Cornell did not play to its potential through either systemic collapses or lack of discipline.
This Cornell team plays to its potential when it plays like it did against Colorado College for all but five minutes of that series or for the last two periods against Colgate. Cornell has proven during the 205 minutes of the season so far when it has played to its potential that the Big Red need not fear any other program in the nation. It can play them and win. However, inconsistency has contributed to that team taking the ice only about 56% of the time this season to date yielding disappointing results this weekend.
Cornell has defeated itself when it has relinquished its intensity within games. The win in the Princeton game was in hand if Cornell had reverted back to Schaferian defense after taking the lead. No such transition occurred. Cornell continued to press for more offense and in so doing sacrificed its characteristic sound defense. The Quinnipiac game, by far the tougher game for Cornell, was likely winnable too if Cornell had not lost a level of focus.
Cornell likely will suffer a drop in the national rankings after this weekend. Some commentators have begun to murmur that Cornell was overrated all along. This weekend will provide Cornell the chance to prove them to be as foolish as most regard voters in media polls. If Cornell can maintain its intensity and focus for an entire game, it can compete with and defeat any program in the nation. However, Cornell must prove first that it can do that.
I avoided a historical note earlier, but I feel that one is needed in response to the comments along the line that Cornell was and is overrated this season. Regular-season sweeps, as disappointing as they are for teams with lofty ambitions like those that Cornell has this season, are not uncommon for even teams that go on to win a national championship. Six of the last ten national-championship teams were swept in a weekend at least once during their regular seasons. More than 60% of those programs suffered consecutive losses. This is not to soften the emotional blow of last weekend because it must be used for motivation to improve, but to place it in its proper perspective as compared to some overreactions that have and will be apparent throughout college hockey in coming days.
I think that this staff and team will learn in defeat and bring from it victory.
Reevaluation must occur this week; not of expectations or goals because even the loftiest are still well within reach. It must be introspective reevaluation. This team needs to remain focused and intense during the remainder of the games this season. This means not only pressing to generate the overwhelming offense that the Faithful know that this team can produce, but defending leads vigilantly, especially hard-fought and late-game leads. Cornell will have more than a good chance to win each game and reach its ultimate goal this season if it can accomplish that task.
Intensity should not be in short supply this weekend considering the slate of games at Lynah Rink. However, just to be sure, Cornell should take what mental and other preparatory steps that are needed to ensure that it plays every minutes and every second of the coming games.
What if the intensity is more than needed and overwhelms what would be required to win games this weekend? Well, it never gets old to defeat the hockey club from that prep school in Boston by a large margin.