I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
Pissing the night away, pissing the night away
Union has been a well-oiled machine in pulverizing opponents from nearly the beginning of the season to the present. Mike Vecchione, a freshman on the Dutchmen’s last team that won a Whitelaw Cup and more, returned for his senior season with the promise that he was going to return Union to the greatness that he joined. A worthy contender for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, Vecchione has done that.
Self-forged hero Alex Rauter corralled all the momentum from a heated contest in Messa Rink in early February. Mike Vecchione threw his weight to even the contest on a short-handed goal. Union was no match for Cornell in grit and desire in Schenectady as Anthony Angello and Jake Weidner opportunistically sank the Dutchmen.
The game was essentially even largely because the Red gave the garnet-wearing homestanders the ability to re-enter a contest that Cornell should have controlled for nearly three-quarters of the game. Union tends to do that to teams. Cornell tends to do that to itself.
Cornell has settled for less than a win four times in its last nine contests. The Red held third-period leads in all of those four games. Coach Schafer’s squad charitably gave victory away in the last five minutes of half of those non-wins. Find much authorial intent in the use of the possessive proper noun in the previous sentence.
Come on, guys, this is a Schafer-coached Cornell hockey team! Where are the dream-crushing, soul-devouring blitzkrieg to an early lead and stifling, coldly methodical, strangling defense of that lead? Teams rarely should surrender third-period leads. Implosions of this frequency are blasphemous on East Hill since 1995.
Feeding into this unpredictability and instability were the performances of two of the Red’s go-to point grabbers. Mitch Vanderlaan vanished as a goal scorer for Cornell for nine games. Anthony Angello scored only four goals in the first half of the season. The game of neither ever looked entirely off, but they were not producing what the Lynah Faithful expected of them and what they expected of themselves. They were works in progress.
Cornell is a work in progress. It makes many mistakes that doom otherwise stellar efforts. Union is a work of consistency. It is doing what it needs to win now with few mistakes. So, who you got on Saturday?
The adage after a healthy lead off fits here. Baseball coaches and scouts have spirited debates about a traditional hypothetical about two prospects. One exhibits unrefined form in his stride in making his way to first base after a hit. The other’s form is exquisite in traversing the same distance. Both have the same time. Whom should you take?
The traditional answer is the former. A coach or scout sees in the former the promise of improvement with refinement. The latter, arguably, is getting already the same output as the former with no basis on which a coach or scout can improve. The latter’s upside is known. That of the former is not. The unorthodox answer is to take the latter because discipline likely will not wane and putting overwhelming faith in the promise of the former is betting on the benefits of promise. Cornell is the flailer. Union is the paragon. Now.
The Dutchmen have been restless ever since a blaring crimson alarm stirred them from a slumber. Union has held opponents at arm’s length since Harvard visited a humiliating 6-2 defeat on it. The team from Schenectady has trailed only 12:56 in the three contests since the Crimson defeated garnet. Union has won each contest.
Vanderlaan and Angello prove what happens when elements of a team with great potential begin to become refined. The two sophomores combine for eight goals in February. The Red has faced off less than eight times in the year’s shortest month. Last season’s linemates have scored 36.4% of their goals on the season in the last three weeks. Two of the contributors on whom Cornell depends have put together their whole games at the season’s most critical time.
The best center in college hockey wears carnelian. This statement is particularly bold considering that Mike Vecchione brings Union to town this weekend. Vecchione is one of the best players in college hockey. Any fan of the game should find watching him a pleasure. His scoring touch does edge out that of this writer’s preference.
The senior who hopes to take his boys on a roadtrip back home to Chicago in April is the center in every conception of the term. Jeff Kubiak is the fulcrum on which games swing. He rarely is beaten to the puck on the forecheck. He has incredible vision on the ice. Few can overpower him. He is the best distributor of the puck in the nation.
Kubiak finds or creates an opponent’s weaknesses and then exploits them. His pass and a prayer to Anthony Angello against Yale was truly divine. This Red seraph delivers similarly devastating maneuvers regularly. When all else is going wrong in a contest and suddenly something goes right, Jeff Kubiak stands at its epicenter. The senior center makes sure that the trains run on time for New York’s land-grant institution.
Coach Schafer is not pleased with this progress alone. He is more inclined to use another “p” word: pissed.
The carnelian and white’s schemer of plays used that term to describe his feelings toward his charges’s efforts in their two most recent defeats…err, non-wins (?). This contributor, one none too shy to be critical of the hockey teams that represent his alma mater when they deserve it, thought that the Red could have played better in its ties against Yale and Clarkson. However, his sentiments were admittedly far kinder than were those of Coach Schafer. The respected head coach was kindest when he said that he was “disappointed” in his team during those games.
There is a reason that Coach Schafer leads one of the teams projected to finish highly in the PairWise Rankings. He sees in teams potential. What seemed as moderately successful efforts against Yale and Clarkson to a somewhat knowledgeable observer were nothing but pain to a skilled tactician who knew his team could perform better.
Coach Schafer saw his teams in little more than a stupor. Players regularly have been out of striking position in the offensive zone. Undisciplined execution on the penalty kill keeps games thrilling for opponents when they should not be.
A trans-Atlantic pissing off is developing on Campus Road. Coach Schafer is dissatisfied and annoyed with the Red’s recent efforts. The team has appeared as though it is playing in an alcohol-induced haze for long stretches recently. Coach Schafer has two weeks to distill this team into a potent tonic.
The team is presently a sweet mash of top-shelf potential (a “p” word perhaps more loathsome than all others). The question that remains is whether the work ethic of Assistant Coach Sean Flanagan, Associate Head Coach Ben Syer, Coach Schafer, and their team will be enough to distill it into a fine bourbon (we’re makin’ bourbon because Corn’ dominates the mash, right?). They have two games and two weeks to age their product before its first crucial tasting.
Cornell hockey nearly made history last weekend. The Red was 3:15 away from sweeping in the North Country for the first time in 12 years. The last two teams to bring three points back from the North Country made the national tournament. One of them won the Whitelaw Cup. This team openly aims higher. Its coach expects more too.
The principal contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread took the long road trip to Potsdam to witness history. No Cornell hockey team ever has swept four of the five road conference weekends since ECAC Hockey adopted the travel-partner model. The contributors were there to witness history. It was not to be.
The writers were a little disappointed despite the valiant effort. Heck, perhaps they were even a little pissed (in the American sense, not the other, we had a long drive ahead of us, remember) that this team did not write its own footnote in the annals of Cornell hockey already. Matt Nuttle’s go-ahead goal gave hope that the unexpected could happen even if the current unrefinement of this team dashed it.
The right balance may be struck. The final product may be distilled into a smooth spirit. Success of historic proportions may be on the horizon just as long as the team does not keep playing like it is drinking it.
Union will need to fall to Colgate on Friday and Harvard will need to produce at least its second-worst weekend in conference play for Cornell to have a chance to be jettisoned into the first seed overall. The scenarios are not that outlandish for Cornell to claim the spittoon without the first seed. Remember, this is a participation prize, every team that ties for the greatest number of points receives a souvenir.
The Crimson’s gaining only one point is most beneficial to the Schafemen. However, even a three-way tie at 32 points for Cornell, Harvard, and Union, the type that would happen if Union ties Colgate on Friday and Harvard gets as many as two points out of its senior weekend, would result in SHagwell handing Cornell some sawftware before Saturday night’s senior festivities. This presupposes that Cornell will sweep its senior weekend.
Frankly, Cornell needs to sweep its senior weekend. This contributor rarely puts things in the must-win category. But, what good is home ice in the playoffs if the Red has not dominated its ice with a weekend sweep since December? This team has swept no conference weekends at home.
There is no better time to prove this team’s worth and build this team’s confidence than to sweep two quality teams now. Union is, well, Union. RPI is flush with talent and waving the bloody shirt of preferential officiating like a flag during its goal celebration after Cornell’s late power play put carnelian over cherry at Houston Field House. Oh, yeah, the team that last prevented Cornell from defaming ECAC Hockey’s regular-season trophy was RPI in February 2012. If Cornell cannot sweep Union and RPI, it does not deserve to be in the conversation for the bedpan.
Here’s hoping we all can lap a highball after an anacelebration on Saturday night.