Whether one likes it or not, as fans, one finds oneself making subconscious predictions about season openers. Firstly, which results would be jaw-droppingly good. Secondly, which results would be contenting. And, thirdly, with a certain level of reservation, which results would be utterly devastating to the point of causing a let's-burn-the-sweaters frenzy.
Losing a series by the combined margin of 12 goals allowed to four goals scored or getting outscored by a three-to-one margin while being swept, it does not matter how one chooses to put it, looks very, very far from good. That is putting it lightly. So, clearly, the experience that WAFT endured at Conte Forum this weekend was surely of the bonfire-inducing variety, right? Not so fast.
This will be far from an apologetic piece that forgives all the shortcomings the Lady Rouge manifested last weekend. However, it will be an honest analysis of how the carnelian and white did relative to what one would have expected reasonably by way of preview when the season began. Yes, this is a two-for-one type of post; both preview and retrospect.
What did the Lynah Faithful know before the puck was dropped last Friday in Chestnut Hill? We knew collectively that Cornell had lost over a two years' span arguably the four best defensemen to ever wear carnelian and white. Fortino and Rougeau departed last season. Ask the best female hockey players in the world which defensive paring is the worst to oppose on the other side of the blue line. The answer is predictable. Cudmore and Gagliardi closed the gap last season, and tended to our carnelian fortress. Now, Cudmore and Gagliardi are graduated.
Defense was going to be a question mark. But, was an allowance of 12 goals during the first weekend out expected? One needs to consider that two of the five defensemen who saw ice time this weekend are freshmen. The true veterans of the defensive corp with more than a season's experience were Morgan Richardson and Cassandra Poudrier.
Richardson ended the weekend owning a minus one. The junior defenseman was on the ice for a mere one-third of the goals allowed. Poudrier, of the goal that sunk the eventual national champion in the ECAC Hockey Championship Final, allowed just two even-strength goals while she was on the ice. An even sheet for Poudrier characterized her first weekend.
Both upperclassmen registered performances showing that they are positioned to carry the weight that has fallen to them. Emphasizing the stellar play of Richardson and Poudrier is not to the exclusion of the impressive performances of the younger members of the defensive corp. Notably, freshman Erin O'Connor showed few signs of her newcomers status.
The defensive side of the ice during the second game was not as porous as one would expect. There are few teams on which a flashy scorer and Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Finalist like Cornell's own Jill Saulnier would be seen upping her impressive defensive game during the off-season, but her confidence and brilliance in obstructing passing lanes and blocking pucks displayed the team-defense, team-first ethos of Cornell hockey.
Special teams were among the roughest of edges during the game. Five of the 12 goals that Cornell allowed to the Eagles were on special teams. One of those five was a short-handed attempt. The short-handed tally was a result of a combination of the overwhelming need to chase a game and a Boston College-favoring bounce. Nevertheless, Boston College scored more goals on special teams than Cornell did in the entire series. If there was one fatal flaw of the weekend, it was this.
The Red power play was stymied by the stifling defense of Boston College that left few usable passing or shooting lanes. Cornell's penalty kill was disorganized. The unit left entire vulnerable zones of the ice uncontested and free for Boston College's exploitation at times. Cornell converted on a mere one of six power-play opportunities that it was given.
Goaltending has been a hallmark of Cornell women's hockey since its most modern ascendance. Take a moment to gaze at the honored sweater hanging above center ice at Lynah Rink and reflect upon what that netminder meant to the current success of the men's program. It has been difficult to live up to his statistics let alone his mythos. Now, realize that either recently departed Mazzotta or Slebodnick is the analog on the women's side of the program.
Much is expected now of Cornell's netminders, and much will be given, but expectations cannot be unreasonable. Remember, this was Paula Voorheis (may I call her Big Paula?) who was tending the pipes against Boston College. She is the same goaltender who backstopped Cornell through half of its 2014 ECAC Hockey Championship run. Last weekend may have been somewhat disappointing, but she and the talented goaltending group of Moak and Boughn are ready to deliver what Cornell needs in the future.
We are the Lynah Faithful, we know that defense, and goaltending by extension, is a team sport. Missteps on the penalty kill and power play made Voorheis's weekend long and challenging. Facing 81 shots did not help either. Cornell had gone through half of another entire game last season before it faced as many shots. Cornell surrendered less than half as many during its playoff homestand in the 2014 ECAC Hockey Tournament. Voorheis's positioning was solid. She inspired the ire of the few Boston College fans who came out to watch the contests and stifled most breakout rushes.
There was no greater turnaround than Cornell's offensive output between the two contests. Boston College hemmed Cornell into its own end for what seemed like the entire game on Friday afternoon. The 6-2 margin at the close of the contest appeared to capture well how dominated Cornell was in that contest. The same could not be said of Saturday's tilt.
Saturday, the Big Red took its game to the Eagles. Cornell controlled significant amounts of zone time and ground Boston College down in its own end. Misfortune and a few phenomenal defensive plays from the Eagles against a sharp, yet unhoned, Cornell attack prevented the game from breaking in Cornell's favor. Until midway through the third period on Saturday, there was a palpable sense that the game would erupt in favor of Cornell. It would not happen.
Brianne Jenner proved that unlike silver, gold does not tarnish, when she returned to her transcendent form on Saturday. Despite scoring her goal of the weekend on Friday, it was Saturday when Jenner shone like the unselfish star that she can be. She drew Eagles to her like vulnerable prey and then sprang connecting offense to others on the ice who were afforded greater time and space as the opponent's defense was drawn to its scouting report's gold medalist.
Emily Fulton is ready to pick up where she left off with her 43-point performance from her junior campaign. Fulton joined Jenner as the only two players to tally a point in each contest. The wearer of her head coach's number, 17, notched a goal in each contest to continue her honoring that number's legacy.
Anecdotally, the jump from freshman to sophomore seasons is supposed to witness the greatest leap in form and talent. Those who were fortunate enough to watch Hanna Bunton's breakway goal off of a transition play have plenty of reason to believe that the sophomore is ready to challenge as one of the Big Red's most deadly offensive threats this season. Want proof? Well, I told you.
Okay, now that we have done that, put down that lighter fluid and put your sweater back in a safe place. A young defensive corps with new elder leadership and special-teams units that had barely a week to get ready for a marque opponent are the reasons that the results looked so grizzly. Progress probably will not be immediate, but there were bright spots on which Cornell will build. This team may need to rely on a big second half of the season, but Cornell will chip away at the few shortcomings that prevented its success until it resembles the embodiment of dominance that we expect.
Be there when Princeton and Quinnipiac brave Lynah Rink for the first ECAC Hockey contest of the season. The Tigers and Bobcats are both uncertain and unproven commodities. Quinnipiac is unbeaten, but has grappled with no programs that are consistent or of the highest calibre. Princeton earned a split against the free radical that is Penn State.
The Bobcats proved last season to Cornell and the college-hockey world that they are a program on the rise. This season, they are driven to prove that they are much more than Babstock. Princeton, well, this writer is pretty sure that they have at least one reason to want to beat Cornell.
Told you that you would need that sweater.