The Lynah Faithful got both along with a few other illuminating comments. Schafer was unhappy with how his team performed in the game at Union. Cornell played a good game on Friday night. It was not a great effort. However, in a venue where the fans hate Cornell perhaps more than they do at any other venue in ECAC Hockey, Cornell battled valiantly. The second period was sloppy. But, with its back against the wall, Cornell battled back from a 1-3 deficit to tie the game with two goals in 65 seconds against a team that was making few mistakes. A glimpse of what could be. Cornell generated sustained pressure in the overtime frame, but it was Andy Iles who was three times forced to make highlight-reel saves to keep the game even.
Cornell equaled RPI, a team expected to be elite in ECAC Hockey, in what was an emotional win with the way Big Red rallied to tie the contest. The emotional hangover was too much. The Dutchmen of Union College dominated Cornell in their own effort to right their ship after undisciplined play led them to a loss to Colgate. It was Rick Bennett's first victory over Cornell. Bennett coached teams that went to the Frozen Four and embarrassed Boston College in the NCAA Tournament. Cornell did not lose to either. But, on Saturday, Cornell fell to a Bennett-coached Union squad.
There is no disgrace in losing a hard-fought, closely played contest. But, that is not what Saturday was. Going through the gory details of what went wrong serves few people from the student-athletes to the fans who have wounds of their own from the loss. The simple conclusion is that Cornell did not do enough and was not ready enough. This is where Coach Schafer's comments are most illuminating.
"I watched Rick's press conference last night...As pissed off as Rick was at his team last night, that's about as upset as I am with our team  this night...First six games we've had a pretty good effort...Mentally weak players can't get up for two games in a row...First one of six we weren't focused for long periods of the game...Our forwards were just, there's no other way to say it, they were awful...Just a frustrating night all around...Disappointed with our guys."
Many have invoked the pain of last year, particularly the losing streak, as a specter of failure, but most in media have used it in a contradistinctive manner. They distinguish why this season has gotten things right while last season did not. At this point last season, Cornell had a record of 3-2-1 and earned three points in ECAC Hockey. What is Cornell's current record? 3-2-1. It sits with three points in ECAC Hockey. Nearly nothing distinguishes the two. I highlight this only in an effort to draw attention in any way that I can so that the errors of last season, that condemned Cornell to a low seed and a nearly insurmountable task for a successful playoff run, can be addressed early.
Alarmism? Perhaps. But, it is better safe than sorry. It appears that Coach Schafer feels similarly. He stated that he, not the team's strength and conditioning coach, would lead the team's practice at 6:30 am on Monday morning. It appears that Schafer has not lost the fire to motivate his teams to compete. The question of his efficacy will be addressed in the coming weeks. Much will be learned in the next several days.
It was not accidental that last Thursday WAFT highlighted the 1996 Whitelaw Cup season. That season is remembered less for the ultimate championship that was won than how Coach Schafer righted the course for his first Cornell team, and arguably the program, after a 1-4 loss to Army at Tate Rink. The post-game laps that he made his first team run taught his team of the importance of discipline and execution, and that there was no excuse for losing in Cornell hockey. After Saturday's outing, it became obvious that this team, Coach Schafer's 19th team, needed another such moment.
Cornell had been winning games, yes, but its efforts were incomplete. One can continue to recite that the team has been giving a "60-minute effort," but that does not make it so. It has been winning, but it has not been reaching its potential. The first game against Nebraska-Omaha, Cornell took the second period off. Its play went from stifling and creative to less than stellar and at times lethargic. Then, Cornell obliterated the Mavericks in the third frame. The second game of that series was the closest Cornell has come to a 60-minute effort, but again, the second period saw a lull with one individual player's mistake in the third leading to a goal for the Mavericks. Princeton did not stand a chance against Cornell in the first two periods of that contest. Then, Cornell squandered a chance at a shutout in the third with sloppy play including surrendering a goal with barely more than 30 seconds remaining. The first goal may have been excusable, but the second was undisciplined. The Quinnipiac game saw Cornell deliver a great first period, but then wither when it did not down the Bobcats on the power play. RPI knotted and took the lead over Cornell on two poor plays from the Big Red. Cornell's only great time of effort was in the closing minutes of the contest when the Big Red mounted a stellar rally to tie the game. Then, the Union game where Schafer could find barely nothing laudatory to say. The Union game was not an aberration, but was an inevitable result of coasting and getting results that were good-enough, not great.
Think this analysis is off-base? Listen again to Schafer's interview.
"As pissed off as Rick was at his team last night, that's about as upset as I am with our team this year."
Cornell has fallen to eighth in the standings of ECAC Hockey when they are weighted for points earned per contest. Cornell is averaging only 0.75 points per in-conference match-up. That pace is tied with that of Brown and is just higher than that of Harvard. Compare Cornell's rate with the 1.75 points per in-conference contest that Quinnipiac is earning currently.
Coach Schafer is not happy with the efforts of some of his players. WAFT will not venture any guesses of which players because we remain loyal to our pledge to never hang blame or target any individual student-athletes. Cornell wins and loses as a team. The head coach has made it apparent that he plans to hold the team, individually and collectively, accountable. Also, the 6:30 am practice on Monday morning proves that he has not lost the passion to do what is needed to show that Cornell hockey demands success from its teams. One is left to wonder what the bus ride back from the Capital District was like on Saturday evening.
It needs to be said that despite these honest criticisms and a lack of goal production, Cornell's freshmen have been phenomenal.
Why bring any of this up? It is still early. The course can be righted. Last season, those associated with Cornell hockey from WAFT to those more closely connected with the team did a disservice to the Lynah Faithful and the Cornell team by glossing over early-season blemishes. It seems that a different tack has been adopted. Accountability is this season's currency of the realm.
Cornell could be dominant, not just competitive, in the best league in college hockey if it stopped coasting and focused on defeating each conference opponent, whether ranked or unranked. This will require focus and mental strength. Only time will tell. WAFT will be here along the way.
Let's hope that the team got its wake-up call on Monday morning.