They are not flashy, nor are they prolific scorers. But there is no question that the backbone of the Big Red's forward corps is made up of its three seniors: captain Mike Knoepfli, assistant captain Mike Iggulden, and should-be assistant captain Paul Varteressian. Although none of the three players are extremely gifted offensively, they have all made their presence felt on the offensive side of things in this young season. Iggulden is second on the team in scoring with two goals and three assists. Knoepfli is tied for fourth with two goals and two assists. And the least known for his offensive prowess, Varteressian, has scored one goal and one assist. Aside from their plentiful offensive output thus far, the value of these players extends far past the box score. On a regular basis, the three forwards set the tone, working hard every shift. Their contributions span all three zones, on the bench, and in the dressing room.
Make no mistake; the primary role of these players is not to score, but to set the tone, each and every night. In the four games played thus far, the senior trio has stepped up in a big way to lead the Big Red's attack in all situations. All three are killing penalties and all three are seeing minutes against the opposition's top players.
Knoepfli is the only senior forward who has held his spot in the lineup for the last three years and during that time he has always been a fixture on the penalty kill, and been looked upon for his defensive abilities at even strength. Through it all, Knoepfli has produced consistently, rarely going through slumps and always putting up respectable numbers. Even early in his reign as captain, Knoepfli has relished and epitomized the role. Along with Iggulden and Mitch Carefoot, the trio has frequently been responsible for altering the momentum in games. Friday night against Harvard was a perfect example. While killing off a penalty, Carefoot successfully tracked down a puck in the Harvard zone and immediately fed it to Knoepfli, who put it between Dov Grumet-Morris's legs. Mike may not stand out or excel in many aspects of the game, but he is everything a leader should be: solid and consistent. He comes out and works hard every night, having almost no bad games. Of particular note is his calming presence, which is of great importance during critical points in games. He makes sure the team does not get too high or too low, regardless of the situation.
It is hard to argue that anyone has improved more over the last year than Iggulden. After playing regularly and struggling frequently his freshman year, Iggulden fell out of the lineup his sophomore year, playing in only 15 games. Mike made it back into the lineup last season, but was not an impact player for the first half. Everything changed at the Everblades Classic, where he won MVP honors after scoring his only two goals of the season in the Championship against Ohio State. By season's end, he had seemingly found his identity as a checking line center that excelled in shutting down the opposition's top players. Iggulden, however, was not content where he was with his game and worked incredibly hard over the summer to improve his game. He has gone from being a barely adequate skater to one of the team's fastest. Coming into this season, Iggulden had scored three total goals in his career. He already has two, four games into the season. His five points so far this year is already half-way to the total he produced all of last season in 30 games. Iggulden has become a force to be reckoned with. His size and skating ability have been on display in all four games, using both to regularly get by opposition defenders on the rush. Like Knoepfli, Iggulden contributes in all areas, and even if his offensive output declines, he will be setting the tone with his hard work in all three zones.
Another dramatically improved player over the last year has been Paul Varteressian. After playing in only four of the first seventeen games last year, he suited up for thirteen of the final fifteen (one of the two games was missed because of third period game misconduct against Clarkson in the playoffs). He is not tremendously skilled or speedy, but he battles every shift and always makes his presence felt. Varteressian fills the role of the tough guy, always looking for the big hits. He is the type of player crucial to a team in the big physical battles seen a lot in the playoffs. His defensive game has always been his forte and he will thus continue to kill penalties and see minutes against big time offensive players.
The best teams of the Mike Schafer era have all been deep. This unquestionably holds true for this year's team. Deep teams can only be considered as such if every player contributes in some way and fills a particular role. Even though the Matt Moulson's, Shane Hynes's, Charlie Cook's, and David McKee's will get the lion's share of headlines, the Knoepfli's, Iggulden's, and Varteressians, the foot soldiers, are often the difference in hockey games. The senior trio of forwards will carry the offensive unit on their backs, exemplifying "Cornell Hockey," with their work ethic, physical play, and consistency. These guys do not take shifts off, regardless of the opponent and game situation, and it is their jobs to hold the rest of the players accountable to do the same. To get through the long grind that is the hockey season, the difference-makers are the ones that show up every night and go to work and this particular group of forwards has a certain mentality about them, an edge that other teams--including many Cornell teams of the past--do not boast. All championship teams at all levels of hockey have these types of players, and the 2004-2005 Big Red will get as far as they can take them.
1. Daniel Pegoraro
Almost every time he was on the ice this weekend, Pegoraro was noticeable for positive reasons. Many onlookers were beginning to think Pegoraro was cursed after failing to record a point in 22 of 23 games last season, but after knocking on the door against Army and Sacred Heart, Pegoraro broke through this past weekend recording a goal and two assists in the two games. Almost more noticeable than his constant buzzing were his frequent contributions in the defensive zones. Not known for his defensive play, Pegoraro played particularly well in front of goaltender David McKee against Harvard and Brown, blocking a couple of shots and generally working very hard to stay in position and break the puck out.
2. Ryan O'Byrne
He has taken the fast track to becoming one of the top ten blueliners in the ECACHL. After asserting himself as a defensive stalwart last season, O'Byrne has begun to develop his offensive game. He scored a powerplay goal on a hard one-timer against Harvard and drew the secondary assist on a spectacular rink-wide neutral zone pass to Cam Abbott, setting up a 2-on-1 ultimately leading to Pegoraro's goal against Brown.
3. Cam Abbott
Recording three assists on the weekend, Abbott was the buzz saw that has become a fixture on this team. Abbott created offense at even strength, on the powerplay, and short handed. He was creative with the puck and particularly threatening off the rush. In teaming with Pegoraro, both displayed their quickness in feet and in hands, redeeming themselves from a mediocre performance the previous weekend.
Has Cornell taken advantage of weaker opponents or are they really this good?
Well, probably a little of both. But this question will probably be more easily answerable a week from now after two games at Michigan State. The Spartans are not as deep, talented, or physically imposing as the Big Red, but they have more experience as well as home-ice advantage. Michigan State is unquestionably better than any team Cornell has played to this point, so the outcome of the weekend will be of particular interest. A successful weekend in East Lansing will prove to the college hockey world that the Big Red have indeed reasserted themselves as National Championship contenders.
This question will be much more answerable in a couple of months when they play the currently top-rated team in the country, Boston College.
When Byron Bitz returns, who's spot will he take?
This question is just as hard to answer this week than it was last, but with Bitz still being two or three weeks away from returning to the lineup (according to The Ithaca Journal), there is time for more jockeying before a decision has to be made. If the decision were to be made now, the choice will have changed from the name that appeared in this space last week (Pegoraro). Although he had another strong showing this weekend, Mark McCutcheon would likely be the one taken out in favor of the bigger, faster Bitz. That all being said, there is a lot of hockey to be played before the decision has to be made by the coaching staff and who knows what will happen with regard to performance and injury in the next two or three weeks.
Krantz or Glover?
In another carryover question from last week, the answer may be a bit clearer this time around. Krantz was in the lineup for both games this past weekend and sporadically showed his abilities. He recorded an assist and was a factor offensively. He definitely fits into Cornell's newly adopted system of blueliners rushing the puck on a regular basis at even strength better than Glover, but he is a little rough around the edges in the defensive zone as opposed to Glover who is as solid as it gets defensively. Still expect to see the two rotate a fair amount depending on the opponent and how the team is playing overall.
Is Mark McCutcheon Cursed?
He is pressing hard for a goal and has been since about the mid-way point of last season. He wants a goal and wants one in the worst way. The bright side is that he has come close at least once in every game this season, and is generating offense much more effectively than he did last season. On the other hand, he still has not been able to score and his spot in the lineup may be threatened when Bitz returns. Whether he is cursed or not cannot be answered here, but one has to think he is going to score sooner or later with the chances he has been getting. The bottom line is that he may need to start doing some spectacular things to force the coaching staff to keep him playing, something he is quite capable of.
Did Jon Gleed's hit-from-behind on Brian Ihnacak warrant a game misconduct?
He took more than three strides, and took him hard into the boards from behind. If that does not warrant a misconduct, what does? Was Gleed trying to hurt him? Of course not, but he likely got excited lining up Brown's best offensive player for a big hit and went overboard. It happens.
Is David McKee bored so far this season?
Friday: Cornell 2 - Michigan State 3
Sunday: Cornell 5 - Michigan State 1