Until Cornell's dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over Union on Friday night, the Big Red only had one one-goal victory to its credit. This comes after last season when seven of sixteen victories were one-goal games. Of those seven one-goal wins, four were by 2-1 scores, and two were by 1-0 scores. This is not to say that Cornell has not played any close games this season. They have, in fact, played several close games. The trend in those close games, however, has not been favorable for Cornell. Last Saturday at Harvard, the Big Red dropped one of those edge-of-your seat close games, worsening that growingly disturbing trend.
The difference among the top teams is so narrow this season that the teams who step up in the tight games will be the ones standing in the end. As the season gets deeper, the only games played are the ones of the tight variety. You do the math.
Friday night in Schenectady was a sneak preview of sorts for the playoffs. Union brought a mildly talented and extremely hard working squad. Add that to the fact that they boast arguably the top goaltender in the ECACHL in Kris Mayotte and you have a team that can beat any team on any given night. Believe it or not, there are probably coaches out there that would rather play a Boston College than a Union simply because the teams with elite talent take nights off, whereas you have to throw everything you have at a team like the Skating Dutchmen. So was the story on Friday night for Cornell.
The Big Red burst out of the gate to start the game in a way they had not done in any prior road game this season. They carried the flow for the first ten minutes and got several good chances, but had nothing to show for them. Union battled hard and chipped away until the momentum swung their way. In the final ten seconds of the period, they would cash in off of an offensive zone turnover originally caused by a shot missing the net and flying around the boards to feed a Union rush. One thing is for sure about hockey at all levels: last minute goals generally stand up to be defining moments in hockey games.
Rather than getting down on themselves for dominating large portions of the first period and coming away down a goal anyway, the Big Red chose to get to work and fight their way to victory. As corny and clicheed as that may sound, it is exactly what happened and precisely the recipe towards Cornell's positive fortunes in Schenectady. After several huge saves, Mayotte was finally beaten late in the period on a perfect shot from Matt Moulson on the powerplay.
The two teams would go hard at each other for another penalty-filled period, but would need overtime for a solution, and Cornell would gain it in the rarest of situations. Shorthanded, Mike Iggulden out-hustled the Union pointman through the neutral zone and broke free just inside the Union blueline. As he needed to, Iggulden made a perfect move and tucked the puck past Mayotte with the minimal daylight available to him.
Cornell appeared to learn a ton about themselves as a team during the course of the game. Among what they learned about the Dutchmen specifically: it would take a perfect play or a perfect shot to beat Mayotte, and they are going to have to equal Union's work ethic to have a chance at winning. The fact that Cornell won 2-1 in overtime shows that Cornell was able to achieve both gargantuan tasks. It most certainly did not come easy, the game definitely being Cornell's hardest-earned ECACHL victory this season. Hard work and a battling mentality will need to become routine, however, because these types of games will become routine. A similar type of climate existed at Harvard, but it was the Crimson who were able to come up with the difference-maker in the latter stages of the game. At Union, however, Cornell proved that they too could come up with the difference-maker in the tight game. There are not going to be any blowouts against the top half of the ECACHL, so Cornell will have to rely on their ability to win the tight, playoff-style games such as the one they played versus Union to place in the top four of the conference and receive the first round playoff bye.
Saturday night saw a totally different opponent in Rensselaer. The Engineers barely put up a fight in getting blown out by Cornell. At their absolute worst, Cornell would have still easily gotten by Rensselaer. At their absolute best, it would have been double digits for Cornell. It is not difficult, but hopefully Cornell will be able to differentiate between the Rensselaers of the league and the Unions. They absolutely must bring their top game and come ready to work against the better teams and cannot coast as they can against the doormats for any stretch of time.
Cornell now enters a huge stretch of the season where they will play five of six at home. Five of the six games will come against high quality opponents, however. It is a big opportunity to make hay and separate themselves from the pack, and perhaps overtake Colgate. Playing as they did on Friday must be the strategy if they are to continue their ascent to the top of the standings and up the Pairwise rankings.
1. David McKee
McKee has seen a lot more work in recent weeks and started to get into the zone at Harvard. He allowed just one goal in the two games this weekend and made several key stops in both contests. The timing of his saves has been a huge confidence lifter for the team. McKee displayed outstanding composure, never becoming rattled even in the several short-handed situations the team faced.
2. Mike Iggulden
He scored very possibly the most dramatic Cornell goal since Matt McRae's overtime winner against Boston College in the 2003 NCAA Quarterfinals. Iggulden was a workhorse as usual all weekend, but would have received positive recognition in this space even had he contributed nothing besides the enormous overtime goal against Union.
3. Charlie Cook
Cook has definitely found his game with the New Year, regaining his confidence and his spot on the top powerplay unit. He was very good with the puck this weekend, constantly finding open patches of ice and generating chances. His presence and composure is very important as he tutors freshmen incumbents Sasha Pokuluk and Doug Krantz on offensive decision making from the backline.
Are the officials trying to turn men's hockey into women's hockey?
It sure seems that way. No longer can a player catch another with his head down and knock him senseless. Any physical contact is seemingly resulting in penalties. Quite simply, the officiating in ECACHL is becoming a joke, much more so than it was prior to this season. That said, the officiating is not likely to adjust its ways so it is Cornell that will have to make the adjustments because they are taking a ton of penalties of late. Also of note is that obstruction is alive and well despite the ECACHL's pledge to abolish it.
What is the worst ECACHL rink to see a game?
It's a toss up between Union and RPI.
Now that Troy Davenport has bolted, what is the plan in goal?
The coaching staff is now going to have to scramble to find a goalie to enroll in the fall. Most legit goaltenders have probably committed somewhere already, but there is the possibility of coaxing an '06 goalie into coming to school a year early. It all comes down to whether the coaching staff is comfortable with Louis Chabot as a backup goaltender. If they are, then they do not necessarily have to find McKee's successor by next season, only a capable third goalie and they can hold on the blue chipper until the following fall.
When is Cam Abbott returning?
He has been on both of the last two road trips, but that may not signal much, considering all of the non-lineup players were on them (as opposed to road trips when classes are in session where only two or three healthy spares go and definitively injured players stay home). Really, it is a mystery as to how severe Abbott's injury is and when he can be expected back.
How good can Raymond Sawada be?
Sawada has really bloomed the last two weekends, showing the kind of player he can be. He is quite easily the hardest hitting forward in the ECACHL already. The first part of the season Sawada was clearly uncomfortable, not really knowing where to initiate contact and where not to, but he has clearly made the adjustment. In the last four games, Sawada has had at least one huge hit a game. The one issue is that he has been called for a penalty on almost all of them, but that is not because he is breaking any rules (read the first question's answer). There have been comparisons to Shane Hynes, Greg Hornby, and others, but really, Sawada is sort of a mix of the two. He hunts down players and looks for big hits like Hornby but he has Hynes's size and puck protection. It will be interesting to see what his offensive ceiling is, as he has not done anything spectacular with the puck, although he has certainly shown glimpses. Expect big things from Raymond Sawada as early as this season.
The time to reap revenge upon the Big Green has come. The timing could be better seeing as Dartmouth is playing their best hockey of the season winning four of their last five, including two victories over Vermont and one over New Hampshire. In those four wins, the Big Green amassed an astonishing 29 goals. Cornell is still a better team with a far deeper lineup and fewer question marks, not to mention they are looking for revenge after a disappointing performance at Hanover in November. Because the Big Green match up with Cornell physically, it is imperative that the Big Red win the physical battle.
Dartmouth 1 - Cornell 2
Vermont's play has slowed a bit of late but is still playing well. The Catamounts easily beat a tough Union team last weekend, but have not really beaten any other high caliber teams since they beat New Hampshire on November 27th. Cornell proved that they were the better team when the two clashed in November but will unquestionably need to bring their A-game for a favorable result on Saturday night.
Vermont 1 - Cornell 3