It still doesn't feel any better even after a full year. Saying there is a sour taste in the mouths of the Lynah Faithful, or the players for that matter, is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. For those who have done their best to forget, Clarkson came into Lynah Rink for the ECAC Quarterfinals in 2004 and pulled off an extraordinary upset in defeating Cornell after getting blown out in the first game of the series. The Golden Knights will return to Ithaca this coming weekend for the same round of the playoffs in pursuit of a duplication of last year's heroics. For a Big Red team that is largely the same in makeup as last year's squad, it is an opportunity for redemption and revenge.
One of the great parts of sports is that nobody ever gets the last word. In college sports, however, that idea is probably more about the fans rather than the players because there is such frequent turnover. This will not be the case when the rivalry is renewed this weekend, as the series will include at least 30 players who played in last year's series. Of the 20 likely suiting up for Cornell, only three did not experience last year's shocking upset. They remember the series well and so do the fans.
Entering the series, the question on everyone's mind is: can lightning strike twice? Clarkson sure thinks so after dismantling Union in the first round for the second straight year. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, they appear to have taken a step back this season while the Big Red have taken a huge leap forward, re-establishing themselves as a national powerhouse. But as has always been in the case in the ECAC playoffs, anything can happen, and nobody knows it better than the Cornell hockey team. Because they know it so well, they will be at the very top of their game and want to show Clarkson that last year was nothing more than a fluke.
This is the ideal scenario for Cornell in many ways. Clarkson is a battle-tested team with a great deal of playoff experience. In addition to last season's improbable run where they eliminated the conference's top two teams en route to the ECAC Championship, they are coming off of an extremely close first round series with Union. The Big Red can only benefit from playing a hungry, experienced team and the fact that they have a vendetta against them will only help them to be as hungry as they will need to be for post season success. As far as ability is concerned, Clarkson does not come close to Cornell, but in the playoffs, ability matters just about as much as the color of a team's uniforms. Cornell will throw everything they have at Clarkson and play their best hockey. As far as intangibles, the holdovers from last year's team will have the rare opportunity to get the last laugh in a similar stage in front of the fans who came away shocked and disappointed a year ago.
After playing three overtime games with Union over the weekend, Clarkson is feeling pretty good about themselves for outlasting a hard working team on the road. That being said, the Knights are in for a whole different climate this weekend. They will play a much tougher team in a much tougher environment. The Knights have struggled a great deal offensively this season making the task even more difficult. Prior to scoring four goals in the third game against Union, they scored only eight goals in the preceding seven games. During the regular season, they finished 11th in the conference in offense, averaging just two goals per game. Coupled with the fact that Cornell has the best defense in college hockey, the Knights are going to have an extremely difficult time scoring goals this weekend. Cornell's offense has proven adequate, while its powerplay is outstanding. The latter will be of great significance this coming weekend as Clarkson is the most penalized team in the ECACHL. They are very undisciplined and often turn games into very scrappy affairs.
There is definitely bad blood between the two teams going back to last year's series that saw a great many confrontations. The upcoming series unquestionably has the potential to get ugly, but that is in Cornell's hands. Last year's series fell into Clarkson's favor when Cornell reciprocated the scrappy play. When that happened, the Knights gained confidence and were able to compete. As long as Cornell can stay disciplined and does not sink to Clarkson's level, they will be fine. That may be a difficult task playing in front of crowd that promises to be at its most hostile, but this team learned valuable lessons during last year's series and will not duplicate them. If Cornell sticks to their game, it does not matter at all what Clarkson does. That will be the key to Cornell's success.
Playing an emotional home series against Clarkson after last year's disappointment will be a great way to spring the Big Red into a hopefully long playoff run. In dismantling the Knights, the team will prove to themselves that the 2005 version is vastly superior to that of 2004. This is a strikingly similar Clarkson team from a year ago and they will throw everything they have at. It is a great chance for the Big Red and their fans to get closure on a chapter in their history that they have not yet come to terms with. This opportunity for redemption is one in which the team should feel lucky to have, as they will be able to attain much-wanted revenge against Clarkson and get into playoff mode. The upcoming series will give them the chance to eliminate their demons from a year ago and move on to bigger and better games.
Best Freshman: Topher Scott
There were not many candidates to choose from this year, especially after Sasha Pokuluk went down to injury a few weeks ago. Although there were not many freshmen regulars, all of them contributed and adopted key roles on the team. Scott was simply the best of the group, putting together a good season statistically (3-14-17 in 29 games), but more importantly was a presence every night. He is one of the team's hardest working players and perhaps shockingly won almost all of his battles. His heart definitely had a positive effect on the rest of the team, which very much improved in this area as the season went along.
Most Improved: Daniel Pegoraro
A year ago, Pegoraro was not dressing on a regular basis. Not many people believed he could make it back, but he did and then some. Pegoraro not only found his way back into the lineup, he diversified his game by recommitting to the defensive zone and conditioning. His improvement in these areas allowed Pegoraro to get his offensive touch back. After scoring just two points in 03-04, he tallied seven goals and nineteen assists this year, finishing fourth on the team in scoring. He centered the second line and really took pressure off the top line offensively, taking on a good portion of the offensive responsibilities. Pegoraro was one of the more valuable players to the team, playing in all situations and was called upon by the coaching staff on a regular basis for key scenarios.
Unsung Hero: Chris Abbott
Abbott has taken on a less glamorous role as the team's most reliable two-way player. He played very important defensive minutes in every game and consistently provided energy that his teammates would feed off of. Abbott became one of the team's best penalty killers and faceoff men while still being an offensive presence. He may not get a lot of press, but he is exactly the type of player successful teams always have.
Clutch Performer: Mike Iggulden
An absolute no-brainer, Iggulden is third in college hockey in game-winning goals. Perhaps even more impressive is that five of his eight goals have been game winners. Unlike some other players with high game winning goal totals, most of Iggulden's markers have come when games are on the line. His most notable goals were a short-handed tally in overtime at Union, and a scoreless tie-breaking goal at Colgate with 1:23 left. Not coincidentally, those two wins happened to be two of the team's biggest of the season. Don't be surprised to see Iggulden scoring overtime goals in the playoffs.
Best Overall Defenseman: Charlie Cook
He struggled through parts of the beginning of the season, but Cook really turned his game up a notch after the New Year. The elevation of his game was a big factor in the team's overall ascension in 2005. Cook led Cornell blueliners in scoring with seven goals and eleven assists and was a key player on the powerplay with four goals. His defensive game was also very good, particularly his ability to single-handedly bring the puck out of the defensive zone.
Best Overall Forward: Mike Knoepfli
Knoepfli really stepped up his game in the second half of the season and is as solid as they come. He did an outstanding job of leading the team with his consistent play in all three zones. One of Cornell's biggest strengths is that all their forwards are so strong all over the ice and that stems from Knoepfli's leadership in this area. He really picked up his game offensively in the second half of the season, finishing second in the team in goals and points. Additionally, his presence on special teams was enormous. Perhaps overshadowed on the second powerplay, Knoepfli still managed five man-up goals, good for second the team. He also spent a great deal of time killing penalties for the third straight year and has become one of the best penalty killing forwards in college hockey. There is little question when taking every facet of the game into consideration that Knoepfli is not just the team's best overall forward but among the best in college hockey.
Top Performer: Matt Moulson
He was Cornell's best player in notching nearly inconceivable goal totals for the team he plays on. Considering he plays less than 20 minutes a night, playing every fourth shift five-on-five, his 20 goals are extraordinary. At fifth in the NCAA in goals per game and scoring more than one-fifth of the team's goals, it is difficult not to choose him as the team's most valuable player. Regardless, he has performed at the highest level out of every player on the team, scoring goals in all situations, even with all the defensive attention he receives.
Most Valuable Player: David McKee
It may seem obvious from just looking at McKee's statistics that he is the team's most valuable player, but his value to the team is actually not entirely seen in the box score. A couple times each weekend when the defensive scheme crumbles, the opposing team has situation in which it appears obvious that they are going to score. As a spectator, it is that time where you groan and feel a letdown as your team is about to be scored upon. That feeling builds until McKee makes a spectacular stop. The value he brings in constantly preventing the opposing team from converting on seemingly guaranteed scoring plays can barely be put into words. It is not easy for a team to watch sure-goals regularly gobbled up. Mentally, it is unbearable for opposing teams to constantly come away empty, while it makes the Big Red's defensive scheme even more confident and stronger knowing that a mistake will still likely keep the score the same. Moulson performed at an extremely high level, but was outdone by McKee in this area. In value to the team, McKee outshined not just everybody on his team but just about everybody in college hockey.
Doug Krantz - ECACHL All-Rookie Team
Mike Iggulden - ECACHL Top Defensive Forward
Mike Knoepfli - ECACHL Top Defensive Forward
Jeremy Downs - ECACHL Top Defensive Defenseman
Charlie Cook - Second Team All-ECACHL
Matt Moulson - First/Second Team All-ECACHL, First/Second Team All-America
David McKee - First Team All-ECACHL, ECACHL Player of the Year, First/Second Team All-America, Hobey Baker Award
After having a week off, Cornell is going to come out firing on all cylinders against a team for which they will have no trouble getting motivated. Clarkson is simply outmatched in every area and will find it very tough to repeat last year's heroics. They were outmatched in every area last year, yet still managed to win, so do not totally count out the Knights. That being said, Cornell will dominate this series if they can stick to their game.
Game 1: Clarkson 0 - Cornell 5
Game 2: Clarkson 0 - Cornell 4
It may seem impossible, but every year there are a lot of upsets in the ECACHL playoffs. Even with this year's top teams seemingly being impervious to upsets, it is not as unlikely as it may seem. As is the case every year, expect the unexpected.
2. Harvard vs. 7. St. Lawrence
With St. Lawrence playing their best hockey of the season, this could potentially be an outstanding series. The Saints are peaking at the right time and could very well provide a stunning upset. They are outmatched defensively, but are superior to the Crimson offensively so things should certainly be interesting. Goaltending is where this series could be determined with two outstanding netminders in Mike McKenna for St. Lawrence and Dov Grumet-Morris for Harvard. With Harvard headed to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome, they could very well overlook an underrated St. Lawrence team.
St. Lawrence in 3
3. Colgate vs. 6. Brown
No team needed the week off more than Colgate. The Raiders limp into the playoffs going 4-4-3 in their final 11 regular season games. They did beat Brown both times they played this year, but by no means dominated, winning one game in overtime and the other with two goals in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Brown is a solid team in all areas and is a team very capable of an upset, especially against a struggling Colgate squad.
Brown in 2
4. Vermont vs. 5. Dartmouth
For weeks it has been expected that these two teams would meet in the ECACHL Quarterfinals. This promises to be an outstanding series with two very different teams. Dartmouth is very dangerous offensively but definitely vulnerable defensively. They are emotionally fragile after dropping a game to Yale in the first round. Vermont is a very solid team that thrives defensively so the matchup should be very interesting. Dartmouth is probably the better team overall, but Vermont has proven to be a tough team on their own ice. This series could really go either way, but will likely take three games to decide.
Dartmouth in 3