Maybe the greatest part of hockey is that skill and ability is only a part of the equation. Unlike many other sports, there is a totally separate dimension to hockey and it is often the difference, especially at this time of the year. That extra dimension can make a player do things his physical capacity does not allow for and thus the more talented team does not always win in the game of hockey.
Perhaps they just like to tease us. One weekend they totally carry the play in two games against a very tough Colgate team despite not having their two best players. Then just a few short days later, they struggle mightily for long stretches against lesser opponents. So which is it? If one just looked at the box scores, getting a feel for this year's team would be nearly impossible. The one word that comes to mind would be inconsistency. Perhaps some would question the team's leadership and work ethic for seemingly just getting up for the big games while not being all there for some of the league's lesser competition. These observations and inferences, while partially true, do not really tell the whole story.
There have been times this season where Cornell has looked totally unmotivated. The blowout at Dartmouth would be at the top of the list but parts of the games against Union, Rensselaer, Niagara, Princeton, and most recently Clarkson and St. Lawrence would fall in this category. It is truly amazing how far this team has progressed in this area this season. Certainly they were not at their best against their North Country foes, but there was more to the story than just an idle team.
The flu bug coupled with an already extensive list of injuries hit the team pretty hard this weekend and it showed. They just looked tired, both mentally and physically. Coming off of such an emotional weekend where they were truly pushed to the limit, it is understandable. It happens. Most teams in this situation would have looked the same and just mailed it in. Just when they seemed destined for their first zero point weekend in quite some time, something awoke them. All of the sudden, the team that had seemingly nothing left in the tank found something somewhere.
Down 3-0 and on the verge of being blown out in the same fashion that they were in Hanover against Dartmouth in November, the emotionally exhausted Big Red clawed their way back into the game. It was not remotely pretty on a technical level, but it was a beautiful sight to see for anyone who was at Dartmouth or really for anyone at all. Many of the players who were completely silent that night at Thompson Arena led the charge at Appleton, notably Byron Bitz, Cam Abbott, Daniel Pegoraro, Mark McCutcheon, and Raymond Sawada. Instead of looking around and waiting for someone else to step up, many of the players just grabbed the bull by the horns and did it themselves. They started winning the battles, winning the races for loose pucks, and driving to the net. It was as if the team collectively came to the realization that they may be in the worst of situations being on the road with so many injured and sick players, but that they had to fight through it.
By no means did Cornell dominate St. Lawrence the whole second half of the game, but for a large part of the third period, it was as if the Big Red were the only team on the ice. St. Lawrence was the dead-looking team and Cornell was firing on all cylinders. Oh yeah, and this all came when the team was playing with four defensemen after both Ryan O'Byrne and Dan Glover had left the game with injuries. If not for the most disgraceful officiating of the season, the Big Red would have definitely won. When they shift into that high gear like they did in the third period on Saturday and like they did against Colgate, they play like nobody can beat them. They play with a swagger where it does not matter what the other team is going to do. Even without some of their key players playing and others playing injured they looked unstoppable.
Maybe concerning for some is the fact that Cornell has only sporadically played at this level. Injuries and other factors could be just looked at as excuses. But really what is happening is a long-term growth for the team. Yes, they only got one point over the weekend, but in the big picture, Cornell learned a valuable lesson on how to face adversity. Not a lot has gone their way in the last month regarding injuries, but the team has gotten better from top-to-bottom to the point where many of the players are playing above their physical capacities and in turn the team is performing at a level above expectations. From here, it could get better or go in the other direction. But when comparing very similar looking games against Dartmouth and St. Lawrence, it is clear that they have made major strides since November. Cornell is finding their identity and although it may not have shown in spades this past weekend, they got the last word in and that shows that this team has what it takes.
1. Byron Bitz
Bitz has quietly made significant strides this season. He is looking more and more like the offensive player the coaching staff has been trying to make him into for the past two seasons. He scored a goal in both games and his offensive presence was felt more than any other Cornell player.
2. Cam Abbott
Abbott has been among the team's most improved players since the start of the season. He is finding his comfort zone and has become a lot more affective at both ends of the ice. Abbott was one of the main catalysts to the team's revival on Saturday night, scoring a goal and getting a lot of other chances. Abbott also got a shorthanded breakaway when the game was 4-4 and received a ton of hooks and slashes on his way to the net. Instead of embarrassing himself and the game the way most players do in that situation by taking a fall to draw the penalty, Abbott kept motoring ahead and got his shot off. Referee Tim Kotyra continued his pathetic third period and somehow decided not to call any of the hooks and slashes because Abbott showed grit and determination in getting to the net. Abbott showed a lot in terms of leadership and hard work in that third period.
3. David McKee
An interesting selection to say the least, considering he was playing through the flu in both games and was far from his sharpest. In fact, McKee looked really lost at times in both games and understandably so. However, Cornell would have gotten zero points this weekend had it not been for McKee's heroics late in Saturday night's game. Although Cornell mostly dominated the latter portions of the game, McKee was still forced to come up with some spectacular saves late in the third period and in overtime, including two occasions where he was forced to move cross-crease and stop a shot from point blank range. It was not even close to his best weekend, but he battled hard through very difficult circumstances and single-handedly kept the team in sole possession of first place. For all the accolades that McKee has and will go on to receive, this weekend will likely be overlooked. But if you want more than just ability between the pipes and want a player that will battle through the toughest of situations, then he is your guy. He is unquestionably a rare talent, but this game often measures far more than physical ability, and McKee displayed that in spades against St. Lawrence.
Where would Cornell be if Shane Hynes had stayed?
It is a tough question but the team would be in a very different situation. First, Matt Moulson probably would have more than one even strength goal. Hynes's greatest strength was his ability along the boards and drawing opposing players towards him to free up space for Moulson. So one would think that the team would be in even better standing than they currently are in had Hynes stayed. However, thinking about it another way, Mark McCutcheon would have likely been the odd man out on the right side if Hynes would have stayed and his emergence this season has been one of the most integral factors in the team's success.
What is wrong with Matt Moulson?
Moulson has really struggled this season and it has been difficult to watch at times. He was so dominant last season and the difference in so many games. It is just amazing how much this year contrasts. One of the big problems was addressed in the previous question. Moulson just has not been able to get open long enough to work his magic as he was able to do on a regular basis last year and a lot of that is due to Hynes's absence. Still, Moulson is playing with very little confidence and like many skilled players during slumps, he is trying to do way too much with the puck. He needs to simplify his game and get back to doing the little things. That may sound like a cliché but that is really how a scorer breaks out of a slump. Instead of handling the puck so much and thinking about passing or deking, just throw it at the net. Just imagine what this team could do if Moulson could get back to his form of last season. It is really one of the final pieces to the puzzle.
How did Ryan Kindret perform on Saturday in his first appearance in quite some time?
It has to be tough being Ryan Kindret. He has a very nice game and when he does play, he sure looks like a good prospect. He has nice size and skates well while he makes smart decisions with the puck. He also plays with a lot of enthusiasm. The trouble is, he is caught in a numbers game on the left wing behind Moulson, Abbott, Tyler Mugford, and Evan Barlow. Every so often, he will draw into the lineup over Barlow, but Evan has tremendous upside and just needs some seasoning. What's worse for Kindret is that it could be just as tough next season. Even with Moulson and Abbott graduating, two incoming freshmen left wingers Joe Scali and Colin Greening (according to Chris Heisenberg's website) are highly-regarded and seem perfect for certain roles - Scali as a sparkplug checker with offensive ability and Greening as a super-skilled winger with good size. Mugford will be a mainstay in the lineup with his intangibles and Barlow will be looked upon to shoulder much of the offensive load being lost from the graduating seniors. Kindret is a really interesting case and it shows how much this program has grown considering he would have been seeing a regular shift just a few years ago as a freshman rather than usually being a healthy scratch.
What should the policy be on throwing fish this year?
This will probably be published after the official policy is released but if history is any indication, athletics and the administration will probably get it wrong. Throwing fish on the ice when Harvard's hockey team comes out for the first period is a long-standing tradition at Lynah. As long as no fish is thrown after that single occasion, the administration and athletics have no justification for not allowing it. The last several years, it has only happened before player introductions and the students have been great at not doing it after the warning is made. Sure, it delays the game a bit and smells up the rink, but it really does not do any harm. The students have every right to continue this tradition and no one person - not the president of the university, nor the hockey coach, nor the athletic director - is bigger than it. It does not have to be encouraged, but it should be allowed and then the warning made. Or here's another idea. Perhaps Cornell should just adopt Colgate's policy on throwing gum onto the ice and actually encourage it, while continually threatening with penalties should it happen again.
Why are students not allowed to have fun at Lynah?
Well it is not quite as simple as that, but somebody needs to tell the ushers in the student sections to calm down a little bit. They are taking their jobs way too seriously. Between periods when the students are playing with beach balls and balloons the ushers glare at the students and appear to be infuriated with their behavior. They patrol the aisles like policemen making sure no student does anything like (God forbid) swear. The policy of no swearing is absolutely legitimate and an NCAA-mandated rule. And even though it is not enforced at any other ECACHL rink, the ushers should really let some of it go. No, there should not be any cheers where there is swearing, but a person should not be kicked out for swearing after the team misses a scoring chance or gets scored on. There are rules, but they do not need to be so strictly enforced. After all, this is just a college hockey game where students come to enjoy themselves and support their hockey team. If they are not violating the spirit of the rules or interfering with the game, they should be given a little more slack from the ushers who act as if they are dealing with wild animals. This is not Colgate after all.
Dartmouth is the toughest team Cornell will face all season. They might not be as strong top-to-bottom as Colgate, but Dartmouth matches up better with Cornell than any other team and that has been the case for the last couple of seasons. Dartmouth plays the same physical style that Cornell does, only they have bigger and stronger players. To go along with that, the Big Green possibly have more offensive weapons than either St. Lawrence or Colgate. Simply put, Dartmouth is an extremely dangerous team. Then again, they were just as dangerous last year. In complete honesty, Dartmouth is a lot better than Cornell in a lot of areas. However, there are three key areas that they do not matchup: coaching, team defense, and heart. When Cornell was embarrassed in Hanover in November, the coaching and defensive scheme did not matter because the team just coasted through the entire game. Since then, they have found a ton of character and the extraordinarily undisciplined Dartmouth team will have a lot of trouble with that, especially at Lynah.
Dartmouth 2 - Cornell 4
After four years of excellence going toe-to-toe with the Big Red, Harvard has come back to earth a little bit this season, losing several key players from those four years, most notably goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris and two-time All-American defenseman Noah Welch. As great as Cornell's dramatic victory in Cambridge was in November, they really did not play well in that game. Harvard will not be nearly as tough an opponent as Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, or Colgate. That being said, they will be just as tough as the Clarkson team that handily defeated the Big Red just a week ago so it should be no easy task. On the other hand, it will be senior night and Lynah's foundation will be shaking for the yearly event against the school's biggest rival.
Harvard 0 - Cornell 3