Cornell's fate was sealed the moment Jared Seminoff was lost for the season. This may come as a disappointment to some, including the men behind the bench, but the time has come for a philosophical shift. This is not your traditional Cornell. Everybody had better get used to this, especially the players and coaches, before it is too late.
They have kept the secret pretty well at times this season, specifically the stretch where they scored 14 goals in eight games, but this team is capable of scoring a lot. In the four games since that stretch, the Big Red have scored 15 times. A team that made an art form of winning the tight, low scoring games for the last couple of years has shown that this is not the way it will have success. They have won one 2-1 game this season and zero 1-0 games. The better and more telling statistic is that Cornell is 1-7-2 this season when they score two or fewer goals. On the other side of this, Cornell is 10-2-2 when they score three or more goals.
Maybe these numbers seem obvious. After all, when any team scores three or more goals, they have a pretty good record and when they don't, they don't. But there is more to it than that. In 2004-2005, Cornell was 5-5-2 when scoring two or fewer goals. In case anybody does not realize it yet, this year's team is not that one. That does not, however, mean they cannot have the same level of success. It just has to happen a little bit differently.
Cornell does not have David McKee in net. They do not have the likes of Charlie Cook, Jeremy Downs, Jon Gleed, and Ryan O'Byrne patrolling the blue line. They do not have those extraordinary two-way forwards, Mike Knoepfli, Mike Iggulden, Chris Abbott, and Daniel Pegoraro. What they do have that that team did not is the potential to score a whole lot more. Should Cornell go on a special run and make the NCAA Tournament, they do not have to lose 2-1 or 1-0 as they have the last two years. This is a different type of team.
By the time next season rolls around, the defensive scheme will have re-stabilized with the return of Jared Seminoff and the coming-of-age of Doug Krantz, Taylor Davenport, Brendan Nash, and Justin Krueger will be evident, to say nothing of the inevitable improvement of both goaltenders. For now, the team defense will have its good nights, but it will also have its bad nights. Perhaps unlike past years, this year's team can consistently win on those nights.
If you look at player statistics for this season, it is obvious that there is tremendous scoring depth. Eleven players are averaging more than half a point per game, which ties Cornell with Quinnipiac for the most in the ECACHL. As a national reference point, two prolific offensive teams, New Hampshire and Minnesota, each have nine players averaging greater than half a point per game. Nine of the eleven Big Red players are averaging greater than .6 points per game (Quinnipiac has seven). More impressive and telling is the fact that none of the recent Cornell teams have had this many players average this much production at this stage of the season. This includes the 2002-2003 squad that was among the top offensive teams in college hockey. Looking closer at the statistics indicates that Evan Barlow, Justin Milo, and Mike Kennedy are three notable players who are not among the eleven averaging greater than half a point per game. They have eleven goals between them.
Mike Schafer was correct before the season when he said that Cornell's strength would be up front. When Cornell has not had success this season, they have not produced, but why? It could be the mindset. This is not the same type of team of recent years, but there are nights when they play like they are. Any successful team must play to its strengths. With the infusion of speed and skill this season, it has become clear that the 2006-2007 team can outgun the opposition, and likely will need to if they are going to have success. The horses are just not there to win those tight 2-1 games on a nightly basis.
This is not to say Cornell should just run-and-gun and hope for the best. They will still need to be responsible defensively and work just as hard in their own end. However, it is time to look to the other end of the ice for wins. The mindset must change. The offensive players on this team, outnumbering the defensive specialists, are the guys who will need to be the difference. Allowing two goals should no longer be such a huge surprise that the goaltender gets pulled. The team needs to score to win. Look at the win over New Hampshire or Clarkson or Rensselaer. When the offense is making things happen, getting pucks to the net, and playing with creativity in the offensive zone, they are scoring goals.
Saturday night, this scoring depth was on display in a big way. After losing their hottest scorer of 2007, Mitch Carefoot, the night before to injury (coincidentally coming as he scored a goal), the Big Red still managed to equal their best offensive effort of the season with six goals. On this night, ten different players recorded at least a point for Cornell. This team can score and they can beat you a bunch of different ways. Cornell's offense is no longer the one-trick Matt Moulson Show. The "top line" of Colin Greening, Byron Bitz, and Raymond Sawada will beat you physically. The "second line" of Justin Milo, Topher Scott, and Tony Romano will beat you with speed, skill, and finesse. The third and fourth lines of Blake Gallagher, Mark McCutcheon, Evan Barlow, Mike Kennedy, Tyler Mugford, and Mitch Carefoot can produce off the old-school Cornell cycle-and-grind but have some patches of skill as well. Any line can score and they each bring something different.
If Cornell is going to be successful down the stretch, this is the only way it will happen. Sure, they are going to win some low-scoring, close games, but the important thing is to stop banking on it. The players and coaches need to stop thinking they should win a game 2-1 or 3-1 when that is the score going into the third period. Again, be responsible defensively, but play to the strength that is the tremendous scoring depth. When all is said and done, only one team in all of college hockey has more than Cornell (Notre Dame). Scoring depth is of course used on a controlled basis for having players averaging over half a point per game, but this statistic is still extremely pertinent all the same. When a team has this many players capable of contributing on a regular basis, it makes it very difficult for opposing coaches to prepare for. Hopes for resurrecting what has been a very weird, up-and-down season for the Big Red do not rest on the goaltenders or the ability of the Big Red to shut down opponents, but rather the proficiency of its attack. Once the players and coaches realize this, the potential of this team drastically increases.
1. Colin Greening
This was as easy of a pick as there has been all season. Greening was flat out dominant in both games this weekend. He used his size very well and gave a great effort in each game. Although he did not have any points on Friday, he made his presence felt every time he was on the ice. On Saturday, the points were plentiful as he converted for two goals and an assist. It is interesting to note that of his eight goals this season, Greening has scored six in three games. Four of those goals have come the last two weekends and if he continues at this pace, Greening could end up leading the Big Red in goals as a freshman. He is currently just one back of the team lead.
2. Blake Gallagher
After starting to turn things around last weekend, Gallagher took the next step, leading the team with four points over the weekend. The biggest differences in his game of late are that he is moving his feet and moving the puck a lot better. Gallagher has good quickness but also has some playmaking ability. He was finding open ice far better and was able to make things happen with the puck. Having Gallagher on the point of the second powerplay opened up a lot of options and made that unit pretty effective. Add all this to the fact that Gallagher might very well be the best faceoff man in the ECACHL.
3. Doug Krantz
This Cornell de facto number one defenseman is really starting to come into his own. At one time, his hockey sense appeared to be non-existent. All of the sudden, it is the best Cornell's blue line has. Krantz scored a goal Friday night, smartly jumping into a rush and assisted on another on Saturday. He is now tied with Jared Seminoff for the team lead in defenseman points. More importantly, he has ascended as the leader of the inexperienced unit and is seeing a ton of ice time and responsibility. He has made exceptional strides during his time at Cornell.
How did Evan Salmela play in his return to the lineup?
It was almost shocking to see the impact Salmela had on the lineup Saturday night. He did not record any points, but his placement onto the first powerplay unit actually made them look like a powerplay for the first time in months. Salmela is a natural quarterback and has a lot more experience in that position than Byron Bitz does. He sees the ice very well and is a good puck-mover. With him in control on the "top" unit, they were actually moving the puck around, opening up shooting lanes, and generating quality chances. If Schafer leaves this unit alone, they will start producing very soon. With Seminoff out for the rest of the season, Salmela is the natural replacement because of his ability to move the puck. Whether he stays in the lineup or not remains to be seen, however.
Is Cornell's 2007 recruiting class complete?
According to Chris Heisenberg's website, Cornell has just three players committed for the fall of 2007. This group includes one defenseman and two forwards. There is also a potential walk-on defenseman playing in a low level junior league in Ontario. This recruiting class was expected to be on the smaller side as Cornell is losing just three forwards and two defensemen to graduation. The goaltending for next season is theoretically set on paper with three returnees. The defense will return a strong cast of Jared Seminoff, Doug Krantz, Taylor Davenport, Brendan Nash, Justin Krueger. The issue with the blue line this year, aside from lacking experience, is the lack of depth and therefore at least two additional defensemen are needed for next season. Up front, Cornell will return a ton of scoring (should all expected players return), but depth will also be a concern with only 14 players scheduled to be there right now. Therefore, at least one more forward is necessary, if not two.
The Bobcats are one of the most prolific offensive teams in college hockey and as mentioned above have as much, if not more, scoring depth than Cornell. On the other side of the puck, they struggle a great deal. Quinnipiac has come back to Earth after a hot start to the ECACHL season but are still considered to be among the top teams in the conference. Cornell will absolutely need to bring its A-game if they are going to beat them. Playing a physical brand of hockey and going after some of the more skilled Quinnipiac players must be a priority. A good start in this game will be imperative for Cornell as they were out-skated and outworked from the drop of the puck against this team in November.
Quinnipiac 2 - Cornell 4
Princeton has struggled again this season, though they have periodically turned it on. That was essentially the story of the game played between these two teams in Princeton earlier in the year. Cornell pretty well dominated Princeton through forty minutes, building a 3-0 lead. In the third period, however, it was all Tigers as they took advantage of a Big Red team that sat back and refused to dictate play, very similar to what happened Friday in Schenectady. This is the type of team that Cornell should punish right from the start for the whole sixty minutes when they come into Lynah. Princeton has shown it can beat the top teams in the conference on the road with wins at both Clarkson and Quinnipiac, so they are not to be taken lightly, not at any point during this game.
Princeton 3 - Cornell 3