The game at MSG was one the players have had circled on their calendars since it was announced. Unfortunately, in the biggest game of the year, Cornell was routed by their old-time rival Boston University on the largest stage most of these players will ever see. A jam-packed Madison Square Garden filled with Cornell and BU fans young and old provided one of the best game-night atmospheres college hockey will ever see. Each school's band was in full force and the crowd, predominantly made up of Cornell supporters, was lively as ever with jerseys, Lynah faithful gear, and multiple cowbells galore.
The fan advantage did not seem to help the Red on the ice, however, as BU dominated the first period of the game and never looked back. The second and third periods consisted of a much more even flow of play, although the Brandon Yip goal about halfway through the first period seemed to deflate the Red for the rest of the game. A line changing miscue led to a loose puck that was picked up by the Terriers' Matt Gilroy, who in turn fed Yip, scoring on a breakaway. The game also marked the return of sophomore defenseman Brendon Nash, who was able to get on the score sheet with two third period assists.
The Red had a tough task the next weekend, facing another Hockey East foe from The Bay State, the number 10-ranked University of Massachusetts. Despite getting outshot 45-24, Cornell was able to skate to a scoreless tie. However, numbers can be deceiving. The Minutemen managed 19 shots in the first period, though were limited to only two scoring opportunities. As the game progressed, the physical presence of Cornell, especially on the blue line, appeared to be taking its toll on the small, fast forwards of UMass. Ultimately, the Red had multiple chances to win the game in the third period and overtime. This back-to-basics approach of playing tough, physical hockey (something they weren't able to do the week before) and then putting the game away in the third period has been Schafer's recipe for success since his tenure began in 1995. A tie can be the most frustrating result for athletes in any sport, but for the Red this game was a mental victory on many levels. The team played its most complete game since dominating Brown three weeks earlier, Scrivens was able to rebound after his worst performance of the year, and Brendon Nash seemed to be back in full form, finally giving the team a puck-moving defenseman at its disposal.
The verdict is still out on this team. A 4-4-1 (4-2 ECAC) record indicates that the Big Red are just what you might expect -- an average team playing in a below-average conference. Not surprisingly, the Red are 3-1 (BU) in games in which they score 3 or more goals, and are 1-3 in games which they allow three goals.
The good news is that there are 20 games left on the schedule, and while jockeying for ECAC playoff position will surely come down to the last weekend, 8 points in 6 ECAC games is a respectable showing thus far. Cornell was able to get the monkey off their back by finally winning at Dartmouth, and despite losing at Harvard the Red showed they are certainly of the same caliber. Riley Nash is already living up to expectations, and is becoming a real force on the power play, notching two of his three scores on the man advantage. The Greening-Nash-Barlow line can skate with anyone in the conference, and it appears much of the team's success will depend on how far this line can carry them. Greening and Barlow each have two game-winning goals. Cornell is averaging one less penalty than their opponents per game, and the special teams units have been playing better as of late.
The bad news is that Cornell still has to play Clarkson twice, has struggled out of conference, and is still in need of goal-scorers. Clarkson is clearly the team to beat in the ECACH and is living up to all their preseason hype. It won't be long until Cornell will get a chance to see how they stack up with the big boys of the ECAC, as the Red open Spring semester league play against the surprising RPI Engineers and then play Clarkson twice in 3 weeks with the never-to-be-taken-lightly Colgate home-and-home in between.
Before all that, Cornell will play four out-of-conference games against four very good teams with very good goaltending. This weekend Cornell makes its annual trip to the Florida College Classic in Estero to open against UMass-Lowell, which is currently tied for third place in Hockey East. The Red will then face either Maine or Clarkson the following day. This tournament is usually a good chance for Cornell to boost its ratings in the computer rating systems used by pollsters and for NCAA seeding, although at this point, an at-large big to the NCAA tournament is a pipe dream and Cornell will have to prove they are better than their 0-2-1 out-of-conference record shows. The following weekend will be an equal test, as Niagara is 10-4-1 and playing in front of one of the best goalies in the country. The Purple Eagles are garnering some national media attention after beating some western teams.
As the team breaks for the holidays, it appears fans, players, and coaches are left with more questions than answers. What is this team made of? Can we expect the typical Schafer-esque, dominant second half performance? Can this team contend for the ECACH title and possibly have success at an NCAA level?
The bottom line is there is far too much hockey left to be played to tell where Cornell fits in the grand scheme of things. If this team is going to win, they simply don't have the talent or depth to be playing anything less than error-free hockey for 60 minutes, night in and night out. The power play and penalty kill are both going to need to be more efficient, and the Kennedy-Kennedy-Sawada line needs to start putting pucks in the net.
3. Ben Scrivens
2. Colin Greening
1. Riley Nash
3. Tyler Mugford
2. Mike Devin
1. Jared Seminoff
UML 4 - Cornell 3
Clarkson 6 - Maine 3
Clarkson 4 - UML 3
Cornell 4 - Maine 2