by Ari Baum - November 22, 2004
Week 4: Big Red Beats Itself

Cornell did not blow a two-goal lead against Vermont and lose in overtime to Dartmouth because they were a worse team than either opponent. They simply did not execute a 60-minute game either night. At times in both games the Big Red were dominant, executing their game plan to perfection, whereas at other times they were undisciplined and sloppy. The reason for only garnering one point in the two games can be directly attributed to the latter. Anybody will admit that they played far below what they are capable of, but even with that marginal performance, they could have just as easily netted all four points on the weekend, had a few bounces gone their way.

Against Vermont, Cornell came out very timidly, allowing the Catamounts to take the play to them for the first ten minutes. Even on a five minute powerplay, the Big Red could not sustain pressure. As the game progressed, Cornell got more comfortable and controlled the flow with greater effectiveness. The second period saw them push through offensively, scoring twice and getting several other golden scoring opportunities. However, highly touted Vermont goaltender, Joe Fallon, lived up to his billing, making several key stops late in the second period, keeping Vermont's deficit at two. If Cornell had gotten a three goal lead heading in to the third period, Vermont's mental state would have been drastically different than it was, being within two.

In the third period, the complexion of the game was dramatically altered as Cornell took four penalties, starting with a major penalty to Matt Moulson. The Big Red killed the first portion of the major, before the Catamounts converted on a play that appeared to have a player in the crease. Regardless, with the crowd back into the game and Vermont halving their deficit, a game that was so recently in Cornell's control, was in totally different standing. With under a minute remaining in Moulson's major, Jon Gleed would take a penalty when he tackled a Vermont player in front of the Cornell net. On the ensuing powerplay, a puck that was dumped in was handled by David McKee and rather than covering it, he passed on to Sasha Pokuluk who was being pursued by two Vermont players. Pokuluk tried to bounce it off the boards to Charlie Cook, but the puck ended up on the stick of an uncovered Vermont player in front of the net. He would beat McKee and the game was tied just like that. Two bad penalties, a man in the crease, and a play that could have been blown dead, and the Catamounts were in a game they had no business being in. The two teams would exchange chances in the remaining time but neither could solve Fallon or McKee, both of whom played very well on the night. The game ended in a draw.

On a positive note, Cornell was the better team on Friday. On a negative note, they blew a two-goal lead going into the third period as a result of undisciplined play. If anything, the game was a learning experience for a team that seems to lack experience. It is much better for a game like that to happen earlier in the season rather than later. If the team learned anything from the game, it will not relinquish any third period leads due to undisciplined play again this season.

Saturday night in Hanover was another disappointing result that saw different issues arise. Once again, they stumbled out of the gate, failing to take the play to Dartmouth. On three first period powerplays, Cornell garnered only one legitimate scoring chance, failing, for the most part, to even get set up in the Dartmouth zone. Dartmouth was more effective on the man-advantage with their only regulation goal coming on a Lee Stempniak goal from the slot in the first period. The Big Red played better in the second period generating a slew of chances late in the frame, including their only goal from Chris Abbott. They enjoyed some other great chances where they accomplished everything short of beating Dartmouth goaltender Dan Yacey.

Cornell showed that it was the better team in the third period, carrying the play for the majority of it, but came out of the period with nothing to show for it. Overtime, what little of it that was played, was not pretty for the Red. Dartmouth had two or three great chances to score and eventually converted in the second minute.

Saturday night's game, although exciting in the sense that it was very close, was lacking in intensity on both sides. Both teams seemed to be drained, especially Cornell, who was hardly initiating physically. Dartmouth, one of the few ECACHL teams that match up well with Cornell in this area, initiated a huge portion of the physical play on the night, whereas the Big Red appeared passive. Playing as they did, Cornell was very close to winning the game on many third period chances. The difference, however, was the fact that Cornell could not convert on their chances. After scoring 23 goals in their first four games, the Big Red have scored four times in their last four contests. Although they could generate more offense, it would help if they would convert on more of the golden chances they are getting. It is pretty hard to win games when you only score one goal, even with McKee in net and an excellent defensive scheme.

The team's mental edge fluctuated a great deal in both games, sometimes lacking confidence and cohesion. They did not come out in the first period of either game ready to play. Against Vermont, Cornell eventually found their game and was executing it to perfection until they ran into penalty trouble early in the third period. Against Dartmouth, things eventually came together for the Red in that they carried the play in the second half of the game, but they lacked the execution necessary to win.

The result of the weekend was hardly satisfactory, but the team will benefit in the long term because of the tests it faced. In the two games, Cornell's weaknesses and deficiencies were highlighted to the point where the team knows what areas need improvement. Special teams are clearly not as strong as it seemed after the first four games. The team's preparation and overall consistency was the biggest issue seen on the weekend, however. On the road, they are going to need to figure out how to burst out of the gates, as they seem to do naturally at home. In addition, the execution of their game plan needs to be more consistent. Cornell cannot go through periods where they wait to see what the opposition does. They need to take the play to them and be the initiators in all three zones.

It is a long season, one that sees many turns, and the road trip of the past weekend will turn out to be just a bump in the road. When Vermont and Dartmouth come to Ithaca in January, Cornell will hopefully exhibit how much better they are than both of these teams. What is most important for the short term is that the team builds off of the issues that surfaced over the weekend and an understanding that they are far better than recent results have indicated. The most successful teams avoid the high highs and the low lows. How the team responds to and assesses the past weekend, and weekends like it, will go a long way to their long-term success.

3 Stars of the Weekend

1. Daniel Pegoraro
He has been totally reborn. He was easily Cornell's best offensive player both nights, generating a bunch of chances off the rush. He played well in all situations, including killing penalties. It is important to note that he did not get any points. This is clearly an issue considering the team is struggling to score goals. He played very well in both games but did not finish. Despite that, he was the team's best player on the weekend.

2. Chris Abbott
If not for the play of Pegoraro this season, Abbott would be seeing a lot more minutes. Abbott thrives in all zones and really stood out offensively this weekend. On both nights, he was effective offensively, scoring a goal against Dartmouth.

3. Charlie Cook
On Friday night he was all over the ice, looking extremely comfortable in all situations. He was a stabilizing presence on the powerplay and stepped into the play at the right times. His second period goal was just another example of the Big Red's defense playing a big role in the team's offense.

Burning Questions

Did Matt Moulson's hit from behind warrant the game disqualification he received for it?
The play was a near replica of Moulson's hit from behind against Colgate last season that saw him receive a disqualification. His hit was worse than the one the Vermont player was thrown out for earlier in the game. The officials are clearly trying to cut back on hits from behind into the boards as is evident in two Cornell players being thrown out of games through eight games this season (the other being Gleed against Brown). The player Moulson hit from behind did not even turn on the play. Moulson simply hit the player from behind while trying to work the puck out of scrum on the boards in the offensive zone. With the precedent set on the earlier hit from behind, there was no question that Moulson would get five and a game for a more severe hit and he seemed to know it, skating off the ice without much argument.

Moulson understands that he plays best when moving his feet and playing physically, but clearly has not found a way to harness his game effectively this season.

Why is Cornell playing so much worse on the road than at home?
Although the three opponents (four games) they have played on the road are the best of the seven teams they have played, it is impossible to argue that their results are simply based on who the opposition is. The Big Red have not played a good first period on the road. They have waited to see what the home team will bring before playing with the conviction needed to win. At home, the Big Red clearly fed off the crowd and came out flying, and generally sustaining that for large portions of those games. The plethora of penalties being called in games, especially early on, is negatively effecting the team as it is preventing them from getting into their flow, rolling four lines and six defensemen. Cornell's use of its whole bench is one of its biggest strengths, but it has not been able to show it on the road because of the lack of 5-on-5 play.

What's wrong with the breakout?
One of the things that stood out most from the 2002-2003 team was its breakout. A defenseman would hold the puck behind the net and a forward come behind and pick up the puck. He would draw a forechecker at the defensive zone faceoff circle and he would then drop the puck back to the defenseman who then had a bunch of room and a bunch of options. This simple and successful breakout was abandoned early last season. Since that time, there have been a couple different breakouts. Over the weekend, the team's breakout really seemed to struggle, particularly against Dartmouth. The defenseman would hold the puck behind the net with a player on the goal line in each corner and another player on the half boards on one side. The remaining player would be in the neutral zone. The defenseman with the puck behind the net has a ton of options. As a result, several minutes were wasted with a defenseman just standing behind the net thinking of what to do. If he made a decision, the Dartmouth forecheckers adjusted quickly and that decision would have to be reversed. The defenseman behind the net would become exhausted and the four players in the defensive zone needed to make three or four passes before they could even get to the neutral zone. The breakout was clearly ineffective in that the players seemed tired by the time to they were in the neutral zone and their transition game struggled as a result. Only certain players were having success on this breakout system, whereas others were struggling mightily. Against Canisius or Yale, it will be difficult to notice anything wrong with it, but there needs to be a simplification of it against better teams.

Where are the goals going to come from?
It is clear that the Big Red does not boast any superstars or game-breakers at this time. The fact that they have four lines and six defensemen that can score is supposed to be their answer to that problem, but in the last four games, Cornell forwards have scored two goals. Detractors say that the lack of a superstar is the Big Red's biggest weakness. But having scoring depth as opposed to one line that can score should theoretically be better. That formula saw success two years ago. On any given night, any line could be the team's most dangerous. The same should be said for this year's team, but the team is clearly struggling to score right now. There are players generating scoring chances but are unable to finish. This is better than last year where there were games during which you could count scoring chances on one hand. The team's offensive zone execution is going to have to improve if Cornell is to score more goals. In the last four games, the big, physical Cornell forwards have rarely gotten deep into the offensive zone and cycled effectively, something a team of their size must exploit. Off the rush, the team is getting some chances, but the decision-making and the bounces just have not been there. Execution with the puck needs to improve and it will as the season progresses, but the forwards need to start going into the danger zones (of the offensive zone) and doing the dirty work the Stephen Baby's and Sam Paolini's did so effectively over their careers. These guys were not goal scorers, but they still generated a ton of goals because of their effectiveness deep in the offensive zone. Shane Hynes, Matt Moulson, Raymond Sawada, Mike Knoepfli, Byron Bitz, Mitch Carefoot, and Paul Varteressian all possess the physical tools to have that effectiveness in the offensive zone, but have not brought that edge on a regular basis. Not every team is going to have the smallish defensemen that Army, Sacred Heart, and Brown employ, but the bulk of this team's goals are going to come from the bigger forwards' work in the corners, regardless of who the opposition's blueliners are.

Upcoming Weekend Outlook

On a positive note, Cornell will get an opportunity to get some confidence back, playing against another inferior AHA team in Canisius. On a not-so-positive note, Cornell can play a poorly executed game on Saturday night and still win by a couple of touchdowns. The Big Red needs some positive results against stronger competition, not another blowout against a should-be Division III team. That being said, Cornell can play a 60-minute, disciplined game while executing their game plan to perfection against any team, and this weekend will be the first opportunity to do so after a weekend in which they failed to.

Canisius 0 - Cornell 6