by Ari Baum - November 3, 2005
Week 1: Foundation For Success

It is pretty tough to look past the loss on Saturday night as well the interesting events that occurred immediately following that game. However, when putting it into perspective and looking past the disappointing weekend split, the Big Red showed pretty much everything one would want them to in their opening weekend of the season against a respected out-of-conference opponent. Michigan State coach Rick Comley can think whatever he wants, but there is no way his team is remotely even with Cornell, even if they were healthy. They may have split the weekend, but Cornell won five of the six periods and beat Michigan State in almost every aspect of both games. The second period on Saturday night was completely miserable for the Big Red and the definitive exception but even after allowing four goals in it, they still nearly pulled the game out with a gutsy third period comeback. Of course there were issues with Cornell's game, but really they played one terrible period in the second game of the season and looked very solid otherwise. If Comley and Co. think they can play with Cornell after this weekend, they are clearly in fantasyland. After outplaying Cornell for one of six periods, the Spartans skated off the ice like they owned the place. They should consider themselves extraordinarily lucky that Cornell was playing their first games of the season.

There are many specific stories and issues to report on, so this week I will touch upon each briefly rather than go in-depth in one.

The Good

Senior Matt Moulson continued to display his immense offensive ability by scoring three goals and two assists along with hitting two posts. He was a marked man out there but was still able to get open a handful of times, and for those that do not remember from last year, he only needs a handful of chances to bury one. He was not all that noticeable but he never seems to be until he lights the lamp.

In the second period, it appeared as if the character-voids left by the departed players were factoring in a big way. Those guys were always very calm, never getting too high or low, and keeping the team on an even-keel. After the second goal was scored against, the team just could not seem to find its legs or its confidence. After the terrible second period, the character that had been missing in the second period arrived. The Big Red played its best period of the weekend in the final frame on Saturday, outshooting the Spartans 13-1. As would be expected with a three-goal lead on the road, Michigan State really sat back and clogged every area of their zone, making it nearly impossible to penetrate. Cornell battled incredibly hard, led by seniors Chris Abbott and Daniel Pegoraro, and were able to fight through the tight, defensive system. The bottom line is that they did not give up and fought their way back into the game. In all likelihood, Cornell will not trail many games this season, but the fact is that you can never ever let up against any team under any circumstances, and the Big Red learned that lesson this weekend.

Tyler Mugford. As has been said, his play is not at all pretty, but this guy battles hard every shift. Being on the fourth line, he did not get a ton of ice time, but you knew it every time he was out there. He is a heart and soul player who brings it every time he is out there. When Cornell first pulled McKee in the second game, Schafer sent the freshman over the boards as his sixth attacker. Not a lot of talent, but he will do whatever it takes to make the play. He was fearless, dominating in the corners, mixing it up after whistles, and driving hard to the net. Mugford plays the game the way it is meant to be played.

The first powerplay unit, though struggling to set up at times, had a good weekend, converting four times. Ryan O'Byrne proved to be a viable option, scoring on a one-timer in the second period in the first game, while Moulson found ways to get open despite being given very little room to operate. Sasha Pokulok looked relatively comfortable at quarterback while Byron Bitz and Topher Scott did the work down low. Raymond Sawada did convert with the unit in the third period of the second game, tipping a Moulson shot past Spartan goaltender Jeff Lerg. He might be a good fit on the top unit with his abilities in front of the net. It is certainly a different look than last year's top unit with O'Byrne and Pokulok manning the points, but the 'twin towers' are perfectly capable.

The 'twin towers' of Pokulok and O'Byrne both had strong showings this weekend, indicating that they can fulfill their respective promise. Pokulok showed a ton of poise with the puck on the rush and looked very confident. He was also noticeably more physical than he was last year, better utilizing his large frame defensively. O'Byrne showed much better decision-making than what he has shown in the past and was able to stay out of the penalty box. He is still uncomfortable with the puck sometimes, but he has definitely improved. O'Byrne has really seemed to find his groove physically, positioning himself better, and not taking bad penalties.

In recent years, some have accused the Lynah Faithful of letting up a bit and not bringing the same energy to games as it has in the past. That, combined with a ridiculous season ticket procedure leading many die-hards to 'less-prominent' sections, left many concerns that the students would be even less effective. As it turned out, the students turned in a performance that ranked among the best of all time at Lynah. They were consistently loud and creative with their cheers all weekend. No bandwagon fans left after the second period and they stayed to support the team as loudly as they had been. Even after the game had ended, the students continued to cheer, voicing their positive feelings not only for the weekend but for the season ahead. Believe it or not, Lynah may be even tougher to play in this season.

The Bad

It is early in the season but the leadership was not all that impressive. (To be fair, however, this category is also looked at as part of "The Good" for its resilience in the third period.) Saturday night, the Big Red lost their composure, which led to them losing control of the game in the second period. They seemed very unsettled after Michigan State's first goal and really never recovered until the third period. By then it was 4-1 for the Spartans. All the same, the leadership appeared in the second intermission and the Big Red thoroughly dominated the third period, coming up just short. On that note, they never should have come up short. Even with the team faltering badly in the second period, the fourth goal never ever should have happened. With little time on the clock, Cornell lost a defensive zone draw and nobody tied up their man. The Spartan defenseman threw a weak shot at the net and somehow goaltender David McKee let it get by. It just seemed as if everybody had stopped playing, eagerly anticipating the intermission speech by coach Schafer. McKee can never let those goals in, especially in a situation where the team is extremely vulnerable and badly needs to get out of a period. As it turned out, that horrible goal on brutal efforts by every white sweater on the ice was the difference in the game.

While the first powerplay unit was mostly effective, the second powerplay unit struggled mightily in both games. The unit never set up on any of their opportunities in either game. The players on it seemed unclear as to what to do on the rush and could never get control of the puck in the offensive zone. Krantz really struggled with his decision-making coming through the neutral zone. The other players were not reading the play and were getting into the zone to recover dump-ins just a second too late. There is no question that Krantz is a capable quarterback. He skates well and is good at moving laterally with the puck. He just needs to keep his composure and be more assertive and decisive with the puck, rather than constantly backtracking and just thinking too much.

Officiating was an absolute joke. On more than one occasion, it was pretty clear that referee Peter Feola was making it up as he went along. The penalty parade in Michigan State's favor in the second period of the second game turned out to be the turning point of the game. However, Feola is not to blame for Cornell losing because Cornell's deficient performance in the second period should never have happened, penalties or no penalties. Regardless, you need a lot more from officials than what was shown this weekend. It is simply unacceptable that Feola did not know the rule about boarding that caused the ten-minute delay in the first game. Of course Feola took responsibility by giving the Spartans the make-up call later that period in a very borderline play, sending the Spartans on a five-minute powerplay. It went for Cornell as well, considering Feola did not see any part of the play that saw Pegoraro leave the ice in a heap of blood, yet still managed to give the Spartan player a five minute major. All in all, it was a weekend of miserable inconsistency where Feola called seemingly identical plays differently.

The defense lacked consistency and confidence in both games. They struggled to take the man in front of the net, particularly on the penalty kill. O'Byrne, Pokulok, and Glover improved throughout the weekend, but more was needed from Jon Gleed, Krantz, and Jared Seminoff. Gleed did not play poorly, but he is now the leader of the defensive corps and will need to raise the level of his game substantially and bring more of an edge as an assistant captain. Krantz struggled in all areas on the weekend and looked like he did at the beginning of last season with indecisiveness and constantly fighting the puck. He just needs to keep things simple as he did during the latter part of last season when he really played well. It was a tough situation for Seminoff to be in, starting his college career against a strong team. He was clearly a step behind in both games, and took several penalties as a result. There is no question that he has the ability. He just needs to get used to the speed of the college game, which always takes time. The defensive corps has the makings of one better than last year's, but it will take more from every single one of them to reach that level.

The Conclusion

This weekend was a great battle and it would certainly be nice if Cornell could play Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. Of course that would be with Cornell being a number one seed and Michigan State being a number four, seeing as Cornell was clearly superior, and only playing in their first games of the season.

The Spartans embarrassed themselves to close out the weekend, taunting the fans and staying on the ice to recognize their own fans who made the trip. It may not seem like a big deal, but in reality, they broke a code that is obeyed throughout college hockey. Even Clarkson did not pull that move after winning a playoff series at Lynah in 2004. The Spartans did not do it last weekend at Michigan and Cornell never does it on the road when they have twice as many fans as the Spartans had this weekend. Sure, the Big Red fans harassed the hell out of the Spartan players, but IT IS PART OF THE GAME and as players, they should ignore it. Every team has to deal with it and play through it. Instead of taking the high road, the Spartans attempted to embarrass the fans and get the final word in on a weekend in which they were outplayed and only managed a split. Michigan State did do a good job of playing through it and then displayed no class at all in taunting the fans and rubbing their collective nose in their win. It is just something you do not do. Score, don't spike, especially when you are in another team's rink.

Cornell tragically will not take their place at the top of the polls this week (note the sarcasm), but did nothing to indicate that they are not among the best in college hockey. In that way, the loss on Saturday night is a blessing in disguise. Speaking of fantasyland, Cornell is not the top team in college hockey right now at least according to the all-knowing pollsters who will see at most two to three teams play on a given weekend. Who really cares though? All that matters is who the top team is in April. Cornell thrives off of being under the radar more than some of the other top teams and it should work to their advantage again. With the schedule they play, Cornell should never be ranked number one in the glorious polls. In the end, they, like every other team, can prove it on the ice. (This raises the question: what then is the significance of the weekly poll?)

It is tough starting the season against a better-than-average team but it is impossible to ignore the positives that came out of the weekend. Cornell came together in a way you only dream of in the third period, doing everything they could to erase the three-goal deficit. They displayed the character and work ethic that wins championships, plain and simple. There is no question that the team will be far more grounded in the future and never let up as they did in the second period, when they were thoroughly outplayed and outworked. It is great learning experience at this point in the year that can only help a team in the long run. Now Cornell can go out and play a schedule filled with teams inferior to the Michigan State team they were clearly better than. If they can go out and play like they did for five periods this weekend for the entire season, then fantasyland for the Lynah Faithful may become reality.

3 Stars Of the Weekend For Cornell

1. Chris Abbott
What an effort from Abbott. This guy works his tail off every game and logs major minutes. He plays in every key defensive situation but proved this weekend that he is quite capable offensively, scoring third period goals in each game. He worked really hard in the offensive zone and was very good about getting the puck to the net. He would not take a million years to wind up or to get open. He would just get the puck to the net. As it turned out, that strategy was very effective. With the excessive amount of penalties, Abbott saw even more ice time than usual, constantly on the penalty kill.

2. Daniel Pegoraro
Speaking of heart and soul, Pegoraro was another warrior this weekend for the Big Red. Another center that played as much as possible, Pegoraro played in every situation. He blocked more than a handful of shots in each game, proving his once questioned character. After getting cut badly in the third period of the second game, he returned to play a lot of minutes. He will get his numbers, but Pegoraro's value to the team has become what he does defensively, something nobody would have ever predicted two years ago.

3. Matt Moulson
He may very well be the most dangerous offensive player in college hockey because unlike many of the other top scoring threats, Moulson only needs a couple to make his mark. Three goals and two assists while getting the bulk of Spartan defense's attention. Luckily for Moulson, a lot of the teams Cornell plays do not have the same tough defense that Michigan State has. Moulson could end up putting up some very scary numbers this season.

Burning Questions

What goes through the minds of students who throw objects onto the ice to voice their displeasure?
Clearly not much. There is nothing more dumb, counter-productive, and classless than littering the ice with debris to demonstrate satisfaction. It only happens when Cornell loses, and an otherwise classy collection of fans embarrasses the entire organization of Cornell hockey and the aura around Lynah. It should never happen and anybody caught for doing it should be kicked out for the rest of the season. Yell, scream, and cheer, but never ever throw anything on the ice.

Will Taylor Davenport get an opportunity to play in wake of Seminoff's tough weekend?
It is pretty tough to say but Seminoff will definitely get another opportunity to prove himself. He may have struggled against Michigan State, but there is no reason to believe that he cannot play at this level. It takes longer for defensemen to adjust than it does forwards. Davenport will get an opportunity, but Seminoff deserves another shot against lesser competition, making his transition a bit smoother. Seminoff is the ideal partner for Pokulok because of his stay-at-home nature and ability to read the play. Expect Davenport to get a chance to play this season because injuries are inevitable, but Seminoff should stay in the lineup for now. With five returning defensemen, the coaching staff can afford to be patient with him.

Why isn't Cam Abbott on the powerplay?
It seems somewhat weird that one of Cornell's top offensive threats is not on either of the powerplay units. It is important to recognize that almost every Cornell forward who plays on the powerplay does not kill penalties, the only exception being Pegoraro. It really flexes the depth muscles that Cornell boasts and it will keep all of the forwards that much fresher later in games. Abbott is a player who can help the second unit, which struggled on the weekend, with his ability to win battles in the corners and creativity with the puck. Last year with Mike Knoepfli and Mike Iggulden regularly killing penalties, Abbott did not see much time there and thus saw regular duty with the second powerplay unit. If anything, he is proving to be a versatile player who can excel at both ends of the ice. If the second unit does continue to struggle, expect him to be added. All that being said, with Carefoot possibly missing some time due to injury, Abbott could immediately find himself on the second unit.

Should Carefoot miss time, who will be his replacement?
There are only two options: Ryan Kindret and Matt Connors. Considering Connors plays the right side as Carefoot does, he would be the logical choice. However, Kindret is ahead of Connors on the overall depth chart as was evident in him dressing for the U-18 exhibition game and Connors not. This does raise a concern about the Big Red's depth up front with only 14 total forwards. Injuries are inevitable and should they run into successive problems, things could get interesting.

Upcoming Weekend Outlook

This will not be the same Yale team that was frequently embarrassed last season. They did come on late in the season, proving that they have some upside as a team. The Big Red should come out firing on all cylinders after Saturday night's game with Michigan State so it will still be an enormous challenge for the Bulldogs to stay in the game.
Cornell 4 - Yale 1

It will be tough to predict how Brown performs this season after losing some significant players last season. All the same, they do return some very strong personnel, indicating very good potential for the Bears this season. It may take some time, but they will give some of the top ECACHL teams fits, but that likely will not happen this early in the season.
Cornell 3 - Brown 1