It is amazing how quickly expectations can grow. A week ago, there was collective jubilation at Cornell's awe-inspiring two-point weekend against Colgate. After this past weekend, there is a widespread sense of disappointment with attaining just two points against the top two teams in the ECACHL. They are making progress, certainly with regard to results. After all, two points in a weekend is better than the one they were getting in January. It is difficult to judge where exactly the team stands right now though. After the winning their second straight game on Friday for the first time since December, the Big Red looked poised to run the table. Then on Saturday, they lost a game eerily similar to the ones that they were losing for a month.
Maybe there is a psychological issue with this team. Too many comments from both the coaches and the players this season have been along the lines of "we didn't get the bounces." Certainly there is some truth to the saying, 'You have to be lucky to be good,' but ultimately, any team makes its own destiny. Expectations for this year's team are perhaps lower than they have been in several years, but considering the ECACHL has taken so many steps backward from top to bottom, Cornell's fall is not as justifiable. In light of how badly they beat Clarkson on Friday and the fact that the Big Red has shown it can play at a very high level, being tied for fourth place, just two games above .500, is not quite so easy to swallow.
The reality of it is that good teams make their own bounces. There is a cushion of security with this year's team that periodically shows itself. There is a sense that it is okay to be average some nights because you are not always going to get the bounces. Again, maybe that mindset is understandable and even partially justifiable. Still, it is difficult to get past the fact that this team has sporadically exceeded the low expectations placed upon it.
The issue goes beyond not getting the bounces. Maybe what the players and coaches are saying to the media does not reflect what they really think, but that is not the practice of most other sports teams in either college or the professional ranks. If the players and coaches truly think it is a matter of getting the right bounces, then that is a very sobering thought. An objective observer would probably cite the 0-for-6 powerplay (and a missed penalty shot) for the loss to St. Lawrence, specifically the zero shots on goal during three powerplays in the second period when the score was 1-1. It is not as if St. Lawrence was the decidedly better team; Cornell merely failed to take advantage of their biggest opportunity of the season.
The missed penalty shot was the turning point of the game as St. Lawrence tied the game on the very next shift. If Cornell had gone up 2-0, the Saints, who gave up six goals in 24 minutes the night before, likely would have packed up and gone back to Canton empty handed. Forget about the penalty shot though. Cornell just did not get it done. Part of it was the continued futility of a powerplay that has tried to do the same thing all season while another was the lack of finish around the net.
Most surprising about their lack of finish on Saturday was that for the first time in weeks they were able to finish in spades just 24 hours earlier. Maybe it was a tease, but Cornell thoroughly dominated the best team in the ECACHL and one of the top teams in the NCAA according to the PairWise Rankings. It was not even close. For the first time since the New Hampshire game, Cornell was consistently getting pucks to the net and driving hard in pursuit of rebounds. All this without their best and most valuable player, Jared Seminoff, who will likely be out for the remainder of the season. Nobody who was at Lynah on Friday, including Clarkson coach George Roll, said Cornell won because they got the bounces.
Cornell is not playing bad hockey by any stretch of the imagination. The issue is that they are not playing as well as they need to be to ultimately be successful. We all know they can play at this mystical high level because they have done it a few times this season. In these games, Cornell was not winning because they were getting bounces; they were winning because they were executing their game plan to perfection. They were winning battles, driving to the net, using the middle of the ice, and keeping things simple in the defensive zone. Yes, it is unrealistic to expect that perfect execution every night, which leads to maybe the core of what has gone wrong when Cornell has not won this season. The powerplay has had virtually no efficiency and not a single solitary change has been made to it.
The Big Red have very little margin for error because they cannot get any powerplay goals, particularly when they need them most. Even when they are winning, the powerplay is not executing. Now you understand the need for bounces when they are not playing an absolute perfect game.
Their fate is still in their own hands, but that window is quickly closing. They need to play their last six games like they did against Clarkson or they will be in the dreaded situation of being outside the top four. That likely means a second round series at St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Quinnipiac, Dartmouth, or Colgate - easily the last five places Cornell wants to play a best-of-three. If Cornell can go on a run now and stay in the top four, they can and will win the ECACHL. The sooner they realize they don't need to rely on the bounces to get there, the better.
1. Mitch Carefoot
It is pretty obvious who this year's breakout senior is. Following in the formidable footsteps of Chris Abbott last season and Mike Iggulden in 2004-05, Carefoot has elevated his game to a level he never even approached previously. He has emerged as the team's most consistent and reliable offensive contributor while playing against the opposition's top line every night. He is winning all of his puck battles and making great plays to clear the zone both at even strength and shorthanded. Sound familiar?
2. Doug Krantz
With Seminoff out indefinitely, Krantz is the new number one defenseman. He has quietly had a good season and been a key factor in absorbing the losses of Ryan O'Byrne, Jon Gleed, and Sasha Pokulok. He was doing all the little things this weekend, making plays coming out of the zone and sometimes getting the puck out entirely on his own. Krantz has become a steady and reliable defenseman in all parts of the game.
3. Mike Kennedy
This was a tough call between Kennedy and Colin Greening, both scoring twice over the weekend. The nod goes to Kennedy because he put forth his best weekend of the season and scored the opening goals of each game. Add that to the fact that he looked more comfortable in the offensive zone than he has his entire career. Kennedy's defensive game has fallen into place very nicely, especially of late with Carefoot and Mugford on his wings. As he has become more affective defensively, he has become more effective in the offensive zone. Somebody must have told Kennedy that he can play offense and that it is often the best defense. His line had the puck far more than Clarkson's top line on Friday night and Colgate's top line the weekend before.
Who is the best team in the ECACHL?
More than in any recent season, there is no clear-cut top team. Clarkson has the leg up based on their overall performance during the season and it is reflected in the PairWise Rankings. Quinnipiac played their best hockey early in the season though they are still the most proficient team at scoring goals. St. Lawrence is the overachieving team with nothing to lose and they are definitely the fastest team. Dartmouth has quietly improved while everyone waits to see what Cornell is truly capable of. The fact of the matter is that any team can take it this year. Even last season, when all was said and done, it was pretty clear that Cornell and Harvard were the top two teams. This is not entirely out of the realm of possibility for this season but it is still awfully tough to even predict the teams that will be in Albany. My picks? Clarkson, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Colgate.
Why doesn't Doug Krantz get any powerplay time?
Considering he is the fastest defenseman and possesses the hardest shot on the team, it is pretty unbelievable that Krantz does not get a sniff of powerplay time. It may be because he is playing more than 25 minutes a night and the coaching staff wants him to get a rest on powerplays, but with it struggling so badly, it is time to give him an opportunity. Almost every goal Krantz has scored in his career has been of the very-important variety. Even though he has a huge shot, Krantz is able to consistently get the puck to the net even if he is just throwing it in rather than taking a huge shot. His vision and playmaking ability are both underrated and he is really a pretty logical choice to at least be given a chance on the powerplay. It is very possible he is part of a solution to its struggles.
Scrivens or Davenport?
Goaltending has obviously been a sore spot this season and neither goaltender has definitively grabbed ahold of the number one job. Davenport seemingly had it sewn up early in the season after starting the first 11 games but Scrivens has gained the upper hand of late with three straight starts. In those three games, he has given up just four goals, though he has looked uncomfortable at times. He does seem to be getting more confident, however. Schafer has indicated that he will platoon the two goaltenders until one grabs the job and it appears that by starting Scrivens three straight games, he is number one, at least for now. Schafer has not shown a lot of confidence in either goaltender over the last dozen games so it is unrealistic to think that Scrivens will be the man until the end of the season. Davenport has more experience in big games and is the more polished goaltender which should ultimately give him the edge. However, with goaltenders, confidence accounts for so much and Scrivens has a little bit right now while Davenport seemingly has none.
Where will Evan Barlow fit when he returns to the lineup?
It is pretty obvious that Barlow will take the spot held by Chris Fontas and Joe Scali this weekend. Barlow played perhaps his best hockey of the season in the two periods he played before getting hurt last Saturday so it is safe to say that he will be back in the lineup when he is healthy enough. Prior to getting hurt, he was playing with Byron Bitz and Raymond Sawada and the line was clicking pretty well. This past weekend, Colin Greening moved up to that spot. He was previously with Blake Gallagher and Mark McCutcheon. Even though Greening had a great weekend, he provided a much needed physical presence to that Gallagher line and that unit was starting to have some success last weekend. It is safe to assume that the line of Justin Milo, Topher Scott, and Tony Romano will stay intact although it is possible that Barlow could move into the left wing spot on that line with Milo moving to one of the other lines. Milo has seen a fair amount of time with both Gallagher and Bitz this season.
Do not expect the touchdown performance Cornell put up in December. Union has gone 8-8 since that game and has sporadically played some pretty good hockey. They have beaten Clarkson and Dartmouth, showing that anybody can beat anybody. Cornell always seems to play a close game with Union on the road and expect no different this time around. Neither team scores a ton of goals so this should be a relatively low-scoring affair. Even if they are possibly the worst team in the very deep, parity-filled ECACHL, no team rolls over, especially at home. After getting embarrassed at Lynah, expect Union to come out fired up.
Cornell 3 - Union 2
It has been a while since Cornell beat RPI. The Engineers have really struggled this season with an 8-13-7 record and they sit last in the ECACHL. They have played a little better of late going 3-3-1 in their last seven. Cornell thoroughly dominated the Engineers at Lynah after falling behind 3-0 early on in that affair. Cornell has struggled badly on Saturday nights with a 4-7-1 record overall and 2-4-1 in the league. They will need to figure that out if they are going to win in the always-tough Houston Fieldhouse on Saturday.
Cornell 3 - Rensselaer 1