Successful Weekend Vaults Cornell Up ECAC Standings
It would be a stretch to say that the Big Red turned the corner last weekend with wins at Dartmouth and Vermont. But there is no question that they have risen from dead as they were able to turn their popgun offense into a much more intimidating attack -- an attack that mustered an improved 54 shots in the two games combined. That number may not be particularly impressive, but when you compare those numbers with the combined 33 shots the team amassed in the two games against Colgate, one has to be satisfied. Even though the Big Red scored only one goal against a Vermont team that they have blown out in recent years, the ice was certainly tilted towards the Vermont end for the majority of the game. If not for the stellar play of Vermont goaltender Travis Russell, be assured that the game would have looked more like the blowouts of Vermont last season. The Big Red played a strong defensive game in which Vermont got very few chances en route to winning a more routine Cornell game.
The much more important and impressive game from Cornell's perspective was the night before against a much stronger opponent in Dartmouth. It is important to note that prior to Friday night's game, Cornell had gone 1-8-1 in their previous ten contests against Dartmouth, including a 0-5-0 record during that time at Thompson Arena. Although Cornell returned most of its injured players (as well as the ones that had to sit out the second Colgate game due to third period disqualifications), they were still without offensive leader and captain Ryan Vesce and would lose number one goalie and the ascending backbone of the team, goaltender Dave McKee 6:16 into the third period. Rock solid freshman defenseman Dan Glover also left the game prematurely towards the end of the first period and would not dress Saturday night. Again, the Big Red would have to fight through substantial adversity with the totally untested Todd Marr coming in during at Dartmouth powerplay and seeing his first action since January 25th, 2003. Marr stepped up big time and stopped eight shots, including a few very good chances, from a very potent Dartmouth offense in the last 13:44 of the third period to push Cornell to the 4-2 victory. Perhaps most important and the best sign on this night was the fact that Cornell's offense was opportunistic -- something it had not been in quite some time. Scoring two powerplay goals on a five-minute advantage in the first period and two goals off of Dartmouth defensive mistakes was precisely the recipe Cornell's offense needed to reinvest itself. The timing of the third goal, in particular, was a huge factor in Cornell emerging victorious. Junior Mike Knoepfli, who was called out as a player that needed to step up his game in this space last week, took advantage of a Dartmouth mistake and converted what would prove to be the game winning goal with just 48 seconds left in the second period. Last minute goals are enormous as they totally change the momentum of the game and the mindset of both teams heading into their respective locker rooms.
If Cornell scores three or more goals, they should pretty much always win with their superb defensive scheme. When you have a very strong defensive squad that struggles to score goals, it is absolutely imperative to be opportunistic as they were in both games last weekend. If Cornell is to be successful down the stretch and in the playoffs, they have to play games like they did at Dartmouth. After clearly lacking it for most of the season, the best sign of the win in Hanover is that Cornell seemingly found their identity.
Big Red Needs To Find Success At Lynah
In a few days, the Big Red return home to hopefully translate their success from last weekend onto home ice against Princeton and Yale. It is about time Lynah saw some good hockey, but really, there is no reason to get into the team's surprising struggles at home this season. Everybody knows about them and it has been talked about an endless amount. The players certainly know it; especially the ones that have been with the team prior to this season who enjoyed almost total success at home the past two seasons going 29-1-1 at Lynah Rink. On the other hand, it is certainly interesting and a very good thing that the team has been dominant on the road this season, going 8-2-1 when you include the games in Florida (officially considered neutral). With four of their remaining six regular season games on home ice plus a potential home playoff series (best of three), the importance of generating success at home is an absolute necessity. Playing well on the road is also a necessity that will obviously come in handy come playoff time when virtually all games are on the road (officially considered neutral) following the preliminary ECAC playoff rounds.
Cornell may have beaten Princeton and Yale pretty easily when the Big Red played them a few months back, but they will have to turn in solid performances in both games to get much needed victories. Although Princeton has struggled much of the season, you have to earn your victories over every team in the ECAC this season. There really are no total pushovers as there might have been last season. Yale has surged in the second half of the season and has vaulted up to sixth in the conference, just one point back of RPI, Cornell, and Dartmouth. They are a high scoring team that definitely struggles on the defensive side of the puck so it should be an interesting match up. If Cornell sticks to what has given them success of late, great goaltending, playing physical, stingy defensive, and opportunistic offensive, they should routinely win both games even with Ryan Vesce out of the lineup.
The stretch drive is a term more commonly associated with post-All Star Break NHL. It is the point in the season where teams need to buckle down and generally win games in ugly fashion and solidify itself for the playoffs. The stretch drive is the most important part of the season because it sets the tone and course for the playoffs. If Cornell is getting hot, this is the right time. The time to struggle was in January. Now, with six games remaining in the regular season, four of which are at home, Cornell can make its own destiny. After last weekend's successes, the Big Red finds itself in a three-way tie for third in the conference with RPI and Dartmouth. Finishing in the top four is the goal and very attainable if they can continue their upward trend that began last weekend. Being in a three-way tie for third place, there will be a fight to the final weekend of the regular season to place in the top four and receive a bye in the first round and home ice in the second round of the ECAC playoffs.
As far as post-season placement goes, Cornell's destiny lies with them, and only them. If they have found their identity, they must execute it game in and game out during the stretch drive. Who knows why they have not had success at home? It just does not matter now. All that matters is that they figure out how to capture their success from the road and translate it to their play on home ice. They need to stick to what has made them successful. The home crowd has been waiting most of the season to see the stellar play that they know the Big Red has in them. They have shown it on the road most of the season. Now it is time to bring it back home for the stretch drive.