Eric Freschi, a junior forward on the Cornell men’s hockey team, has had an up-and-down season — much like his team. He scored Cornell’s first goal of the season against Niagara but has not scored since. He has played in every game but two and logged significant minutes on a penalty kill which has been dominant at times. In the first ECAC weekend of the season, Freschi had eight penalty minutes — more than 13 of his teammates have recorded all season.
Cornell has succeeded whenever Freschi has played well. This is perhaps most exemplified by his outstanding shift in the third period against Dartmouth on Saturday. The Big Green had a full two-minute, five-on-three chance after Cornell penalties on Christian Hilbrich and Anthony Angello. That’s when Freschi and the Big Red went to work, thwarting numerous Dartmouth attempts to enter the offensive zone. A hard-working shift like Freschi’s won’t show up on the score sheet, but it stood out as a key turning point in the 1-0 Cornell win.
It has been a season full of hard work for Cornell hockey. The team has had many 6 a.m. practices this season, which helped establish a team-first mentality. The Red’s upperclassmen worked hard to integrate a talented freshman class, both on and off the ice. After months of practice, the Red kickstared the season with two wins over Canadian colleges, by a combined score of 11-3.
When the puck dropped on the regular season, however, Cornell would be challenged from the start. Twenty-two seconds into the new season, the Red trailed. Niagara’s Luke Edwards took an innocuous slapshot from 60 feet away which Mitch Gillam never saw. The Red’s netminder turned around and the puck was behind him. Suddenly, Cornell trailed to an Atlantic Hockey opponent that was expected to be one of the worst Division I teams this season.
In the second period of that contest, Freschi scored, and Cornell would go on to win, 3-2 in overtime. Cornell won six of its eight fall semester conference games, only losing one. This stretch was marked by a number of significant players missing time with injury, but the healthy players demonstrated their solid work ethic and kept the good results coming. Then, the Red took down number-one-in-the-country, undefeated Providence. Jared Fiegl’s goal (assisted by Freschi) tied the score and Jeff Kubiak won it in overtime.
The following night’s contest was one to forget, but Cornell would get back on track in early January against Merrimack with a weekend sweep. Then came a trying stretch in which Cornell failed to win in any of seven straight games, including two straight zero-point weekends. Despite this, the team was clearly working hard at both ends of the ice, being denied by a cruel combination of talented opponents, goaltenders and puck luck. This showed in the next five conference games, as Cornell has taken points in four of those games, including huge wins at Princeton and Dartmouth. Now, Cornell has clinched a home playoff series going into the final weekend of the regular season.
It is imperative that Cornell has a strong showing in this ultimate weekend. Capital Region foes Union and RPI will make their way to Lynah. Four points are required for Cornell to even have a chance of securing a first-round bye. More importantly, the Red needs to build on the successes of last weekend. Last season, Cornell finished the year with a 4-0 loss to Yale. It is logical to suggest that such a demoralizing defeat played a role in the playoff struggles against Union that followed. If Cornell cannot get four points this weekend, the Red need to avoid large defeats that could kill momentum heading into the playoffs.
The best way to avoid such a defeat is through hard work. Thankfully, this team has done nothing but work all season. Numerous moments stand out as examples of Cornell’s hard work, from early morning practices to winning streaks despite injuries. Cornell has put in effort, on and off the ice. Effort will once again be required in this final weekend. Cornell could lose all that it has worked for months to earn if this weekend does not go to plan. Two workmanlike performances could boost this team in the right direction for the all-important playoffs.