From Princeton’s last-second, game-tying goal against Colgate to RPI’s firing of head coach Seth Appert, the past week has been eventful in ECAC Hockey. Lost in the news cycle, perhaps, was Clarkson’s dismantling of Appert’s Engineers in a two-game sweep. The Golden Knights’ reward for the series win is a trip to Lynah Rink this weekend for a three-game series against Cornell. The winning team earns a trip to Lake Placid, N.Y. for the ECAC semifinals.
Clarkson and Cornell tied, 3-3, in Ithaca and Potsdam this season, so it certainly could go either way this weekend. Let’s examine both teams in seven different aspects of a hockey team to see which team will prevail.
This format is 0-1 this season after incorrectly predicting Cornell would win the Harvard game, but we will see if it is any more effective in the playoffs!
Cornell is known for its defense-first style of hockey, so it is unsurprising to see that Cornell has no star forwards, and instead employs a team-based offensive approach. Mitch Vanderlaan has the best offensive stats for the Red, but an argument could be made that captain Jake Weidner is Cornell’s most important forward. The biggest strength up front for Cornell is depth; any one of the twelve forwards can score goals on any night. Clarkson is coached by Cornell alumnus Casey Jones ’90, who has brought this style to Potsdam as well. That said, Sam Vigneault stands out as a major focal point of the Golden Knights’ attack. Cornell will have to stop him, as well as Clarkson’s emerging freshmen Sheldon Rempal, Nico Sturm, Devin Brosseau and Haralds Egle.
Cornell is suffering from a major injury crisis on defense. Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 has confirmed that Ryan Bliss and Brendan Smith will miss the rest of the season, and Dan Wedman’s status is unknown after missing much of the season. Trent Shore has only played in two games this year, so Schafer may not trust the sophomore in the playoffs. This leaves Cornell with five healthy defensemen at best. Junior forward Alex Rauter has filled in admirably on the blue line when needed, but it is not an ideal situation. Clarkson has a talented defensive corps, led by senior James de Haas and junior Terrance Amorosa.
Cornell’s Mitch Gillam remains among the conference’s elite netminders. A veteran of seven career ECAC playoff games — four of which were at home — Gillam will be ready for the pressures of playoff hockey. Clarkson’s Jake Kielly has had a solid freshman season but he, of course, has never played a playoff game. Watch for playoff experience to be the key differentiating factor between the two goalies’ play.
Cornell’s power play blows hot and cold, tending to succeed more against ECAC hockey’s weaker teams. Clarkson’s special teams rank slightly ahead of the Red in power play success percentage and slightly behind Cornell in penalty kill percentage. This past weekend, Clarkson scored six goals on the power play in two games against RPI, but conceded five on the penalty kill.
It is tough to judge if either team has an advantage based on recent results. Cornell had a three-point weekend at home against the Capital Region teams two weeks ago, but may be out of game rhythm initially from their off week. Clarkson will be tired from their extra series, but they will be in game shape. The crushing sweep of RPI will also give the Golden Knights confidence.
Cornell’s Mike Schafer is one of the best coaches in college hockey, with over twenty seasons behind the Red bench. His counterpart for the Knights, Casey Jones, has made a number of different stops in the college hockey world and thus is also experienced. Yet, Schafer has a slight edge here, mostly due to his twenty-plus seasons at Cornell compared to Jones’ six at Clarkson.
Cornell has the advantage of being the home team for the entire weekend at Lynah Rink. The Red’s Lynah advantage is well-documented, and fans should expect a rowdy atmosphere this weekend. Clarkson’s pep band often makes the roughly four-hour trip south, so the battle of the bands will spice up the environment and add more entertainment.
Edge: Cornell, by definition
Cornell has the advantage in three categories, with Clarkson winning one and three others being too close to call. Given this breakdown, I predict Cornell will take the series in three games. This weekend’s playoff series in Lynah Rink promises to thrill, as Cornell and Clarkson compete in a series that truly could go either way.