Driving back to Ithaca from Brown University (where we saw Emma Watson!), it is painful not to second guess what might have been Friday night against Yale. We can only imagine the team feels the same way.
With an intimidating number of ranked opponents on the docket this season, Cornell will find itself battling close games as if they were chess matches. A misplayed puck at the blue line, a soft goal or a failure to capitalize on a golden scoring opportunity will frequently decide these types of games.
Cornell blinked at key points during the game in New Haven, and now finds itself both on a four-game losing streak to the Elis and demoted to third place in the ECAC Hockey standings.
Let’s begin on a positive note; Cornell’s offense continued to impress this weekend. The Big Red have already scored 19 goals in conference play, a mark not reached until mid-January last season. Cornell has now scored five or more goals three times, which equals the total from all of last season.
Top line forwards Colin Greening, Blake Gallagher and Joe Devin are off to exceptional starts this season, combining for 12 goals and 14 assists, including seven power play goals. Twelve different players have put the puck in the net this season, a statistic which demonstrates that the team is making progress towards its goal of more balanced scoring. However, our prolific offense took the night off on Friday, and plenty of other things went wrong.
Though he is not solely responsible for Friday’s unfortunate outcome, Brendon Nash remains a poster child for Cornell’s lackadaisical play. His misplayed puck at the blue line with less than a minute remaining in the first period erased Cornell’s 2-1 lead and the team never recovered. His careless and undisciplined penalty at the end of the second period ensured that Yale opened the third on the power play in an exceptionally pivotal moment (recall the same thing happened against Harvard, too).
For someone who sees no penalty kill time whatsoever, Nash certainly provides ample time for others to get a workout. In fact, he leads the team in minor infractions and has committed at least one penalty in all but one of the Red’s games this season. As a senior defenseman who logs significant ice-time, the underclassmen look to Nash for leadership and example setting. He has proven adept at stripping opposing forwards of the puck along the boards, but these good plays must not be offset by mental errors. It is time for Nash to grow into the offensive-minded yet responsible defenseman that we know he is capable of becoming.
Others partook in this collective shortcoming on Friday. For as great as Ben Scrivens plays, and he was phenomenal in the 6-0 shutout over Brown, he needs to elevate his game when the clock winds down. The “red hot” top-line power play unit failed to convert a 5x3 opportunity late in the third period, and in fact could barely hold the zone. Riley Nash did not finish a well-executed shorthanded two-on-one with Patrick Kennedy mid-way through the second period and has zero goals through five games. Slow line changes allowed Yale forwards to cherry-pick on the blue line and get some great looks at the net before our fresh skaters were in position. After Patrick Kennedy was injured in the second period, the added confusion of changing up the lines increased this weakness. Cornell was called for a too-many-men penalty in each game this weekend.
One might call Friday’s game a teachable moment, but it is even more significant because it sets the tone for all future important battles this season. With victory so close against a Yale team which dominated Cornell 5-0 in last year’s ECAC championship game, Cornell was forced to taste bitter defeat once more against its now most important rival.
Cornell had the benefit of playing a much weaker Brown team on Saturday. The Bears failed to produce any sustained offensive pressure and collapsed in the final three minutes, turning a respectable 3-0 game into a 6-0 blowout.
Yet the Red will have to show that it can do more than just pummel weaker opposition. Cornell’s opponents, including Yale, have a disgraceful combined record of 3-21-6. Statistically, Cornell has now played the Nos. 35, 51, 52, 57 and 58 teams out of the 58 teams in college hockey.
Against Yale, the Red proved it can compete to the end, but the road from here gets substantially more difficult. Next weekend’s opponents, Princeton and Quinnipiac, have a combined conference record of 6-1-1. As it looks ahead to games against nationally ranked opponents like Princeton, Boston University, New Hampshire, and North Dakota, the Big Red must not commit the same types of mistakes we saw on Friday.
In the meantime, perhaps the men ought to watch the Big Red women’s team practice for a lesson in defeating perennial powerhouses. They defeated No. 2 Clarkson on Friday; the previous weekend, they swept Dartmouth and Harvard for the first time in program history. Our hats off to them for an extremely successful start to this season.