The No. 2-ranked Cornell Women’s hockey is off to a strong start in the 2012-2013 season, continuing to show why it is one of the top teams in NCAA women’s hockey. It has won 9 out of 11 games played thus far, including 7 out of 8 contests against ECAC opponents. The Red has won the Ivy League title and reached the Frozen Four in each of the past three seasons, but fell short of winning the national championship each time.
“We always keep our eye on the ultimate prize, which is winning the NCAA championship,” said sophomore forward Jillian Saulnier. “But we make sure to consistently dedicate our time and our effort to all the other steps throughout the season, because it’s not just one big jump to the NCAA championship. First, we have to focus on the Ivy League Championship and the ECAC Championship. If we continue to stay committed to achieving our smaller goals, the NCAA championship should be in reach.”
Strong and effective leadership from every player is a key to the Red’s on-ice success, according to Saulnier.
“We have a good group of girls and different people hold different roles, but its really important that we have good leadership to keep our goals in mind and our path going in the right direction,” she said. “Even the freshmen on our team have a leadership role because everyone is held accountable for their actions on the ice. We have a lot of big games coming up, so it will be important for everyone to step up and bring their best when we hit the ice.”
After a few practice games, the Red began the season with two games against No. 3 ranked Boston University — a traditional rival. The Red defeated the Terriers to reach the Frozen Four last year and was victorious in this season’s opener as well, but B.U. responded with a victory in the second contest. According to head coach Doug Derraugh ’91, the Red learned the importance of playing a full 60 minutes after that defeat.
“In the first game we came out with a lot of energy and played well on both ends of the ice, and in the second game we also came out with energy, but we didn’t keep that focus throughout the entire game,” he said. “So we learned from that not only do you need to be ready at the start of the game, but you need to carry that focus throughout the game.”
The Red went on to win six straight after that loss, but fell to Harvard in its last matchup. According to Derraugh, the loss taught the team that each play and each detail can turn the tide of a game.
“The young players especially learned that when you're playing the top teams in our league, it’s going to come down to a couple of plays here and there that you make or you don’t make,” he explained. “That’s basically what happened in the Harvard game. You talk about the importance of those details in practice all the time, and in the last ten minutes of the game, its going to come down to who can execute those details.”
A number of the last year’s best players and leaders were seniors, and a new freshman class has come in to fill the gaps they left. According to Saulnier, the Red’s upperclassmen made a strong effort to get the freshmen acquainted with the culture of the team, and the freshmen have already made important contributions.
“With losing all of last year’s seniors, it was important for other players to come in and fill those shoes,” Saulnier said. “Especially with a big class of eight freshman, our upperclassmen have done a good job of showing them how this program works, because it’s a process when you need to learn on the fly and buy in to what our team is committed to do. So it was important for our upperclassmen to take on that role and all of the freshmen have blended in and are doing exceptionally well.”
No hockey team can succeed without quality goaltending and the Red has certainly benefited from that this season. The goaltending crew is anchored by junior Lauren Slebodnick, who, according to senior Laura Fortino, has performed very well throughout the season.
“Our goaltending has been quite strong,” she said. “Lauren has been doing a great job for us. She’s kept us in games when we needed her, and has made great saves at key times in those games.”
Behind the bench, the Red is led by Derraugh, who is now in his eighth season coaching the team. According to Saulnier, Derraugh is a strong leader and is well liked by all the players.
“We are blessed and honored to have him,” Saulnier said. “He’s willing to do anything to make us better each individually and as a team. His dedication to this program is just exceptional. He makes us, as players, want to do well and perform well to prove that everything he puts into the team is working. We have a tremendous staff and we wouldn’t be where we are today if they didn’t put 100% into their jobs like they do every single day, so we’re very grateful for that.”
According to Derraugh, the team is a tight knit group with good camaraderie, which has been especially helpful in acclimating the freshmen to the rest of the team.
“I really like the chemistry of this team. They get along really well and really care for each other, and that’s really important, especially when you have a large group of freshmen,” he said. “Getting that chemistry is not always easy when you have a lot of new players and everyone is trying to get a feel for one another, but I feel very strongly about the chemistry of this team and the character of this team.”