After all the preseason accolades, all the whispers of ECAC championships and NCAA Tournamant bids, all the stratospheric expectations, the persistent reality of losing has undoubtedly left a nagging feeling at the bottom of the men’s hockey team’s stomach.
So then it was no surprise to see junior forward Denis Ladouceur slowly skating across mid-ice after the final whistle had blown on Friday night, hunched over with a stick clamped in his hands and his eyes not averting from the Lynah Rink ice beneath him. Cornell had just lost its third game in a row, falling 2-1 to Rensselaer and dropping to fifth in the ECAC standings.
Ladouceur’s pain was simple to decipher. Having been in a position earlier this season to challenge for an ECAC crown, the Red was now in jeopardy of not even claiming home-ice for the upcoming playoffs. Since a 2-1 win at Harvard, the squad has mustered only a 1-5-1 record through the contest with the Engineers. The offense has once again grown limp, power play opportunities have become scarce, and fans have become restless.
“Everybody’s disappointed with what’s happened here. Our guys know the pressure that’s on them right now,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “You can see our guys getting frustrated out there.”
What clearly made Friday night unbearable for the Red was that it fired 41 shots at RPI goalie Nate Marsters, and yet had only one goal to show for its efforts. The Engineers on the other hand found a path to victory despite only registering 22 chances against junior netminder Matt Underhill.
When asked to explain what the Red needs to improve on during the rest of the season, Schafer was quick with an answer.
“Score goals. Guys got to put it in the back of the net,” he said. “It’s been our problem for a long period of time here.”
Unlike past games, however, the Red finally took an early advantage against the Engineers. At 7:29 of the first period, senior tri-captain Larry Pierce placed a wrist shot above Marsters’ left shoulder to put Cornell ahead, 1-0.
“That was from a guy who hasn’t scored a goal this year,” Schafer commented on Pierce’s score. “That was our best line tonight [Pierce, junior David Franis, and sophomore Shane Palahicky]. They executed exactly what we wanted to do.”
“It was good to get on the board first,” Pierce said, adding, “I thought we were going to take off and run with it.”
Francis and senior tri-captain Danny Powell recorded assists on Pierce’s goal.
The end of the first period left the entire Lynah crowd in a state of confusion. Just before intermission two players barreled into Underhill and knocked him into his own net. Meanwhile, a long RPI outlet pass skipped past the Red’s defense and made its way past the goal line. But because the referees didn’t notice, the Red quickly scooped the puck out its net and cleared it out of the zone.
But the tide turned in Rensselaer’s direction early in the second period when Jim Hinkel split Cornell’s defense and roofed a shot out of Underhill’s reach to level the score at 1-1.
“That’s a goalscorer’s goal,” Schafer lauded. “He didn’t come in and try to shove it through Matt. The kid got it up in the top part of the net.”
From a scoring-chance perspective, however, Cornell dominated the second period, generating 19 shots on Marsters. With RPI’s Eric Cavosie in the penalty box at 5:04, the Red set up shop on Martsers’ doorstep, creating shot after quality shot. But the Red couldn’t break the Rensselaer defense.
RPI, on the other hand, required only six shots in the third period to put the Red away. On a power-play at 8:47, Matt Murley scored his 22nd goal of the season when he blasted a low slap shot from the blue-line, beating Underhill on his glove side.
“We get all kinds of chances and they score a goal from the blue-line through a screen,” Schafer said, clearly aware of the irony. “We have the best penalty-killing team in the league and they score a power-play goal from the blue-line through traffic.”
While it’s obvious Cornell’s offense has been knocking on the door — it hit a couple of posts Friday night — it hasn’t yet been able to break the door down.
“We’ve been in that cycle for a good three weeks to a month,” Schafer said.
“I don’t know,” Pierce answered when asked to explain the Red’s drought. “But it’s definitely something, though, because it’s been too many games where we’re getting a goal, or getting shut out or getting two goals.”
With the playoffs looming only a weekend away, Cornell will now have to find a way top break out of its slump, otherwise the postseason may not last very long.
“Frustration doesn’t do you a whole lot of good,” Schafer said. “Our kids got to pick their heads up…and take it upon themselves to change things around.”
Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj