December 7, 2001

Ebb and Flow of the Game

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As I was talking to a friend of mine who is a long time Islanders fan last night, he pointed out to me that the Islanders had just grabbed their ninth road victory of the season, equaling their total from the previous year. That thought, after only 14 road games, is a staggering statistic and shows how quickly teams can turn things around.

But while it takes little more than a handful of free agents to turn around a struggling franchise in the NHL, it takes little more than the graduation of a few seniors to change the fates of a college hockey team. Hockey, you see, is a roller coaster ride. For every team. Parity is the rule, not the exception.

This isn’t just for the professionals though. Just as with the turnaround of the Islanders, Rangers, Canadiens and Flames this year in the NHL, a number of teams in college hockey have shown remarkable transformations in one year, both good and bad.

Need proof?

The third ranked team in the nation, Denver, was 19-15-4 last year. This year they’ve jumped out to a 11-1-0 record. The reason? The youngsters: sophomore Conner James has 1.63 goals per game, freshman Kevin Doell is second on the team in scoring, and the team’s goaltender is sophomore Adam Berkhoel, who has jumped out to a 1.66 GAA in six games, down considerably from when he posted a 3.07 GAA last year as a backup. Experience is doing these tenderfoots a world of a good. The team is reaping the benefits, opening with an 8-0-0 WCHA record while trampling traditional powerhouses Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech and Colorado College. This weekend it gets No. 2 Minnesota to see if it’s for real.

How about the other way around? Last year Boston College found itself the college hockey champion; this year it can’t buy a win against big teams. The Eagles have turned around in the last few weeks, but the situation is still not great. They’re only 4-3 in Hockey East right now and have dropped games to UMass-Lowell, Wisconsin and even tied Alaska-Anchorage. BC lost an incredible crop of players and now finds itself struggling. One year, huge turnaround.

That’s pretty much why they play the games. Cornell last year might have been a good enough team to do some great things, but when it counted, the Red often couldn’t pull it out. You can be great on paper, but paper doesn’t mean a thing.

Great teams win those special games, games like the win at BU a few weekends back. Games like the eventual clash with Clarkson on the road and Northern Michigan in a few weeks. The team has lost one of those games already — the OT loss at Harvard — but hopefully it won’t make the same mistake again. The great thing is, what Cornell did last year has no bearing on this year. This is a new team with a new way of doing things.

This is a different year in hockey, and that is what makes this sport great. Each year, the teams have to play. BU had a down year last year, now its sophomores are some of the best in the country. North Dakota was unbeatable in 2000-2001, but finds itself in and out of the national rankings this year. Hey, Alabama-Huntsville is on the inside track for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It a roller coaster every year. You can talk about it all you want at the end, but it’s only really fun while you’re on it.

So enjoy the ride hockey fans. You have a chance to watch a team on the rise, and many programs can’t say that. Moreover, that’s not something Cornellians are afforded every year. Cornell is on its way up the big hill. Hopefully it will climb a little higher.

Archived article by Charles Persons