One of the most underrated, yet critical aspects of hockey is the play of the special teams. They are expected to perform on a moments notice and often are the deciding factors in games. Over the past few weeks, the women’s hockey team has spent a considerable amount of time honing its skills in this specific area.
In the first two exhibition games, Cornell saw limited action on both the penalty kill and the power play. As a result, entering the first weekend of the regular season, the Red was still unsure how all of its pieces were going to fit together. That uncertainty was displayed during games against Yale and Brown, in which the Red yielded a combined three goals on 13 opportunities. Those results in large part prompted head coach Doug Derraugh ’91 to make some adjustments and really focus on the different special team’s systems during practice last week.
The result of the team’s efforts was exhibited in this past weekend’s contests against Niagara, as the penalty kill units played tough and relentlessly. The Red did not give up a single power-play goal all weekend, going 12-for-12 on the penalty kill. This feat is a stark contrast to last season’s squad, which statistically had the worst penalty kill in the league.
“The players were willing to get into the shot lanes, which is something that goes unheralded in hockey, but is very important,” Derraugh said. “Willing to lie down to block a shot is not one of the glorious roles of hockey.”
The difference perhaps can be attributed to the renewed commitment to defense and playing as a unit.
“[Derraugh] has instilled a ‘take pride in the kill’ mentality that has really been embraced by the players,” said assistant coach Robert Burke.
Such a mentality is centered on knowing when to be patient and when to be aggressive. The purpose is to avoid over-committing, and instead waiting until the opportunity arises where a turnover can be forced and the puck can be cleared.
“In comparison to last year, we are more aggressive on PKs,” said sophomore Sarah Johnston. “If we keep on playing in these systems, maintaining our structure, and continuing to learn from Coach Derraugh, then we will be successful.”
Specifically, the system forces the other team into making a mistake, which is why discipline and mental toughness are so strongly emphasized. On the penalty kill, the Red uses its positioning and gap control to force the other team to dump the puck into the Red’s defensive zone. By forcing the change in possession and aggressively clearing the puck, the unit has successfully accomplished its task.
“This is an entirely new philosophy for the penalty kill and will work really well in our league,” said sophomore Miranda Callaghan. “Because penalties are being called more often, it makes the penalty kill and power play that much more important.”
For the Red to be successful this year, it will have to maintain an effort like it did in its 6-2 victory over Niagara this past weekend and continue to build upon the hard work already turned in.
“The win on Saturday goes a long way in instilling confidence in the players and the system,” Burke said. “Practice on Monday was lively, vocal and energized.”
Archived article by Jon Hausner
Sun Staff Writer