January 31, 2010

Men’s Hockey, Scrivens Stand Alone Atop ECAC

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The month of January should not have been an easy one for the Cornell men’s hockey team. They faced No. 13 New Hampshire on the road, traveled to Clarkson and St. Lawrence (winless in both rinks since 2005) with half of the team down with the stomach flu, played two tough games against No. 4 North Dakota, and carried an 0-for-31 powerplay streak through most of the month.

Yet, Cornell went 5-1-1 in Jan­uary, moving up nine spots to No. 10 in the Pairwise Rankings and into first place in ECAC Hockey.

The reason for this unexpected success? Senior goalie Ben Scrivens.

If it’s possible for someone to rewrite the record book quietly, Scrivens has done just that. This weekend, Scrivens broke the Cornell records for career saves and games played. He also stands to break records for consecutive games started, minutes played, and saves—this against names like David McKee ’07, David Leneveu ’05, Brian Cropper ‘71, Ken Dryden ’69 and Laing Kennedy ’63.

Of course, the best Big Red hockey goalies have not stayed for four full years, so Scrivens is being rewarded for his comparative longevity. But Scrivens is putting together a solid Cornell career. His numbers this year (.929 SV%, 1.94 GAA) mirror his career stats (.928, 1.95).

His detractors – and there are plenty among Cornell fans – point out that some of Scrivens’ worst performances have come in the biggest games. For example, the 2007 game against Boston University at Madison Square Garden, the first game against North Dakota last season, and the 2009 ECAC championship game against Yale stand out as especially poor. It took Scrivens a long time to learn to be more careful in playing the puck and leaving good setups for the defensemen behind the net. Scrivens’ unconventional playing style also makes it difficult to stop elevated shots; some of the only goals he’s allowed recently have been shots which rolled over his shoulder and into the net.

However, these critics often fail to recognize that Scrivens has a more difficult job than McKee and Leneveu, the great Cornell goalies from earlier in the decade. Scrivens faces an average of more than 27 shots per game. When McKee was named a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2005, he faced only 23.3 shots per game. When Leneveu earned the same honor in 2003, he faced a paltry 19.9 shots per game, while in front of him the scary-good Cornell penalty kill led the nation with a 90.0 percent success rate.

Because Cornell has not been dominant this season, Scrivens’ name has not been tossed around much as a possible Hobey Baker candidate. However, his numbers are tops in the nation among goaltenders who start every game for their teams. Scrivens has almost singlehandedly saved the day for Cornell several times this month, including his 28-save shutout of North Dakota and his 35-for-36 performance at St. Lawrence.

What’s more impressive than his records, however, is the remarkable humility Scrivens displays on and off the ice concerning his intimidating stat-sheet. He always gives due diligence to those skating in front of him, even though the Lynah Faithful chant only his name following the Lynah salute.

Skating in front of Scrivens this weekend was a remarkably different line-up than any Coach Schafer has skated this season. With the absence of Riley Nash and an anemic offense over the past four games, Schafer shook up every line this weekend, entirely distributing the top line of Colin Greening, Blake Gallagher and Joe Devin throughout.

While certain combinations clearly meshed well such as Greening with Patrick Kennedy, Devin with Sean Collins and Gallagher with Locke Jillson, we were especially intrigued with the fourth-line combination of Chris Moulson (a freshman with only one previous appearance), Dan Nicholls (who has two points in the last two seasons) and Keir Ross (a defenseman turned forward this weekend). This line did not disappoint, cashing in for an even strength goal against Clarkson.

The TakeNote from this lecture would then be that Cornell has consistently found ways to win games, especially throughout January. With 17 players sick in the North Country, Cornell walked away with three points on the heels of strong defensive play and timely scoring. When North Dakota outskated, outhit and outshot the Red last weekend, Scrivens stood tall in goal and Cornell walked away with a split. This weekend, with new line combinations and the frustration of both poor powerplays and two third-period crossbars, Kennedy still netted the game winner against St. Lawrence with less than two minutes to play.

Over the past two seasons, the stretch run has not been kind to the Red. In 2008 and 2009, Cornell went 4-5-1 through its final ten regular season games. As Scrivens continues to perform at the highest level, and the team continues to find different ways to win every night, we remain confident Cornell will finish this season on a starkly different note.

Cornell stands alone atop the ECACHL and boasts a strong Pairwise ranking. The stretch run starts now.

Original Author: Elie Bilmes