February 7, 2010

A Surprising Final Season Stretch for M. Hockey

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After thousands of miles logged, hundreds of dollars spent on tickets, and many different couches, we sorrowfully approach the final regular season road weekend of our college careers. Between us, we have visited every ECAC Hockey rink multiple times while fitting in trips to Estero, Fla., and Grand Rapids, Mich. We were escorted by the police at Union College, received threats from grandparents at Quinnipiac University, ate deep fried calzones at St. Lawrence and saw Emma Watson at Brown. We tasted comeback victories in Albany and suffered humiliating losses at Bright Hockey Center (“Lynah East”) in Cambridge, Mass.

There’s something special about traveling to road games and feeling right at home; no matter the distance from Ithaca, Cornell fans frequently outnumber, outcheer and outclass the home crowd. They faithfully support the one winter solace (besides Dunbar’s popcorn) found at Cornell. Despite losing Saturday at Princeton, the Red left the ice to a symphony of cheers from Cornellians amid scattered applause from octogenarian Tiger fans for their victory.

No NCAA hockey team enjoys such unparalleled devotion, and it would be a shame to see this storied tradition fall victim to slow erosion. Yet that is exactly the case as the student road contingency has dropped considerably in our time at Cornell. Aside from the Pep Band, few matriculated students experience the thrill of visiting friends, partying at another school and supporting the hockey team. For better or for worse, each road trip brings innumerable memories and we implore students to pick up the torch again.

Of course, we realize that there is a direct correlation between team success and the size of the student travel base. Especially given the men’s basketball team’s achievements, it’s difficult to sacrifice a weekend for hockey without a good chance of two victories. However, as Cornell now finds itself well positioned in the hunt for first overall in the ECAC Hockey standings and another NCAA tournament berth, fellow members of the Lynah Faithful ought to reconsider their weekend priorities, as should the Athletic Ticket Office.

Because tickets to coveted road games such as Colgate and Harvard sell out quickly, students who want to travel often find themselves shut out. If the ticket office were to release away game tickets to students a day in advance of the general public, more students would have the opportunity to travel.

In two weeks, we travel to Lynah East and Dartmouth for the final time. The Red historically has not found much luck in either building, and that could have significant impact upon its Pairwise ranking and ECAC playoff seeding. Friday’s win against Quinnipiac moved Cornell up to No. 8 in the Pairwise, but the loss Saturday (combined with other results) dropped Cornell all the way to No. 15. With that position, Cornell would need to win the ECAC tournament and secure the automatic bid to make the NCAA Tournament.

In this stretch run, every point matters. During the ECAC final weekend in Albany, the higher seed is considered the home team and is allowed the last line change. One reason why Yale was able to beat Cornell so badly in last year’s ECAC championship was that their coach was able to match up lines against Cornell and shut down our top scorers. There is a good chance that Cornell will need to win a game in Albany this season to earn an NCAA bid, and a high seeding will make this easier.

Because of its impact on the ECAC and NCAA races, Saturday’s loss at Princeton was certainly disappointing. Surprising might be an even better term for it.

The first surprise was the play of Ben Scrivens, who ended a month-long streak of great goaltending with a painful performance; after allowing four goals on 16 shots, Scrivens was pulled for the first time this season. The backup, sophomore Mike Garman, looked shaky at first, but pieced together a 21-save mini shutout over the last half of the game to give Cornell a chance to win.

The second surprise from Saturday was the fact that Cornell lost to a team that has been having a disappointing season. Although Princeton was ranked highly in the national polls at the start of the season, they sit in ninth place in ECAC Hockey.

In a season of ups and downs, one constant has been Cornell’s success against bad teams. The Red is 8-2-1 (.773) against teams with losing records at the time they played Cornell, compared to just 5-4-2 (.545) against teams with a winning record. Cornell hasn’t gotten to the top of the ECAC by beating good teams – think of the losses to red-hot Quinnipiac and Yale, and the tie against Union – but rather by beating up on the bottom five teams in the conference (6-1-0 against them).

Original Author: Elie Bilmes