February 14, 2010

One Year Later, A Similar Challenge for Men’s Hockey

Print More

The silence in Lynah Rink was deafening. In the second to last Saturday home game for the Big Red, on a night of opportunity with the ECAC season winding down, two top-10 teams faced off. The game held enormous implications for the ECAC Hockey standings and the Pairwise Rankings. Then-No. 5 Cornell led 1-0 for much of the game, before a complete meltdown in the final minute allowed No. 10 Princeton to score two goals in 18 seconds and steal a 2-1 victory in front of a shocked Lynah crowd.

Talk about déjà vu one year later.

Except, this past Saturday night’s game was potentially even more significant. No. 8 Cornell hosted No. 6 Yale with the two teams tied for first place in the ECAC Hockey standings, and with Cornell jostling for position in the crowded Pairwise Rankings. As happened last year, Cornell led 1-0 before losing 2-1 on a backbreaking goal late in the game.

Both games can be viewed as challenges for a Big Red hockey team looking to define itself. Last year’s team responded to the Princeton defeat with a road sweep at the hands of Dartmouth and Harvard and would go 7-6-0 over the rest of the season. Cornell’s rankings plummeted, but the team relied on a strong first half of the season to salvage an at-large NCAA bid and come within one period of the Frozen Four.

As this year’s team hits the road to Colgate tomorrow, followed by Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend, they have no margin for error. For a chance at an at-large NCAA bid, Cornell must avoid losing until it reaches the ECAC championship weekend in Albany. This season, Cornell will not be able to back into the NCAA tournament, but rather must secure a bid for itself by winning, winning and winning a little more.

With that in mind, Cornell’s lack of success on the road against the Crimson and Big Green presents a glaring challenge. The team is just 1-4-0 in Cambridge since 2005 and 2-9-0 in Hanover since 1999.

The alternative, of course, is to win the ECAC tournament and grab the conference’s automatic bid. But this road almost certainly leads through Yale again, and recent results against the Eli have not been encouraging. Cornell is now 0-5-1 against Yale since 2007, the Big Red have been besieged by 91 shots on goal in two games against Yale this season, and they have squandered one-goal leads in both games.

With Riley Nash returning to the line-up and centering a new top-line with Colin Greening and Patrick Kennedy, Cornell finally appeared poised to break through. Brendon Nash’s 110-foot pass from goal-line to blue line sparked a nifty play when Kennedy passed cross ice to Riley Nash, who walked around a couple defenders before feeding Greening for the 1-0 lead.

Ironically, that proved to be the turning point. Thereafter, the Big Red were outshot 41-8 as the speedier and more creative Yale forwards danced around the Cornell defense, while the aggressive Yale forecheck effectively smothered the Cornell breakout play. A gargantuan effort by Ben Scrivens, who stopped 52 of the first 53 shots on goal, nearly stole a tie for Cornell, but Yale’s Sean Backman broke through in overtime.

Any number of factors contributes to Yale’s recent dominance over Cornell. On Saturday, it was a lack of discipline (five penalties to Yale’s two) and the heavily-tilted shot margin. In New Haven earlier in the season, defensive meltdowns allowed Yale back into the game. In the ECAC championship last season, an 0-for-7 Cornell powerplay helped Yale defeat Cornell 5-0.

However, the one constant across this slump has been the play of Greening. Among all of the talented Cornell forwards, only Greening seems to find the back of the net against Yale. The lone scorer on Saturday, Greening also tallied a goal and an assist in the 4-2 loss in New Haven earlier this season; along with Evan Barlow ’09, he was also just one of two scorers last February at Yale.

In his post-game radio interview, Cornell assistant coach Scott Garrow denied any sort of “monkey on their back” mentality when playing Yale, but recent evidence shows that the Eli has Cornell’s number. In the likely event these two teams square off once more in Albany, Cornell must put all the pieces together or face a now-too-familiar fate. More offense must come from more places, and Cornell must find that elusive big win.

The Red can let Saturday’s loss to Yale define this season, or they can take Jack Shephard’s mentality and define their own destiny. If the Red wishes to compete against the top-10 teams in the country, it needs to kick it into a higher gear. Following the loss to Princeton last season, Cornell was promptly swept at Dartmouth and Harvard. With the same games on the schedule for this week, Cornell has the opportunity to show that this year will be different.

Original Author: Elie Bilmes