February 21, 2010

Inconsistency Plagues Men’s Hockey

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HANOVER, N.H. –– It’s difficult to exaggerate the devastating effects of Saturday night’s loss at Dartmouth. Cornell dropped out of first place in the ECAC Hockey standings, fell to No. 15 in the pairwise rankings and lost all momentum from the previous night, when the Red shut out Harvard in Cambridge for the first time since Ken Dryden played goalie in 1967.

As Dartmouth scored four times in the third period, Cornell once again demonstrated that it has difficulty piecing together a full weekend of consistent hockey. Saturday’s game was the fourth time in the last five weekends that Cornell has followed up a Friday victory with a Saturday defeat.

To accomplish anything significant this season, including winning the ECAC tournament or advancing to the Frozen Four, Cornell must win back-to-back games; to accomplish its stated goal from the beginning of the season, which was to win the NCAA championship, the team would need to win four games in a row. Thus far, Cornell has not been able to win four games in a row, and it does not want to enter the NCAA tournament that way.

Conversely, first-place Yale won its sixth game in a row by scoring three goals within 51 seconds in the third period to force overtime against Clarkson. Just as they did against Cornell, the Bulldogs finished the Golden Knights in overtime for their ECAC-leading 14th victory.

Time and time again this season, the Red has squandered chances to make a statement and rise to its potential. Among others, the Thanksgiving Breark game against Boston University, the Florida College Classic tournament and last weekend’s game against Yale must be viewed as blown opportunities. On each of these occasions, Cornell was sunk by either undisciplined play or a drop in intensity over the latter half of the game.

Saturday’s game in Hanover was no different. Bolstered by a strong night from the top line and some key defensive plays, Cornell led 4-2 with eight minutes left in the game. Stunningly, an inspired Dartmouth team capitalized on untimely and undisciplined penalties and stole a 5-4 victory on its Senior Night.

Recently, Cornell has lived and died by the play of senior goalie Ben Scrivens, and this weekend was another example of this phenomenon. Scrivens was not seriously tested on Friday, but stopped every shot he faced en route to his 16th career shutout. On Saturday, Scrivens had difficulty controlling rebounds and allowed the most goals since his trip to Dartmouth last season. Scrivens’ performance this weekend mirrored what happened during the last road weekend, when he shut out Quinnipiac on Friday but allowed four goals on 16 shots on Saturday at Princeton before he was pulled.

There is no doubt that Cornell was also affected by the injury to junior forward Patrick Kennedy, who missed the last two periods. Kennedy’s absence forced head coach Mike Schafer ’86 to mix up the lines, and key forwards like Colin Greening and Riley Nash appeared exhausted by the end of the game. However, every good hockey team must overcome some degree of adversity, and it is not clear that one injury to a team ahead by two goals can even be considered an adverse situation.

The lone bright spots this weekend were the continued phenomenal play of Riley Nash and junior forward Tyler Roeszler. Nash, who has been on an offensive tear since he returned from a quadriceps injury, has three goals and nine assists in his last five games. Similarly, Roeszler has recorded all four of his goals this season in the last seven games.

Cornell knows the secret to maintaining leads and winning important games; the Dartmouth game was only the fifth time since 2002 that Cornell has lost when leading after two periods (124-5-8). However, too many times this season, the Red has tempted fate by committing avoidable penalties and abandoning its sense of urgency. On Saturday, this cost the team another important win.

Original Author: Elie Bilmes