November 22, 2010

Road Back to the Frozen Four

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The preseason No. 1 ranked college hockey team in the nation. Most people would naturally assume that would be referring to the men’s team, but after a championship caliber 2009-10 campaign it is the women who have earned this title.

Fresh off of a monumental year in which nearly every team record was broken, Cornell opened up its 2010-11 campaign as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, according to a USA Today/USA Hockey poll released on October 19th.

While expectations from people outside of the Red — a team that has traditionally finished in the bottom half of the ECAC throughout the programs history — are clearly much higher than in previous years, expectations of the players themselves have not changed.

“To be quite honest … the expectations from this year and last year are the same for us,” said junior forward Catherine White, reigning ECAC Player of the Year. “Last year nobody else believed we were a good team except for us. This year we have a target on our back, so there’s more pressure involved, but for us we have more or less the same expectations.”

Last season the Red took its first-ever NCAA berth all the way into the third overtime of the national championship game versus Minnesota-Duluth, before the storybook season finally ended on a goal by Bulldog forward Jessica Wong with 33.6 seconds left in the 119th minute of the game. Despite the bitter disappointment of such a heartbreaking end to the season, the experience of the NCAA tournament and the benefits that it will have are immeasurable.

“[The experience of the NCAA tournament was] definitely huge for us as a team,” said junior forward Chelsea Karpenko. “I think everyone’s eyes opened up a bit last year when we found out exactly what it took to win [the Ivy League championship], ECAC and eventually make it to the championship game. Coming into this year we know that we have to work that much harder if we want to do it again.”

There is no doubt that if the Red plans on making another championship run, it has the talent to do so. The majority of last year’s team is back including White, Karpenko, junior goaltender Amanda Mazzotta, sophomore defenseman Laura Fortino — the first freshman to be named a first-team All-American in program history — and sophomore defenseman and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Lauriane Rougeau. Furthermore, the return of junior forward Rebecca Johnston, who took a year off from school to help lead the Canadian National Team to a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Vancouver, will undoubtedly bolster the Cornell’s high-flying attack.

The Red’s new freshmen have also made an immediate impact; forward Brianne Jenner currently leads the team with 11 points on the season.

“The freshmen have been great,” Karpenko said. “I think they’ve gotten used to the systems we use pretty fast. They’re already a talented group of players and they’re only going to be that much more valuable once they really get used to everything we’re doing.”

Head coach Doug Derraugh ’91, the reigning National Coach of the Year, currently has his squad sitting at 8-1-0 overall and ranked second in the nation by USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey. The Red’s sole loss on the season came in overtime back on Nov. 2 at Lynah at the hands of Mercyhurst — the No. 1 seed from last year’s NCAA tournament, whom Cornell upset in the national semifinals. The Cornell squad already has four league wins, with two coming on the road at Quinnipiac and Princeton and the other two at home versus Harvard and Dartmouth.

Looking ahead to the rest of the schedule the Red has a rematch set with Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa. on Jan. 18, where it will look to avenge its only loss on the season.  Cornell will eventually close out the season on the road at Dartmouth and then in Cambridge, Mass. for a matchup with rival Harvard. Still, the Red keeps its focus solely on the present, paying close attention to what it needs to do day in and day out to improve.

“I think when you start focusing on stuff in the future, that’s when you forget about what you need to do in the present,” White said. “With any sport really, you need to focus on the moment to be successful. We obviously want to get to the finals at the end of the year, but at the same time to get there you have to focus on what you’re doing right now.”

Original Author: Ware Cady