November 6, 2011

Good Is Not Great

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It was a reverse of momentum for the men’s hockey team this weekend when the Red allowed the Brown Bears to recover from a deficit, after leaving The Whale one night before with a convincing win against Yale.

Jason Klump of College Hockey News recorded his interviews with the coaches after the game at Meehan and caught head coach Mike Schafer’s well-summarized reflection of the ECAC’s opening weekend.

“There’s a fine line [between] after you win and after you lose,” Schafer said. “The losing team is going to be more focused and more excited. Great teams, when you win games, they come back with that same focus, same confidence.”

Coming from an extraordinarily successful season in 2010-11, perhaps the Elis are suffering from this “great” syndrome as well. If so, does the Friday win mean as much if the Red beat a considerably weaker Yale? Additionally, if Cornell’s team from this weekend played the Bulldogs from the previous year, would the margin of victory be just as wide? Would there be a victory at all?

Recently, some outspoken pundits said the ECAC is not, what dispassionate fans from other Division I conferences refer as, the Easy-AC anymore. This is certainly true from a statistical perspective at this point in the season.

The PairWise ranking system, which mimics the NCAA Selection Committee’s method for determining the “great” teams for its playoff tournament, includes seven teams under consideration from our conference. It is probably the first time in a long time that this many ECAC teams are TUCs. Unsurprisingly, the losses to Mercyhurst and Brown really hurt Cornell in PWR.

Schafer is spot-on with his analysis of achieving “greatness” and success — you need to play with consistency night after night, not just against emotional backdrops. So far, several ECAC teams have shown this consistency. Dartmouth, ranked 10th in the PWR, just earned a four-point weekend and No. 15 Union dominated its North Country trip.

Although No. 17 Colgate lost to 16th-ranked Yale, the Raiders out-shot the Bulldogs, and beat No. 22 Brown the night before. Quinnipiac, ranked 18th in PWR, won five straight in October and fell just short against Dartmouth, 5-4, in Hanover, N.H. No. 23 Clarkson is hanging on with a 6-2-2 record after defeating various Atlantic Hockey opponents and splitting this weekend.

As promising and exciting as the team looks compared to the recent past, I’m not sure if the Red will last deep into the 2011-12 postseason based on the caliber of the opponents we’ve seen so far.

Based on the numbers, it looks as if Cornell is having its best season in quite a while, averaging 4.67 goals per game, with various players registering the highest average points per game in Division I hockey. However, moments of brilliance do not equal wins. The Red’s 1-2-0 record and the loss this weekend will further diminish the possibility of receiving an at-large bid for the NCAA tourney.

Schafer mentioned and fans noticed that the upperclassmen were making mental mistakes and not stepping up into their leadership roles. This was a common theme in the losses to Brown and Mercyhurst.

In a team environment, it’s not the veterans’ job to make plays or act like the big shot — experienced players should provide support for the new members and fill the performance gap. Colin Greening, one of the best team captains in recent years, never showed frustration in the face of adversity and was always there to pick the team up when it was in losing situations. Greening did not score the most points or make the coolest shots, but he elevated every teammate he played with.

In addition to not skating with the same focus and confidence, the Red did not fully capitalize on its power-play opportunities throughout the weekend — Cornell was 1-for-7 on the road trip and only put two shots on goal out of those seven chances.

Frequently, the dump-and-chase scheme failed because opponents cleared the puck high above the reaches of Cornell blue-liners or a defenseman was simply not there. On Friday, the Bulldogs put up five shots on four power plays, and on Saturday the Bears earned 12 shots in six extra-man opportunities. Cornell’s special teams performance was more of a testament to the coaching staff’s penalty killing strategy than the scoring prowess fans are beginning to expect from these new offensive lines.

On a brighter note, freshmen Joel Lowry, Brian Ferlin and John McCarron continued to demonstrate their abilities to exceed their older peers. Schafer called them “freshman leaders,” and it appears they will have to maintain that leadership role if juniors and seniors cannot rise to the challenge. Andy Iles improved from the Mercyhurst loss and performed on a consistent level. There were more lapses in Iles’ judgment on Saturday, but they were not great enough to trigger the loss because most goals allowed were caused by defensive players who missed their assignments.

Looking ahead, Schafer needs to work his defensive magic quickly. Recalling the home game against Harvard last year, the Red should not overlook the Crimson even though it is an easier opponent. If Cornell does win in Cambridge, Mass., it will have another opportunity to see how well this squad handles the “Brown effect” the next night against Dartmouth. The Green is arguably the second-best team in the conference at this point in the early season. The Red faces another tough road trip, but it will certainly put how “great” this team is into perspective.

Original Author: Andrew Hu