November 15, 2011

David and Goliath Battling in the ECAC

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As rewarding as it is to sweep the Harvard-Dartmouth road trip for the first time, members of the men’s hockey team also learned to play better with each other. Coming into the weekend, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 mentioned the need to close third period leads, improve down-low defense and block more shots — the Red delivered on all these levels, and should be commended for a hard-fought four points.

Junior Nick D’Agostino was, unquestionably, the star for the weekend. Not only did he score four goals at critical turning points during each game, D’Agostino was also the visible leader of the pack, pulling the group together and making up for the disappointing showing at Brown. Junior Greg Miller also had a great weekend, accumulating three assists by making smart decisions at the point. Junior John Esposito and freshman Brian Ferlin continued to shine as outstanding centers with their own unique styles — Esposito has consistently performed as a reliable fast forward, while Ferlin is emerging as a strong power center.

Other underclassmen had solid performances as well, which helped fill the gap between shifts. Freshman Cole Bardreau plays a similar style to Ferlin, and scored the go-ahead goal against the Crimson. Freshman Joakim Ryan continued to improve his playing chemistry with D’Agostino, and helped make the pass to the junior defenseman for the second goal on Friday. Sophomore Dustin Mowrey has been improving as a puck chaser and his persistence was reflected by his game-winning assist to D’Agostino. Freshman Joel Lowry is following his father’s footsteps in the NHL, receiving a power play goal assist and, according to College Hockey News, garnered attention from some scouters in Hanover, N.H. Sophomore goaltender Andy Iles also showed more consistency this weekend, stopping 41-of-45 shots over the two games, with three of the goals allowed coming on the power play.

The depth of Cornell’s underclassmen is incredible, considering almost half of them didn’t even dress for this weekend even though they showed a lot of promise in earlier weeks. If the current trend continues, I would not be very surprised if the Red makes consecutive NCAA appearances in the next few years.

Defense made the Red victors this weekend, as Cornell out-blocked and out-hustled both opponents in its own zone and executed good neutral zone traps. However, the Red’s penalty kill remained inconsistent, even though there were moments of brilliance. Most of the opponents’ goals came from backdoor chances or cross-ice cycles, often as a result of players being too spread out or out of formation. Intentional or not, Cornell played a lot of extended wedge plus-one, which is good for generating turnovers, but leaves the goaltender unprotected if the opponent starts shuffling around and finds an opportunity to circumvent the defender in front of the net. Luckily, the Red’s forwards were often quicker and able to generate turnover opportunities before opponents could set up and cycle the puck. This is a departure from the box and tighter wedge plus-one penalty kill set-ups from last season, but also exposes the goalie to more dangerous situations against experienced passers.

The Red also showed unpredictability on generating energy, which was more evident during the first two periods of play against Dartmouth. Even though Thompson Arena was half-filled — with fans representing both schools — there was a lack of cheering and excitement, and Cornell’s players skated noticeably slower than they did at Bright Hockey Center. There were moments during the second when it looked like the Green was going to take back control and dominate the rest of the game. The Red did a good job shutting them down during the third, but the outcome could have been entirely different if Dartmouth played a faster game, which it is capable of doing. Additionally, this team has yet to demonstrate its ability to recover from down situations against quality opponents. Thus, its ability to respond to unfavorable situations remains a risk to the team’s success.

Around the league, it seems this will be one of the most competitive seasons ever. Not only did every team earn at least one win during the first two weeks of conference play, all frontrunners, including Cornell, have showed some vulnerability at this point. With Brown beating Union and Harvard defeating Colgate, the Davids of the ECAC have shown the ability to slay their Goliaths. The Red seemed to learn its lesson after its gaff at Brown, but has yet to demonstrate its ability to extend this winning attitude for an extended period of time.

Next weekend will be relatively relaxing at home, but win-starved Quinnipiac and Princeton will undoubtedly come in with a head full of steam looking to dominate. The Red has split its games against the Tigers in the past few years, even though it has a better overall record against the New Jersian foe. On the other hand, Quinnipiac only earned one point this week, although it outshot its opponents 77-to-34. If Cornell underestimates this pair just as it did Mercyhurst and Brown, this weekend’s excitement will be short-lived.

Like Schafer said, great teams don’t take things for granted, but rather they use opportunities like this to improve even more. The Red has yet to demonstrate its full potential, but no one doubts its ability to slay Goliaths.

Original Author: Andrew Hu