November 20, 2011

Pushing the Envelope

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It was incredible to watch the Red fight through a tough road series last week to earn its first four-point weekend of the season, and no one was completely sure they could reach 10 points so soon — but they did, in the fewest number of weeks since 2008.

“We’re lucky,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 after the game on Saturday. “To be able to turn it up in the second period … and making so many blocked shots [on Quinnipiac’s power plays].”

Excellence comes with a price, and the men’s hockey team has to pay that toll in order to continue on its current path. In the past 10 days, Cornell’s PairWise-ranked peers have suddenly changed from Mercyhurst and RIT, to Minnesota-Duluth and B.C. — NCAA champions from the past two seasons. Additionally, the players have a short rest before Tuesday’s game against Niagara, who have a seven-day break before a short drive to Lynah, and then finally traveling to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to square off against B.U., who also won the NCAA crown in 2009. Discipline and perseverance are required for the road ahead.

Fortunately, Cornell has had its way so far. Penalty kills have improved since Harvard and Dartmouth, and fans can probably count on the good ole Schafer defense in upcoming games. Cornell killed 11 power plays on the weekend, allowing only 10 shots-on-goal during man-down situations. The coaching staff knew exactly what needed to be worked on from last week, and delivered with tremendous results for this series against Princeton and Quinnipiac. As they say, defense wins champions, and that was certainly true as sophomore Andy Iles earned his first career shutouts.

Needless to mention, goaltending consistency has improved considerably as well. Increased ice time for Iles has disciplined him to stay inside the crease, as he was able to make a few cross-ice saves and keep the felines at bay. Iles also demonstrated more patient this weekend, waiting for the shot before reacting, although there were moments on Saturday when he was completely out of position after the rebound. It might be the way situations have panned out, but the starting goaltender has been standing tall in the goal more, showing early signs of his particular style. If Iles is able to keep his consistency and continue perfecting his style, there is no doubt that he will be NCAA-tourney ready by the end of the season.

Freshmen players continue to impress, as they have become an integral part of Cornell’s recent success. Brian Ferlin, scoring two goals on the weekend, will be a contender for ECAC’s Rookie of the Week once again. Joakim Ryan and Joel Lowry, who also had amazing weekends, earned two points apiece. As the weeks progress, fans have also seen forward John McCarron more on the ice — the 6-2 freshman from Macomb, Mich., who served as captain for the Lincoln Stars (USHL) before arriving in Ithaca. In the presence of extraordinary recruits such as Ferlin, Ryan, Lowry and Cole Bardreau, contributions from players like McCarron are often overshadowed, but should not be forgotten.

Interestingly, the rookies’ performance has also influenced their older teammates. After mentioning the sophomore in this column last week, Dustin Mowrey switched into a higher gear, earning a goal and an assist against the Tigers and the Bobcats. Junior Greg Miller seemed to be meshing  with Ferlin very well, assisting both goals by the Bruins-drafted freshman. Senior Sean Collins and junior Nick D’Agostino continued to provide leadership on the ice, earning two points each this week. A special shout-out goes out to juniors Erik Axell and Vince Mihalek, two overshadowed forwards who skated hard on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

As for the ECAC standings, Union and Yale have yet to play their third conference week, so Cornell’s current 10-point lead is slightly deceiving. Additionally, it will be late in the season when the Red finally faces the Dutchmen, another ECAC powerhouse that is favored to win the Cleary Cup. At the very least, Cornell will capture the Ivy title if it is able to maintain its course and beat Yale and Brown when they come to Ithaca in March. The Red usually ties or loses on the road against the Elis or the Green, but with those wins already in the bag, the tide for the Ivy championship is currently in the Red’s favor.

As the season progresses, hockey turns into a game of numbers and initially successful teams need to learn how to maintain their position, and prevent lapses in between weeks. The upcoming holiday schedule will test Schafer and Co.’s resolve, as recent seasons have been peppered with losses during November and December. Cornell needs to continue pushing the envelope if it wishes to maintain its current status as a favored front-runner in Division I hockey.

Original Author: Andrew Hu