January 22, 2012

Unsettling Winter Break Performance Suggests a Stormy Future for Red

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Although the men’s hockey team extended its unbeaten streak on Saturday to seven games — the longest of any Division I NCAA team at the moment — Cornell’s performance after the Colorado College series has been mediocre at best. It’s difficult to argue against a program who is polling Top-10 nationally, the highest position since the 2009-2010 season, but it’s even harder to ignore the warning signs of a downward trending team whose postseason aspirations will come to a quick end if it continues to travel on the current trajectory.

At Quinnipiac, the Red played uninspiringly for the first two periods and failed to find an answer for the Bobcats’ well-executed neutral zone trap. If it wasn’t for senior alternate captain Sean Collins, who bounced back in the third with a shorthanded goal and a shorthanded assist to the game-winning goal, Cornell could have easily lost that night.

Walking away from a close call against a much-improved opponent, the team disappointed again the following night, blowing a three-goal lead in the third period against Princeton. This was the tipping point for Cornell’s defense, which allowed more shots on goal in the third and overtime periods than it had during the first 40 minutes of the game.

Following its lackluster tie against the Tigers, the men’s hockey team was looking to rebound strong against Dartmouth in front of a home crowd. However, anyone who was at Lynah knew that the Red’s defense almost gave the game away on Friday night. Beginning late in the second with an easy goal over goaltender Andy Iles’ leg pads, Cornell’s defenders became increasingly unresponsive. Not only did the penalty kill units give up two goals within 15 minutes of game time, both goals were given up within 30 seconds of each power play.

After another close call against the Green, the team disappointed again during its biggest sporting event of the year. Although Cornell forced a tie and scored two goals for the evening, it failed to exert any extended offensive pressure against an average Harvard defense. After the Crimson’s game-tying goal in the third, the Red and its fans lost most of their momentum. One of my friends said it was the quietest crowds he has ever seen at Lynah after that goal. Luckily, there was a silver lining: Harvard boasts one of the best power play units in the country this year and Cornell held it to only one goal out of the five chances it had.

Of the four teams that the Red faced in the last two weeks, only Quinnipiac is placed in the top half of the ECAC and Top-30 nationally in PairWise rankings. On top of that, both victories during these weeks were won by margins of one goal. Considering all of these circumstances, 2-0-2 suddenly looks very unimpressive.

Fortunately, Cornell is playing Colgate next week, who is experiencing a 0-5-1 slump recently and could yield an easy four points for the Red. If Cornell wins, it would reflect little about the team’s postseason prospects, but if Cornell loses, even by one game, it will negatively impact the team’s national rankings by pushing it back to the “edge of the bubble” (cut off area for the NCAA tourney) and will put its postseason prospects into question again.

Either way, the team has to be on its toes in the upcoming weeks if it wishes to secure an at-large bid for the national championship. Right now, the forecast is not as bleak as it was last year at this point, but the clouds are moving in.

Welcome back to Ithaca.

Original Author: Andrew Hu