January 29, 2012

All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

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Before leaving town for Hamilton Saturday afternoon, I went to the movies with my history class to see The Iron Lady — a biographical depiction of Margaret Thatcher, starring Meryl Streep. The film sucked, and in many ways, it was like the men’s hockey team. The screenplay centered on Thatcher’s dementia, where she experiences moments of flashbacks and relives important milestones of her political career. These moments were brilliant, but most viewers disliked the film because it failed to weave these scenes together or elaborate on the intricacies of Thatcher’s controversial policies. The Iron Lady did the little things well but missed the bigger picture, eerily similar to the Red’s performance this weekend.

One can rarely speak in absolutes, and the truth is, not all was bad this weekend. The team was leading, 3-1, going into the third period at Colgate, and it played a solid 40 minutes before crumbling in front of a sold out Starr Rink. However, Saturday’s ending was a mirror image of the day before, where coordination and intelligence suddenly vanished into thin air.

A disastrous fluke by alternate captain Sean Collins, who lost the puck in front of his own net and gave the Raiders’ Joe Wilson an uncontested chance that turned into a goal, set a series of events in motion. The Red was regrouping with the puck behind the net, and Collins should have known better than to bring the puck up the middle when an opponent is sending a man in front of the goalie to harass him. However, he did it anyway and so did every player who was in that quarterback position this weekend. Why did they think that they couldn’t get the puck out of their own end for the entire weekend?

About a minute after that preventable mishap, Cornell was on the power play with a chance to restore the scoring margin. Once again, systematic thinking crippled this team, as a puck was kept in the defensive zone by Raiders’ captain Thomas Larkin on a Red breakout try. All Larkin had to do was give the puck to Chris Wagner, who has been connecting with Hobey Baker hopeful Austin Smith — the nation’s current leader in goals — points and points-per-game. Guess who’s number 8 in the nation for assists? Yeah, Chris Wagner. At Lynah, Colgate merely dumped the puck back in after intercepting a breakout try, but they were not as merciful at their home rink when they were one goal behind.

I’m glad that the team has head coach Mike Schafer’s system down to a T, but shouldn’t someone on the bench notice after all these years that this reset system fails miserably against aggressive forechecks and fast teams? Just because Yale could not execute it this year does not mean somebody else cannot. For some reason, the marching orders remained the same, even though the Red was giving the puck away again and again in the same fashion. If I had a dollar for every time a Cornell player mishandled a pass and gave it away to Colgate, I would have my tickets, gas and dinners completely paid for this weekend. Why does the Red keep charging the trenches when our enemy has loaded machine guns?

Last week in this column, I wrote about the mediocrity of Cornell’s play in recent weeks and how the unbeaten streak was more luck than earned. Evidently, no one on the team saw that or addressed the issues with his play. If this weekend was not a loud wake-up call for Schafer and Co., they should just pack up their sticks and get out the golf clubs. The competition is only going to get tougher from this point on and this team is not ready to win.

Next weekend, Cornell will face RPI and Union, two schools that have been historically competitive. RPI was in a huge slump for much of the season, but has recently shut out Brown and St. Lawerence, and beat Yale, 2-1, at New Haven, Conn. The Engineers hate the Red just as much as the Raiders, if not more after an overtime loss last year at Houston Field House partially caused by some controversial officiating. RPI is starving for points and will, unquestionably, go all out to secure a win. Union, which now leads the ECAC in points after this weekend, is still strong from the excellent coaching it has seen for the past few years. This will also be a very likely loss for Cornell if the Red shows up with the same level of performance it has displayed these past few weeks.

In terms of securing an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, this team has to win almost all of its games before the ECAC championship in order to secure that position in PairWise rankings. Colgate’s sweep sent Cornell down 7 places, which puts it right outside the bubble. Right now, it looks like Humpty Dumpty climbed too high and is ready to fall.

Original Author: Andrew Hu