November 11, 2015

Despite Occasional Struggles, Two-Point Weekend is Positive Outcome for Cornell

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Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

When Quinnipiac forward Connor Clifton’s point shot deflected into the net in overtime, Cornell players skated off the ice dejectedly. They had just followed up a morale-boosting 4-3 win over Princeton with a 5-4 overtime loss to No. 3 Quinnipiac, in a game that Cornell had twice led by three goals. Throughout the game, Cornell took avoidable penalties, which tilted the momentum back in the Bobcats’ direction. Cornell also conceded eight goals over the weekend, which shows that the defense struggled against conference-level opposition. For all of these reasons, it would be natural to draw negative conclusions from two games this past weekend.

However, I think that’s the wrong way to look at these two contests. First, Cornell’s new and potent offense lit the lamp eight times, which is a good sign for the games ahead. Second, a young Cornell team gained valuable experience in late-game, tense situations. Jeff Kubiak’s winner with under a minute left on Friday contrasts with the aforementioned late goal allowed to Quinnipiac on Saturday. Third, Cornell achieved what one could reasonably expect from a tough ECAC conference weekend — two points — and battled hard against the third-best team in the country. Cornell hockey made important strides forward as a team this past weekend.

As I’ve discussed in past columns, Cornell’s offense was pitiful last season, ranking second to last in the country. This season, however, the Red’s offense has been productive. On Saturday, three players scored their first goals of the season: Matt Buckles, Jake Weidner and Reece Willcox. These three players, two juniors and a senior respectively, can make strong contributions to the offense this season.

Last season, when Cornell would make defensive errors like they did Friday against Princeton, the Red would lose because the offense couldn’t muster enough goals for the victory. On Friday, the offense was able to provide enough goals to overcome a poor defensive showing. The increase in offensive production is a positive trend that has impressively continued from preseason into ECAC play.

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Cornell has just four seniors on the roster, and one of them, John Knisley, is injured until after Christmas. In every game so far, Cornell has consistently iced as many freshmen as seniors, if not more. This is a very young team that needs experience in different game situations. Against Ryerson and Laurentian in preseason, Cornell won by large margins.

The Niagara series featured one close game, but it didn’t have the same intensity as a conference contest. These two games were the freshmen’s first taste of the pressure, tension and thrill of the last few minutes of an ECAC game. That said, they held up well. Although Cornell only got the right result in one of two close games this weekend, the experience gained bodes well for the rest of the season.

Cornell’s results have to be judged by the opponent and the location. Princeton at Lynah Rink is a game head coach Mike Schafer ‘86 will have circled as a must-win. The Tigers finished last in the conference last year, so theoretically the game versus Princeton at home should be the easiest game of the season. Well, the game was not exactly a cakewalk, but Cornell got the win in the end.

On the other hand, Quinnipiac seemed a formidable opponent on paper. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Bobcats were 7-0 and ranked fourth in the country. They had a 40 percent power play conversion percentage and had yet to give up a power play goal all season. The deep and talented Bobcats roster seemed likely to pose many problems for Cornell. Granted, Cornell should not have given up a three-goal lead, but Schafer will have probably expected the Bobcats to be victorious. In the end, though the play on the ice may have been unexpected, Cornell got the win against Princeton and loss, albeit in overtime, against Quinnipiac.

There certainly were some lowlights from this Cornell men’s hockey weekend. The team gave up eight goals and lost a three-goal lead. However, the positives outweigh the negatives. Cornell achieved the expected results over the weekend with a win and a loss. The offense continued to look much improved, compared to last season. Last, and most importantly, Cornell’s young team gained valuable experience in tense late-game situations. Despite what some may say, the first ECAC weekend of the year has prepared Cornell men’s hockey well for the rest of the season.