February 18, 2016

LINSEY | Analyzing Cornell Men’s Hockey’s Position at a Crucial Point in the Season

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In the second period of Saturday’s game against Yale, John Knisley picked up the puck in Cornell’s defensive zone. The senior forward took off like a man possessed, crossing the red line and then Yale’s blue stripe. The Elis’ defenseman stepped up and tried to force the Cornell captain to the outside; Knisley obliged and drove around the Bulldog defender. Still streaking forward at top speed, he cut sharply to the net, slipping the puck under the pads of Alex Lyon and crashing to the ice. Knisley’s mad-dash, highlight-reel goal proved one of the night’s few bright spots for Cornell, as the Red fell 4-2.

Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 will attempt to use Knisley’s goal as a metaphor for the rest of the season. Only four regular season games, all in-conference, remain on the schedule for the Red in 2015-16. With a record of 7-7-4, Cornell will need to win two and draw two just to match last season’s 9-9-4 clip. This is disappointing, given Cornell’s ridiculously successful first half of the season. Schafer knows, however, that a solid two weeks (a mad dash to the finish line) would position Cornell well for the playoffs. Let’s analyze the current standings and Cornell’s remaining games.

In the ECAC, all twelve teams make the playoffs. The top four teams in the conference receive a first-round bye. Meanwhile, the fifth- through eighth-placed schools host playoff series against the ninth- through twelfth-ranked teams, with the highest-seeded teams drawing the lowest-seeded opponents. At the moment, with 18 points, Cornell sits eighth out of twelve ECAC teams. Cornell could move up in the standings, as the fifth-placed team, Dartmouth, only has two more points than the Red. On the other hand, moving down is unlikely; Union sits five points behind Cornell. It is impossible that Cornell could finish lower than ninth in the standings.

Cornell will obviously want to hold on to the eighth slot at the bare minimum, which would likely set up a first-round home playoff series against the Dutchmen. This would be a matchup with plenty of intrigue, as the two teams played the exact same series in the playoffs last year, when the Red were the seventh seed and Union the tenth-seeded team. The Dutchmen upset the Red in two games, winning 4-2 and 7-0. Cornell would no doubt be motivated by the chance to correct the failures of last season. These two teams will play at Lynah on the last day of the season, so they would be familiar with each other if they had a playoff matchup. There is even the possibility that Cornell and Union could be within two points of each other in eighth and ninth place before the last game; then, the final game of the season could decide who hosts the playoff series between the Red and the Dutchmen.

However, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. On Friday night, Cornell faces Harvard in Cambridge. The game against Harvard needs no introduction; Cornell will be in for an exhausting, physical slugfest between two traditional hockey heavyweights. In January, Harvard topped Cornell at Lynah, 6-2, as the Red could not contain Harvard’s extremely talented offense. One of the season’s toughest games on paper, Cornell will need a major effort to take any points away from Bright-Landry Hockey Center. A win, however, and Cornell would close the gap to three points between them and the hated Crimson.

On Saturday, Cornell takes on the Dartmouth Big Green, one of three teams that are one or two points ahead of Cornell in the standings. This Hanover, N.H. edition of the “Battle of the Big Colors” will have tremendous impact on the middle of the standings. It will look like Christmas Day on the ice, but there will be no gifts given; every inch of the ice will be contested. Dartmouth has posed a huge problem for Cornell in recent years; they have beaten Cornell in each of the last three games between the two, including a 3-0 win at Lynah in January. This is likely due to Cornell overlooking Dartmouth and focusing on the rivalry game against Harvard. The Red cannot afford to do so this time around, with two valuable points on the line.

Cornell men’s hockey has entered the home stretch of the regular season. This weekend, the Red embark on a crucial road trip against two teams Cornell lost to at home. The Red will be wary of repeating that zero-point weekend and must strive to take road points off these Ivy League rivals. If the team embodies John Knisley’s mentality from his goal against Yale, perhaps Cornell can get back to its winning ways.