Playing its final two opponents from last season, the No. 9 Cornell women’s hockey team will be picking up right where it left off with a pair of road games against No. 7 St. Lawrence and No. 2 Clarkson to start the 2017-18 season.
Cornell played its final three games of the 2016-17 season games in Potsdam, New York, where the team will return this Saturday to take on Clarkson (7-0-1) for game two of the weekend. The final three outings for the Red last season included an ECAC semifinal win over St. Lawrence, then an ECAC championship loss and early NCAA Tournament exit, both against Clarkson by slim margins.
That third-to-last outing was Cornell’s final victory of last season, which came against St. Lawrence (2-2-2) in the ECAC semifinals. In what was essentially a home game for the Saints, the Red advanced with a 3-1 win and will now have a chip on its shoulder in Friday’s opener.
Yet, this team is not dwelling on its triumphs and failures of last season. This weekend starts a new season and a new hunt for an ECAC title.
“We are focused on our own team and playing to the best of our ability,” said sophomore captain Kristin O’Neill, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. “Last … season is over, and we are thrilled to have another opportunity to compete for the ECAC championship title.”
And while it is a new season, the high expectations of success of the Cornell women’s hockey program remain.
“Expectations are high every year,” said senior captain Sarah Knee. “We use [the expectation] more as motivation than as pressure to make women’s hockey better and better every year. … Ultimately we want to go further than we did last year and compete for a National Championship.”
As for this weekend, Clarkson and St. Lawrence have already played seven and six regular season games, respectively. Cornell has played zero.
Every other ECAC team, even the Ivy squads, have already competed in regular season matches. Cornell will be the final team in the conference to take the ice — an unfortunate disadvantage.
“It is what it is for us,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “Every year we have to play teams that have gotten a few games in before we have. We hope that we’ve done a good job in practice trying to mimic game situations. But I don’t think there is anything that can substitute actual games.”
Not only will the Red have to figure out how to beat these top-ranked teams, it will simultaneously be figuring out its own internal issues that come at the outset of any season.
“The nice thing about playing teams of this caliber early on is that if there are some weaknesses to your game, they will expose them and you’re going to find out in a hurry what you need to focus on in the coming weeks,” Derraugh added.
There are eight new faces and many holes to fill in Cornell’s lineup with the departure of key contributors such as forward Hanna Bunton ’17, who led the team in points in 2016-17, and goalie Paula Voorheis ’17, a second-team All-Ivy selection last year alongside now-junior goalie Marlène Boissonnault.
Not only is this a new season, this is a new team.
“Clarkson and St Lawrence are both great teams,” O’Neill said. “I think our biggest challenge this weekend will be overcoming our nerves in regards to playing our first season games together as a team.”
Last season, Cornell held it opponents to 2.38 goals per game. The team’s stout defense matches up well against the high-powered offenses of Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The Golden Knights and Saints were first and second in the ECAC for goals-per-game last season, respectively.
But to stay competitive this weekend and going forward, Cornell will need to maintain its offensive output, something the Red has struggled with in the past.
“We have a lot of talented players who contribute differently to the team and I feel that when we play with grit and confidence, we make each other better,” Knee said. “Last year as a team we had a strong defense and this year I think we are looking to match that strength offensively too.”
Derraugh and his coaching staff have been working to address the issue over the offseason.
“I think there’s a number of things we felt we didn’t do well enough last year in the offensive area of the game,” he said. “We’ve spent more time this year in practice on a lot of those offensive situations so that we will be able to execute them better.”
Cornell squares off against St. Lawrence at 7 p.m. on Friday in Canton, New York and Clarkson at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Potsdam.