Around this time last year, Cornell men’s ice hockey was the No. 1 team in the nation. The Red was poised for a strong postseason run, both in the conference and NCAA playoffs. The squad looked like they could beat anyone.
This year, some may say otherwise. Now perched at No. 10, Cornell has double the amount of losses, receiving most of them at the hands of unimpressive opponents.
Wins and losses aside, however, this year’s Cornell men’s hockey squad has shown it may have just as much potential as the team that won the ECAC regular season and made the NCAA tournament last year.
First off, do not forget Cornell is still atop the ECAC standings — albeit by a slim margin. If the season were to end right now, the Red would have a home playoff series against the lowest seeded team remaining. In other words, a third-straight trip to Lake Placid for the ECAC semifinals is likely in the cards.
Yet, Cornell has four more losses than it did in all of last season at this point. That is pretty substantial in a set of 21 games. However, these losses are by no means indicative of the quality of this team.
The first two losses of the season came during the opening weekend at home against Michigan State. To put it bluntly, if this series was played now, or even a week or two later, Cornell would’ve taken care of the Spartans. Whether it was a combination of the Red’s rust, or Michigan State already having started its regular season, the 5-2 and 4-3 losses were truly irregular.
Shortly thereafter came the loss at home to Quinnipiac — currently ranked No. 4 in the country. Not only was this a loss to a quality opponent, but the Bobcat’s winning goal was perhaps the most bizarre goal Cornell hockey fans have seen. The puck bounced off the boards, off Matt Galajda’s back, and into the Cornell net for a goal that gave Quinnipiac the lead, the momentum and eventually the win.
Cornell also faced a parade of injuries in November and December that resulted in a pair of losses, including another loss in-conference against Dartmouth.
And then there was the most recent loss to Colgate at home. Third-to-last in the ECAC and 45th in Pairwise Rankings, Colgate is not a team Cornell should be dropping losses to, especially at home. In this contest, Cornell outshot its opponent, 41 to 19, but still lost by a goal. A loss is a loss, but these metrics show that the Red outplayed the Raiders and that Cornell is a better team.
The same goes for the tie against RPI last weekend. Again, there was an absurd shot on goal disparity where Cornell put another whopping 40 on net, with Rensselaer only having 14. The result, just like the loss against Colgate, is not indicative of how the Red are playing currently.
Having said all of that, Cornell needs to start finishing their shots. The team faced a pair of goalies who had unbelievable performances. It happens. But scoring one goal on 41 shots will get this team nowhere if this becomes a regular occurrence.
But it’s clear that aside from opening weekend, a healthy Cornell squad has not been truly outplayed by another school.
Amongst all of this, Cornell has only allowed 2.05 goals per game, good for seventh in the nation. However, this was expected from a team that kept all of its defenders and goalie after sporting the country’s best defense in 2017-18. It was that defense that allowed Cornell to hang with any team last year, and it will be this same defense that does the same this year.
The rankings may not show it, but there is no reason this team cannot have just as much success as last year’s squad. Especially when it comes to postseason — the bar was set pretty low the last time around.