A year ago, Cornell men’s hockey was gearing up for the ECAC playoffs. Today, the Red is in that same spot, looking ahead to its conference quarterfinal series against Union at home this weekend.
While many fans won’t want to relive last year’s loss to Princeton in the ECAC semifinals or the Red’s first-round NCAA elimination against Boston University — and the team has preached that it is about to embark on a new season in the form of the playoffs — it’s worth looking at how the 2018-19 squad stacks up against last year’s lineup.
That ECAC semifinal loss marked the Red’s fourth loss in-conference last March; currently, Cornell’s ECAC record sits at 13-5-4. Last year’s team also possessed the nation’s best winning percentage throughout the regular season.
Once again entering the postseason, Cornell needs to keep its play at the elite level it is capable of.
“We played really, really hard in the playoffs last year and that’s the same message this year,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said Tuesday.
This year’s team has had more than its share of bad luck — a myriad of injuries that caused players to miss significant amounts of playing time repeatedly forced the Red to overcome tough situations.
But this past weekend’s bye enabled the team to get some rest in before the postseason so that a healthy squad can take the ice come Friday. With the exception of sophomore defenseman Cody Haiskanen, the Red should be putting out its full-force lineup, with even freshman forward Max Andreev in all likelihood healthy again after breaking his collarbone in January.
Last year’s nation-leading defense, at 1.53 goals allowed per game, returned in its entirety this season. While the numbers might be a little less impressive — 2.1 goals against per game — this year Cornell’s penalty kill is limiting opponents to a 14.3 percent success rate on the power play.
A prevailing issue this year that tended to make the overall stats weaker when compared to last season’s was that of consistency. The team got off to a rough start this season against Michigan State and has seen a few blips along the way — recently and notably on the road at Brown and Yale last month. At Brown, the opposition scored thrice within two minutes for a comeback; at Yale, a final score of 5-2 in the Bulldogs’ favor drew attention to holes in the Red’s lineup.
But perhaps these anomalous games have served as a driving force for this year’s team, causing the players to pick themselves up with renewed strength.
“Last year I don’t think we faced much adversity at the end of the year and that came back to bite us,” said senior defenseman Alec McCrea.
Where perhaps last year’s team didn’t know how to overcome problems due to a lack of issues throughout the season, this season’s squad is better equipped to handle the unexpected.
As far as the national picture goes, though, the Red isn’t in a bad position. While Cornell earned the No. 2 seed in the ECAC tournament due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with Quinnipiac after earning a share of the Cleary Cup, Cornell will be in prime position for an NCAA Tournament bid if it beats Union this weekend. Of course, the Red will also get an automatic spot in the NCAAs if it wins the ECAC Tournament, a feat within its reach.
This season marks the fifth time in the past six years that Cornell and Union will meet in the ECAC playoffs — last year was the one time that the teams did not compete against each other in that span.
The ECAC Tournament is a fresh start for a team, regardless of its past. But maybe Cornell will learn from its crash-landing finish last year and use its history to play deep into this postseason.