The culmination of conference tournaments may have marked the end of the season for a myriad of teams, but the most exciting chapter of the Red’s season is on the horizon: the NCAA Tournament.
One win away from the Frozen Four, Cornell (23-5-6, 17-3-2 ECAC) will need to win away from Lynah Rink in order to reach the national semifinals for the first time since 2012 — something it hasn’t yet had to do in the postseason thanks to its home-ice advantage in the conference playoffs.
The regular season ECAC champion and league tournament runner-up will trek to Boston with aspirations to take down No. 3 seed Northeastern (27-5-5, 21-3-3 Hockey East).
This year’s contest will mark the seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament in program history. From 2010-2014, Cornell earned a spot in the quarterfinals, and it again competed on the national stage in 2017.
Northeastern has been to the tournament three of the last four seasons, but the Huskies have never before hosted a first-round game. The Huskies are led by two skaters with 21 goals each this season, Alina Mueller and Kasidy Anderson. Mueller’s plus-34 rating ranks second on the team.
Cornell remembers the feeling of missing out on the Big Dance: Following a heartbreaking semifinal ECAC tournament loss to Colgate last year, the Red barely missed the cut off for the 2018 NCAA tournament. But this season, unlike last, the Red did enough to ensure itself a spot despite falling short in the conference playoffs.
“We were really disappointed last year when we thought we were in the tournament — a lot of things happened that forced us out of the tournament, like all of the upsets that happened and other situations that we couldn’t control,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ‘91, recently dubbed ECAC coach of the year. “This year we really wanted to make sure that we put ourselves in a position where it didn’t matter what happened in the other tournaments.”
Northeastern finished its season strong, downing Boston College in overtime, 3-2, to clinch its second straight Hockey East title. The Huskies and the Red have yet to clash this season, which will bring on fresh competition for the coaches and players on both sides.
“It is exciting for the coaches and the players to face an opponent that we haven’t faced all year long,” Derraugh said. “Obviously Northeastern is going to be a really tough opponent being the Hockey East champion and having the season they’ve had and being the higher seed.”
Unfamiliar competition presents a challenge that the Red looks forward to tackling. While Cornell avenged a regular-season home loss to Princeton in the ECAC semifinals and failed to knock off two-time reigning league champion Clarkson in the final, the Red has no recent grudge to settle with the Huskies. The teams last met in 2013.
“Having not played Northeastern, I think it is a bit easier to have a clear head about the game,” said sophomore forward Maddie Mills. “When we play teams in our league, it is easy to get caught up in past results, big rivalries and forget that it is just another game.”
This season, the Red has had the opportunity to hone its skills against top-notch competition in its own league. ECAC foes Clarkson and Princeton will join the Red in playing for a spot in the Frozen Four.
In the past two weeks, Cornell reigned victorious over Princeton in an electrifying double-overtime win in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament. Cornell’s road to the championship title, however, was obstructed by a championship game loss to Clarkson. The team recognizes the importance of playing its game in the NCAA tournament and using the trials of the ECAC tournament to its advantage.
“We are looking at how we have played here in the last two weekends,” Derraugh said. “There are areas that we need to address and make better.”
With such fierce competition in the bracket, details matter, Derraugh added. Mistakes like the ones made against Clarkson’s star forwards, for example, will lead to a quick NCAA Tournament exit.
“You cannot afford to make a couple of bad mistakes, because if you do, the puck usually ends up in the back of your net,” he said.
Although the Red has suffered only two losses in away games this season, playing away from the comfort of Lynah Rink will be a transition for the Red. The team secured home-ice advantage for the entirety of the league tournament — Cornell hasn’t played on the road since Feb. 23.
“We have to bring the same kind of energy and passion that we displayed here at Lynah Rink the last couple of weeks,” Derraugh said.”
Cornell and Northeastern face off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Matthews Arena, vying for a coveted spot in the Frozen Four. On March 22, the winner will take on the winner of Minnesota and Princeton’s quarterfinal matchup.