Cornell men’s hockey is as storied a program as just about any out there. The Red has multiple national championships to its name and a record 12 ECAC postseason championships as well. For the last three seasons, Cornell has spent considerable time in the national top 10 and has consistently competed with the best that college hockey has to offer.
One thing stands out, though: it’s been almost ten years since the Red has hoisted the elusive Whitelaw Cup as conference champs. Needing just two more victories to reclaim the title, now’s the time for Cornell hockey to get it done.
Winning the ECAC is no easy task. There are some teams in the conference that have yet to do so, and only about half of the 12 members have won a championship in the last 20 years.
But Cornell is no ordinary program. Aside from its 12 titles and passionate fan base, the team’s goal each and every year is plain and simple: be the last one standing in Lake Placid come March (not to mention make a run in the NCAA tournament). With that in mind, a decade without a title would be quite a disappointment.
Despite not winning it all, the team has played exceptionally for the majority of the last three seasons. Losing fewer than 10 games in each, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 has kept his group in the conversation for best team in the nation. Last year, the Red (albeit briefly) spent time as the No. 1 team in the country but faltered once the postseason came along. The prior year’s group was one game away from the Whitelaw Cup but was beaten by a tough Harvard team in the finals. The current team is arguably as strong as either of those and finds itself right where it wants to be: just two games away.
Not only is Cornell in the conference semifinals, it actually caught a massive break. Somehow, someway, Brown swept top-seeded Quinnipiac on the road, punching its ticket to Lake Placid and setting up a Friday afternoon showdown with Cornell.
The Bears have certainly gotten hot at the right time, but Cornell has to be pleased with this matchup. Aside from a disastrous 53 seconds — in which the team allowed three goals and gave away a comfortable lead to tie 3-3 — Cornell outplayed Brown in both of its matchups and is, for all intents and purposes, the better hockey team.
If Cornell can get past Brown, it will face the winner of Clarkson-Harvard Saturday night in the championship. Of course, neither of these matchups would be easy, but the Red has bested both potential opponents. After losing to Harvard at Madison Square Garden back in November, the Red rebounded to top the Crimson two times in a row. As for Clarkson, Cornell is 1-0-1 against the Golden Knights this season.
At this stage in the tournament, you have to be prepared for quality opponents. It’s very simple: If Cornell does not play its best hockey, it won’t win the title no matter whom it faces. But not having to go through Quinnipiac undoubtedly makes the road an easier one. Cornell proved it could compete with the Bobcats, too, but was winless in two tries and would have been the underdog in round three. That’s one less thing to worry about.
So there you have it. Cornell finds itself as the top remaining seed among a field of tough but beatable opponents. The Red’s play was less than flawless against Union last weekend, but the team found a way to get it done. The at-times dominant powerplay could use some work, and sophomore goalie Matt Galajda has to play his best, but both are more than plausible.
Last season, Cornell was the heavy semifinal favorite against Princeton but lost to the eventual champions — the same could certainly happen this year against an upstart Brown team.
But it’s been almost a decade. And if not now, when?