The 2018-19 season was outstanding in many ways for Cornell women’s hockey — it featured a thrilling overtime win in the ECAC semifinals, an NCAA Tournament victory and a trip to the Frozen Four. But the Red wasn’t the team to win the last game.
Cornell was so close to achieving the ultimate goal of a national championship. And with a Frozen Four loss fresh in its mind, Cornell enters the 2019-20 season — which starts with a pair of games this weekend at Lynah Rink — with renewed motivation to bring a national championship to Ithaca.
“It is always exciting to get to the Frozen Four. It is a great accomplishment, but as with every team, you want to be the team to win the last game of the year,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “We have come close, and sometimes it’s even more painful when you get close and don’t succeed than when you don’t even get close.”
After a 24-6-6 season that saw the Red advance to the ECAC championship game — where it lost to Clarkson — and beat Northeastern in the NCAA Tournament, all the pieces are in place for Cornell to once again be a force to be reckoned with in the ECAC and on the national stage. The Red holds the No. 5 spot in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.
While last season Cornell could find preseason motivation in the fact that it had barely missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid the year prior, the Red is looking for more than a spot in the tournament in the upcoming season: its sights are squarely set on a championship.
“[Last season] leaves us with a desire for vengeance to get back in there and make it that one step further, which I think we are confident we can do,” said senior defender and captain Micah Zandee-Hart. “We felt like we had a good season, but we ultimately feel like we didn’t get quite where we wanted to go.”
Most key pieces of the Frozen Four squad are back: All six members of the Red’s impenetrable defensive unit are returning to a team that has long prided itself on blueline strength.
“Our strength is definitely our defense — not just our defensive players, but our defense as a whole from the goalies to the forwards,” Zandee-Hart said. “So having that confidence within our defensive system is huge.”
On offense, Cornell returns its their three top scorers from a year ago. Senior forward and captain Kristin O’Neill led the team with 22 goals last season, followed by junior forward Maddie Mills and senior defenseman Jaime Bourbonnais.
“It is good for all three of us to have that chemistry,” O’Neill said. “We have been playing together for two years now, Jaime and I for three. Just building that chemistry even more excites us.”
Like any year in college hockey, despite the return of many key players, the Red will have to recreate a team identity after seniors’ graduation and the introduction of six freshmen.
“We lost some players in key positions last year, especially at the forward position, so we brought in some forwards who we think are going to add some scoring, add some depth, add some grit up front,” Derraugh said. “We have added a couple of defensemen as well, who are going to give us some depth to our returning class of defensmen.”
Junior Lindsay Browning will be the starting goaltender, succeeding Marlène Boissonnault ’19, who was a fixture between the pipes for Cornell for two seasons.
O’Neill said the newcomers’ talent and work ethic mesh with the program’s goals.
“They are all eager to learn and grow as hockey players,” O’Neill said. “All six of them work super hard, so it has been really easy integrating them into our team environment.”
Before beginning league play in a competitive ECAC that includes top-10 teams Clarkson and Princeton, Cornell will waste no time getting into games against elite competition: The Red hosts No. 9/10 Robert Morris for a pair of games at Lynah Rink to open the season on Friday and Saturday.
The Colonials have already faced high-level competition and a pair of other ECAC teams, earning a pair of wins against Union, dropping two games to No. 2 Minnesota, and earning one point in a winless weekend against No. 4 Clarkson.
In their meetings with Robert Morris last year, Cornell secured a 5-2 win and settled for a 3-3 tie. Despite last year’s results, competition both in and out of the league is increasingly stiff, and the team realizes that a favorable history provides no advantage — and that no matter the opponent, every game is crucial in a college season.
“Every game matters, and we have had seasons where one game in November has decided whether we made it to the tournament or not,” Zandee-Hart said. “So as much as we have to use our games as a learning process, [we also need to] come out of the gate hot.”
“They have a lot of skill at every position,” Derraugh said of the Colonials. “For any team you have to be ready. If you’re not, you’re going to lose no matter who the opponent is.”
With elite talent returning, Derraugh in his 15th year behind the bench and a renewed motivation to get back to the Frozen Four and beyond, Cornell is ready to get the 2019-20 season started.
“We went to the Frozen Four, but we didn’t win it all, so we still have a burr in our side to take the next step and take it to the next level,” Derraugh said. “We are always expecting to compete with the best teams in the nation, and this year is no different.”
Cornell hosts Robert Morris at 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at Lynah Rink.