After seeing its postseason run end in the Frozen Four last year, No. 1 Cornell women’s hockey is aiming to get back on the national stage.
Through the regular season and the ECAC quarterfinals, Cornell has dominated its competition, securing a 27-1-3 record and both the Ivy League and ECAC regular-season championships along the way.
“They’re a close-knit group,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “They believe in one another and believe in themselves. I think it’s a team that’s committed to team-defense first … having that consistency has been important.”
That consistency stems from the stellar play of junior goaltender Lindsay Browning, who has proven to be an anchor in net all season. She has allowed only 0.88 goals per game, a mark that leads the nation.
“Last year, she came in some very big games for us and played well in those critical games — I think that’s helped her going into this season,” Derraugh said. “She’s just a very steady, consistent person … she’s done a great job and given us a lot of confidence back there.”
After suffering its sole loss of the season to Ohio State way back on Nov. 29, Cornell has gone undefeated since then, racking up a 21-game unbeaten streak. On Feb. 10, the Red was rewarded with the No. 1 ranking. Weeks later, the men also clinched the No. 1 spot — marking the first time in program history that both teams held the top spot at the same time.
“Cornell is a hockey school, and in Ithaca, everything is hockey,” said junior forward Finley Frechette. “It’s pretty amazing having people recognize us when we’re out to dinner or getting coffee before the game and saying ‘good luck.’ It’s not really something female hockey players are necessarily used to. Just being apart of it gives me the chills — it’s amazing and everything I could have hoped for.”
The women kicked off the playoffs last weekend against St. Lawrence in the ECAC quarterfinals. The first game saw an offensive explosion from the Red, coming out on top with a 7-2 victory. In the next game, the team was able to get by its rivals after a tight 3-2 game. Senior captain and forward Kristin O’Neill led the way with three goals over the weekend.
“Not only are they leaders off the ice and on the ice, but you see the work ethic that they have,” Derraugh said of his senior captains. “You have to raise your game to that level. When your best players are your best leaders, that’s a really good problem to have. Our whole senior class, quite honestly, has great character.”
While Cornell’s defensive numbers pop off the page thanks to Browning, the team lacks a top offensive threat that accounts for most of its production. Rather, the Red has relied on its depth on offense to outscore its opponents as it boasts eight different players with at least 20 points.
“We don’t necessarily have the top-five or top-10 scorers in the country,” Derraugh said. “We knew that this was going to have to be a team effort for us offensively. That’s been a big part of our consistency — when one line isn’t quite going offensively, another line steps up. It seems like every night it’s been different for us, someone’s stepped up to the plate and delivered. That will need to continue if we’re going to have success in the playoffs.”
Getting back to the Frozen Four is a point of emphasis for the Red. Prior to its appearance in 2019, Cornell had last appeared in the Frozen Four in 2012. But with the Red firing on all cylinders, the team is determined to find itself back in the same place.
“Our preparation has been really consistent all season,” O’Neill said. “With last year in mind, we are ready to make it to the Frozen Four and not just the semifinals. It’s important to keep our avenging attitude in mind for this year.”
Last season, Cornell bowed out of the Frozen Four after a 2-0 loss to Minnesota. If the Red wants to secure the necessary seeding to make a postseason run, it will have to continue its roll in the ECAC playoffs. On Saturday, Cornell is set to host Harvard, a team that the Red has already defeated twice, 7-0, and 4-1.
“Harvard is a team that’s very explosive,” Derraugh said. “It’s certainly a big challenge in front of us. In the games that we played against them, getting off to a strong start was very important for us and also not allowing them to get on the power play often because they have a lot of dynamic offensive players.”
For the Red to suffer only one loss all year, it has clearly done something right. Both players and coaches have pointed to the team’s attention to detail as the main factor fueling its success.
“Having gotten so close and seeing how important those details are at the end of the year when you’re playing those top teams, I think that carried over into this year,” Derraugh said. “Right from the beginning, they understood the level of execution we need to have to have any success in the second half of the season and the playoffs.”
Frechette echoed a similar sentiment.
“We’ve really tried to practice the way we want to play,” Frechette said. “So, getting the puck in the corner after a drill, chasing your rebound down or whatever it is — doing those little things [are important] because those little things could be what turns the game in either direction. We practice that way and hope it translates onto the ice.”
While the Red has been determined to build off its success from last season, the team’s staggering dominance has still been surprising — even to its own head coach.
“Did I expect the season to go the way it’s gone?” Derraugh asked. “I would have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well we’ve done. It is a cliche, but we look at each game one at a time. When you’re taking it one game at a time, you’re expecting to win every game that you play throughout the year.”
Cornell will square off against Harvard with a trip to the ECAC Championship game on the line. Puck drop for the ECAC semifinal is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday.