After splitting a road weekend against two top-10 opponents, the Red (18-6-1, 13-5-0 ECAC) will return to Ithaca to finish its home regular season schedule and celebrate its seniors. On Friday night, the Red will take on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (13-14-3, 5-13-0 ECAC) and then on Saturday afternoon, they will welcome Union (8-20-2, 3-13-2 ECAC) to Lynah.
The Red comes into the weekend fourth in the ECAC and sixth in PairWise rankings with just four games left in the regular season. As announced in July of 2023, all 12 ECAC women’s hockey teams will make the playoffs, with seeds 5-8 hosting seeds 9-12 in a single-game first-round playoff. The 1-4 seeds receive a bye.
The winners of the first round will then travel to the 1-4 seeds for a three-game series — before the ECAC Women’s Hockey Championship Weekend — where the final four teams play the semifinals and finals in the best remaining seed’s rink. The Red can avoid the first round and its one-game playoff if they win three of its last four games, which will be key to making a run in the ECAC tournament.
“It’s crucial,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91 when asked about the importance of finishing in the top four. “When it’s one game, there can certainly be upsets.”
Although this weekend’s matchups should be smoother than their recent road trip split against two top ten opponents, RPI could be challenging for the Red.
The Engineers sit ninth in the ECAC, but have won their last four games by a combined 10 goals and did not give up more than one goal in any of the games during that stretch. In Troy, NY earlier this season, RPI gave the Red a scare when, after pulling their goalie, the team scored with just under four minutes left in a game that ended in a 2-1 Cornell victory.
Union, meanwhile, is the 11th-best team in the ECAC, only better than Harvard, and has given up the 11th most goals in the nation. While Cornell defeated the Garnet Chargers 4-2 to open its ECAC season, the Red is still not letting its guard down.
“You’ve seen throughout the season this year where any team can beat any team on any given night,” Derraugh said.
The ECAC this past weekend saw a couple of eye-opening results. Despite being first in the standings, Colgate was upset by both Clarkson and St. Lawrence and RPI beat two teams above them in the standings.
“If you’re not prepared to play your best [in the ECAC], you are going to lose,” Derraugh said.
The Red has internalized this mindset when locking in against opponents lower in rankings.
“I don’t think it is very difficult anymore to get your team prepared to play games, whether that team is at even in the standings or below you in the standings,” Derraugh said.
Part of the reason the Red has been so strong as a unit this season is their graduating seniors, who will be honored Saturday afternoon.
Derraugh talked extensively about the mark the class of 2024 has left on the team — few in numbers but mighty in skill. The three seniors have made waves in the four seasons they’ve played for the Red.
Attesting to this, senior forward Izzy Daniel ranks first in the nation in assists per game with 1.35, seventh in goals per game with .78 per contest and first in points per game with 2.13.
“She doesn’t speak a lot, but when she does people listen,” Derraugh said about Daniel. “She is somebody who comes every day to work hard and play the right way, and she’s a great leader.”
When asked about senior goaltender Deanna Fraser’s contributions, Derraugh alluded to some of her best moments which include a 42 save win against Clarkson in last year’s ECAC Tournament and a career 14-6-1 record.
“She has had great games for us over the course of her four seasons,” Derraugh said. “She’s also an unbelievable teammate. She’s cheering the loudest of anyone, even when she’s not starting goaltender.”
Derraugh also praised the character of senior forward Abby Ruggiero.
“If you ever use the definition of teammate and point to somebody, it’ll be Abby Ruggiero,” Derraugh said. “She loves her team and her teammates.”
No. 6 Cornell will host RPI and Union this weekend at Lynah Rink. Puck drop is slated for 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9 and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10. Game action will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Eli Fastiff is a sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].