ITHACA, N.Y. – One of the most compelling things about sports – especially the particular brand of parity that college hockey boasts – is how sometimes an excellent team effort results in a loss or how a sub-par showing ends up a victory. Year after year, teams that manage to be the most consistent seem to be the ones who win the most hardware. But championship teams also seem to have a knack for managing a way to salvage victories in games when they haven’t been at their best.
Off to the program’s best start in 48 years, the 8-0 Cornell men’s hockey team has certainly looked the part of a contender for both ECACHockey and national titles. Scoring depth has become an obvious storyline for the Big Red, which now has 13 goal-scorers in its first eight games. Last weekend, the team managed to overcome slow starts in both of its game to record victories over Quinnipiac, 2-1, and Princeton, 5-1.
The win over the Bobcats was particularly noteworthy, because it was just the second one-goal game of the season for the Big Red. Cornell isn’t just winning games, it’s winning most of them fairly handily. Five of the eight have come by three goals or more (and none of those have been inflated by empty-net tallies).
While it’s true that margin of victory doesn’t amount to bonus points, it is indicative of a positive trend for Cornell this year. Too often in recent seasons has the Big Red gained a lead only to fade as the final buzzer neared. There’s a common misperception that Mike Schafer ’86, Jay R. Bloom ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Hockey at Cornell, wants his team to go into a shell when it has a late lead. It’s actually the last thing he wants. The goal is to continue proficiency in the areas that make the team so good in the first place – puck possession and a stifling forecheck.
This year’s squad has excelled at that. The result has been some of the aforementioned comfortable victories.
“It just seems like once we get one, we can taste blood. We just kind of keep pressing and keep pressing, and it just ends up breaking teams’ will,” said senior forward Jeff Malott, one of the Big Red’s tri-captains. “We haven’t had crazy good starts (to games). We haven’t made a living off of breaking their will right away. It just seems like when we play our game, teams have a hard time maintaining pressure for more than the first period. Because we’re so deep and we’re so tenacious and detail-oriented, over a matter of three periods it’s hard for a team to compete with that.”
Added Schafer: “I think they’re hungry. They have a little more of a killer instinct than some teams I’ve had in the past. They see that opportunity to go (up) 1-0, 2-0 and then get to that third goal, which is always critical.”
What makes the third goal critical is the frequency in which it leads to a victory. Exhibit ‘A’: Cornell has yet to yield more than two goals in any of its eight games to date. Looking further back, the Big Red has only lost five games in which its scored at least three goals over the past six seasons (once each of the last three years; twice in 2015-16; none in 2013-14 or 2014-15).
Perhaps a statistical byproduct of the Big Red’s ability to pour it on once it has a lead, Cornell has been particularly dominant in second periods this year. The Big Red has scored 20 of its 36 goals to date in the middle frame. That’s an average of 2.50 goals per second period, by far highest in the nation in any period (Harvard comes in a 2.0 in the first and third periods; Boston University ranks second in second periods at 1.77).
“I’ve never noticed (that), to be honest,” junior forward Tristan Mullin said after the Big Red put up a four-spot in the second period on Saturday to pull away from Princeton. “I think (it’s) just being able to come back in after a period and adjust to what the other team is doing and kind of working the small things that we weren’t doing in the first period. It’s just bearing down on it.”
Around The League
• ICYMI, freshman forward Ben Berard was named the ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week on Monday. It was the third time in the four weeks of the Big Red’s season that it laid claim to the award. Junior goaltender Matthew Galajda was a very strong candidate for the league’s MAC Goaltending Goalie of the Week, matching eventual winner Frank Marotte, of Clarkson, in stopping 47 of 49 shots in two victories over the weekend. The difference ended up being a slightly better goals against average for Marotte, due to the extra minutes afforded by an overtime game.
Still, Galajda’s efforts weren’t overlooked by teammates this weekend. Sophomore forward Michael Regush asked members of the media who they were waiting to speak with after Friday’s win over Quinnipiac, and was told it was Galajda.
“I’d want to talk to him, too, after the way he played,” Regush said.
• Harvard freshman goaltender Mitchell Gibson, who ranks second in the nation in goals against average (1.49) and save percentage (.955), was removed from Friday’s game at Rensselaer due to injury, according to The Crimson.
“It looked like [Gibson] tweaked something,” head coach Ted Donato told The Crimson. “I don’t think it’s of the major variety, but … agility and flexibility is such a key factor. He wasn’t able to play at the same level, and we were able to get him out of there.”
• Matt Moulson ’06 may not be in the NHL anymore, but his presence still exists with the new wave of stars – specifically former Buffalo Sabresteammate Jack Eichel. Now the captain of the Sabres, Eichel had a particularly rough outing last Thursday against Carolina, then got some words of wisdom via text from his former teammate.
“Matt Moulson was all over me to start shooting the puck,” Eichel told The Buffalo News. “So I figured I’d start shooting a little more.”
It certainly worked. Eichel scored four goals in the Sabres’ 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Moulson continues to play on an AHL contract with the Hershey Bears. He ranked second on the team in scoring with 12 points on five goals and seven assists through 20 games.
• Dwyer Tschantz ’18 is back in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners, with whom he posted 16 points in 50 games last season. The Mariners picked up Tschantz on loan after he started the year with three points in five games with the SPHL’s Knoxville Ice Bears – where he was a teammate of classmate Hayden Stewart ’18.
• The Big Red remained second in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine national polls this week, staying behind Minnesota State – which swept its home series over the weekend against Alaska Anchorage. North Dakota continued its move up, ascending to third after a home sweep of St. Cloud State.
One thing of note is just how close Cornell is the #1 spot in the USA poll. The Big Red pulled even with the Mavericks at 17 first-place votes apiece and trailed by just three voting points.
• The biggest thing that has hampered Cornell in the Pairwise Comparison Ratings over the last couple years has been a lack of wins against other teams toward the top of the rankings. These types of victories result in a Quality Win Bonus (QWB), which is a bump in points in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) – which is essentially the mathematical backbone of the Pairwise.
While still early, the Big Red is not only doing fine with the QWB. It’s among the nation’s leaders at .0116, which trails just Minnesota State’s .0118. Cornell is 3-0 against other teams in the top 20 of the RPI, which includes road victories against Clarkson (#8, Nov. 15) and Michigan State (#12, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2). The Spartans once again got another boost last weekend with a victory and a tie at home against Notre Dame (#5).
Off The Crossbar is a weekly-ish notebook about the Cornell men’s hockey team written by assistant director of athletic communications Brandon Thomas, who is in his ninth season as his office’s primary contact for the team following a stint as the team’s beat writer at The Ithaca Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.