ITHACA, N.Y. – Just before last Tuesday’s men’s hockey practice at Cornell, Ed Kelly – who is in his 25th season as the Big Red’s athletic trainer – sat down in the press box and peered toward the team.
“Hey, look,” he said, wary-eyed but smiling as he slowly spread his hands and turned them toward the rafters, as if to present the ice on a platter. The main dish was a full roster of 29 players on the ice – a first for team in more than a full calendar year.
And as soon as the realization was made, Kelly immediately knocked on wood.
Keeping an entire hockey team healthy – especially one of the gritty Big Red’s ilk – is a nearly impossible task. But Cornell went through more than its fair share of lumps last year to the tune of 90-plus man-games lost to injury, including lengthy stints on the shelf for key contributors like Jeff Malott, Max Andreev, Matthew Galajda, Alex Green, Cody Haiskanen and Brendan Smith ’19. To have a fresh start to this season was welcomed, even if it didn’t immediately pan out to be entirely pain-free.
While the Big Red isn’t completely healthy, even getting as close as having all of its players on the ice seems like a monumental accomplishment – and one that has reverberations beyond what you might think.
Cornell had 23 skaters on its roster for the bulk of last season. Tack on all the injuries, and it had no choice but to alter the nature of its practices at times due to a lack of healthy bodies. Consider that you need to 20 healthy skaters to run a single five-on-five drill – two shifts of three forwards and two defensemen on each side. If you have fewer than 20, someone has to be double-shifted.
“Last year, toward the end of the season, practices were kind of tough. Especially the up-tempo stuff,” junior forward Brenden Locke said.
But when everyone is on the ice for practice this year, that’s 26 skaters (16 forwards, 10 defensemen). Now a five-on-five drill has about one fewer shift per player every four shift changes. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up – and it’s quite likely that it has aided in the Big Red’s quick start this year.
“Having that many guys, you’re more rested so the reps are more intense and everyone’s battling that much harder,” Locke said. “So, yes, you get fewer reps – but I think it’s more quality reps, because you’re battling to just stay in the lineup.”
–– All-American In The House ––
With more than 4,100 fans in the stands for Saturday’s rout of Yale, there was bound to be plenty of people in attendance who had never taken in a game from the Lynah Rink stands before. It was easy to pick out which one had the most familiarity with Cornell hockey, though.
Ben Scrivens ’10, an All-American goaltender who helped lead the Big Red to its last ECAC Hockey title during his senior season before embarking on a career in professional hockey that consisted of five years in the NHL and a bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2018 Olympic Games, dropped by after a business trip to Toronto.
The always-affable Scrivens visited with coaches, former teammates and members of the media before having a chat with Cornell’s three goaltenders after the game. He took in the nostalgia of hearing the pep band again and marveled at how this was actually the first time he had seen a Cornell men’s game from the Lynah Rink stands (even his recruiting visit came on a weekday).
Scrivens dropped by the press box during the first period and stuck around for a candid interview with former teammate Topher Scott ’08 on the broadcast of the game on ESPN+ during the intermission.
Among the highlights of the conversation was when Scott reminded fans that Scrivens’ wife, Jenny (Niesluchowski) Scrivens ’10, also was a goaltender that played at Cornell and then professionally in the NWHL.
“The irony of us playing at the same time at Cornell was that when we would have home games, the women’s team was on the road – and when the women’s team had home games, then we were on the road,” Ben Scrivens said. “So we really didn’t watch each other play. So there wasn’t any opportunity to really watch and give any feedback.”
“You probably wouldn’t be married today if that were the case,” Scott added.
The full interview can be viewed on the archive of the broadcast, which will be available for a couple of weeks. It begins around the 38:27 mark.
–– Around The League ––
• St. Lawrence’s rebuild under former Cornell assistant coach Brent Brekke is off to a good start. While the Saints’ 3-6-1 record isn’t entirely what dreams are made of, it’s still instant improvement over its final records of 8-27-2 two years ago and 6-29-2 last year.
The Big Red will get a first-hand look at the Saints on Saturday, when the teams clash at Roos House Ice Arena in SUNY Canton. St. Lawrence enters this weekend fresh off a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in overtime on Saturday at Union.
“I do think it gives our guys a comfort level of playing in tight games,” Brekke told Mike MacAdam of The Daily Gazette. (Link: https://dailygazette.com/article/2019/11/09/union-wastes-2-0-lead-loses-to-st-lawrence-in-ot) “We’ve been in a number of them, so I think they’re getting used to it. It would be nice not to have to and win it outright a little more. But there is something to be said for that, if you’re going to be a successful team, you’ve got to find ways to win games in many different ways.”
Meanwhile, the loss to St. Lawrence and a 5-1 setback against Clarkson the night prior has Union leading the nation with 10 losses through 12 games.
• One of the keys to Cornell’s success in the early going this year is a relentless rolling of four quality forward lines, and it’s not the only team in the league firing the proverbial shot across bow with such a strength. Harvard has raced out to a 3-0 start with 17 goals from 10 different scorers.
–– Alumni Update ––
• Cole Bardreau ’15 lit up the hockey world last Tuesday by scoring his first NHL goal on a penalty shot in a game against the Ottawa Senators. The elation displayed after the shot was palpable, as was the pure joy that his teammates had for him.
Bardreau’s first stint in the NHL came to end Saturday, when the Islanders returned him to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He had one goal and one assist for two points with a minus-1 rating and 41.9 faceoff percentage over nine games with the Isles, averaging around 8-9 minutes per game.
For his troubles, Bardreau earned the random nickname “Tuna” before his departure, according to a report in Newsday.
–– Polls Prose ––
• The Big Red moved up to third in the USCHO.com national poll by virtue of its dominating weekend sweep of Brown and Yale and UMass’ loss Sunday at New Hampshire. It’s the highest Cornell has been ranked in the poll since it entered the 2018 ECAC Hockey semifinal ranked second. The Big Red also held steady at fourth in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll this week.
• Is it too early to look at the Pairwise Comparison Rankings? It might be relevant sooner than you think, as Adam Wodon at College Hockey News explained a few years back. (Link: https://www.collegehockeynews.com/news/2017/01/02_heed_the_pairwise__now.phpat)
At a minimum, the last of the unbeatens has to fall before heavy stock can be paid. That usually outlasts the relative dearth of games played by Ivy League programs and soft home-heavy non-conference schedules typically brandished early in the season by some Power Five programs.
So, is it too early to look at the Pairwise? Yes. Absolutely. But it’s still enjoyable for Big Red fans to see Cornell sitting atop that table.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.