Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Cornell

Yup, here they are. Another year, another first round bye, another ECAC semifinal, another NCAA appearance. Last year, Cornell kicked it up a notch by upsetting regional top-seed Michigan in the first round of the tournament and taking eventual runners-up Ferris State to the limit in the Midwest regional. What does the future hold for the Big Red? Brace yourself... more of the same, in all likelihood.

Cornell
Nickname: Big Red
Location: Ithaca, NY
Founded: 1865
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 2 (1967, 1970)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2003
Coach: Mike Schafer (18th season)
2011-12 Record: 19-9-7 (12-4-6 ECAC, 2nd place)
Series: Cornell leads, 59-32-7
First Game: January 31, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 25, 2012 (Ithaca, NY)
Last CU win: February 12, 2011 (Troy, NY)

2012-13 games: January 19, 2013 (Troy, NY); February 22, 2013 (Ithaca, NY)

Key players: F Erik Axell, sr.; D Braden Birch, sr.; D Nick D'Agostino, sr.; F Greg Miller, sr.; D Kirill Gotovets, jr.; G Andy Iles, jr.; F Dustin Mowrey, jr.; F Cole Bardreau, so.; F Brian Ferlin, so.; F Joel Lowry, so.; F John McCarron, so.; D Joakim Ryan, so.; F John Knisley, fr.; D Gavin Stoick, fr.; F Teemu Tiitinen, fr.; D Reece Willcox, fr.

Key losses: F Sean Collins, D Sean Whitney, D Keir Ross, F Locke Jillson

Previous KYE installments:
Count 'em - Cornell has picked up a first-round bye in each of the last four years and as mentioned last year has missed it only once since the league expanded to a 12-team playoff: 2008, when they lost a tiebreaker with Union for fourth place. That makes 13 straight seasons in the top four.

Cornell has their system and they play it well, and last year, like most years, they were right in the thick of things for the Cleary Cup until RPI helped snatch it away from them on the last day of the regular season, with Matt Tinordi scoring to tie things up at Lynah Rink with just over two minutes left in regulation, followed by a Patrick Cullen goal with just seconds left in overtime on the Engineers' seventh shot of the extra period, gifting the regular season crown to Union. So while they still tend to get the job done, Cornell actually hasn't won the Cleary Cup since 2005.

Will they be in the hunt this year? If you're asking that question, try going back to the start and then read again. Cornell wasn't offensively gifted last year (they frequently aren't anyway), but they do return eight of their top nine scorers from last season (all but Collins, who was second on the team with 26 points). Ferlin showed immense potential before his season ended to an injury. Knisley is positively short for a Schafer recruit at 5'9" but he'll have been on the recruiting books for four full years once he finally suits up for the Big Red - he played with Mike Zalewski for two years at Vernon in the BCHL.

Defensively, Birch and D'Agostino are rocks already, Ryan showed potential, and now they bring in Stoick from the US Under-18 team and Willcox, a fifth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers. Add in Iles between the pipes (whose outstanding season was overshadowed by Troy Grosenick in Schenectady), and the much-maligned but highly effective Cornell defensive scheme, and you've got a team that's tough to score on, even with the loss of Whitney and Ross.

As difficult as RPI's season was last year, they actually managed to win the season series with the Big Red for the first time in roughly forever, and they've now played three straight tight ones against Cornell. Can that continue? Perhaps, but it won't be easy. We've already discussed top contenders like Union and Quinnipiac, but this team, which was a goal away from the Frozen Four in the third period against Ferris State, hasn't changed a great deal from last season, and that places them right in the mix right along with them.

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