Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Cornell

If you're being 100% honest, you weren't surprised by the fact that Cornell managed to grab the last first-round bye in the ECAC last season. Most of the time, even when the Big Red aren't lighting the world on fire, they're at least doing enough to take a break during the first weekend of the ECAC tournament. That's pretty much the tale of last season for Cornell - decent season in which they didn't exactly overwhelm.

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 (20th season)
2013-14 Record: 17-10-5 (11-7-4 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: Cornell leads, 60-34-8
First Game: January 31, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 15, 2014 (Ithaca, NY)
Last CU win: February 22, 2013 (Ithaca, NY)

2014-15 games: January 17. 2015 (Troy, NY); February 20, 2015 (Ithaca, NY)

Key players: F Cole Bardreau, sr.; F Madison Dias, sr.; F Joel Lowry, sr.; D Jacob MacDonald, sr.; F John McCarron, sr.; D Joakim Ryan, sr.; F Christian Hilbrich, jr.; F John Knisley, jr.; D Reece Willcox, jr.; F Matt Buckles, so.; F Eric Freschi, so.; G Mitch Gillam, so.; F Jeff Kubiak, so.; D Patrick McCarron, so.; D Ryan Bliss, fr.; F Jared Fiegl, fr.; F Dwyer Tschantz, fr.

Key losses: G Andy Iles, F Brian Ferlin, D Kirill Gotovets, F Dustin Mowrey, F Rodger Craig

Previous KYE installments:
After securing that fourth-place finish, the Big Red dispatched Clarkson in three games in the ECAC Quarterfinals (despite being outscored in the series as Dartmouth was against RPI in the First Round) before getting run over by out-of-control Union in Lake Placid. All in all, not much to write home about when it's Cornell.

Defense? Strong. That's almost a given in Ithaca. Even two seasons ago, when the Big Red were limping their way to their worst finish in well over a decade, the defense was still at the very least near the national average - and last year, Cornell's defense was ranked 8th in the nation.

Offense? That's been the bigger concern in the last couple of years. The goal-scoring last year turned out to be as weak as the defense was strong, almost exactly. Long time observers are not shocked to see Cornell compete in a number of low-scoring contests, but they were exceptionally adept at starring in them last season, scoring just 2.41 goals per game against 2.31 given up. Only UMass-Lowell (4.71 against Cornell's 4.72) averaged fewer total goals in their games nationally, and the River Hawks were more adept on both sides of the puck.

Ferlin was the only Cornell player to reach double digits in goals last season (13), he also led the team in total points with 27. He signed a pro contract at the end of the year, which means the Big Red will lose out on his services for what would have been his senior year. Hilbrich (9) is the top returning goal scorer, while Ryan, McCarron, and Lowry all return for their final seasons at Lynah Rink as the top returning point talliers with 24 each last season.

In net, a new era begins as Ithaca native Iles departs, and Gillam is the heir apparent. He appeared in two games last season, playing a non-conference game against Niagara for his only full-game experience, turning heads when he scored an empty-netter in the game's waning moments. Regardless of that unique debut, we haven't seen enough from him to get a good feel, but Cornell isn't often without decent options between the pipes.

Bliss and Fiegl arrive directly from the US Under-18 team. Fiegl and Tschantz were both picked up in the NHL Entry Draft back in June, giving Cornell seven NHL draft picks on their roster for a second consecutive campaign. All three freshmen, part of an incoming class of seven, should fit in well with the way they play hockey in Ithaca.

No one ever bets against Cornell and there's no reason to start now. While the Engineers have shown recently that they can run with them - 3 points last season and a 3-1-2 record against the Big Red in the last three - they're still not exactly the easiest matchup on the calendar. There are questions that need to be answered about this team heading into the season for sure, like how well Gillam will slide into the starting role, and whether the team can boost its offensive output. But this is a team laden with talented seniors, and that's a positive for any team, let alone one that typically plays as disciplined a game as Cornell. They may not be favorites to storm the league this season, but they're certainly part of the discussion, as they usually are, for the top four.

The Big Red, unlike most teams, have already had the opportunity to play together in competition as they completed a four-game tour in Europe (without their freshmen) last month - something the NCAA allows teams to do once every four years. Dartmouth and Quinnipiac did this in August 2013, playing against teams from Italy and Switzerland as the Big Red did. Cornell went 2-2 in these exhibition matchups.

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