Cornell Hockey: A Look Back and a Look Forward
The Cornell Men's Hockey season came to a crashing halt last night, as the Big Red fell to Bemidji State, 4-1, in the Midwest Regional Final of the 2009 NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament. The loss denied Cornell a trip to the Frozen Four, which instead will go to the Beavers, the Cinderella story of this year's tournament. Bemidji State, a small college in northern Minnesota, had never won a game in the NCAA Division I Tournament in school history, and entered this year as the 16th and final team selected for the field. Yet the beavers shocked heavily-favored Notre Dame 5-1 in the opening round Saturday, and disposed of the Red last night.
Cornell finishes the season with a record of 22-10-4, and a second place finish in the ECACHL regular season and Championship to their credit. Certainly, the Red's loss to Bemidji State was a disappointment, as it appeared on paper that Cornell should be able to win the game and advance to the Frozen Four for the eight time in school history.
Ultimately, the Big Red were done in by the factors that plagued them during the second half of the season. Cornell began the year 13-1-3, quickly rising to a perch atop the ECAC and in the top five nationally. However, from that point onward, the Red were just 9-9-1, with the season derailed by injuries, offensive inconsistency, and the inability to keep up with quicker, more offensive-minded teams. These issues proved decisive against Bemidji State. Cornell controlled the first and most of the second period against the Beavers, yet could only score one goal, coming up empty on several good opportunities. Meanwhile, Bemidji State's first line which put up gaudy numbers throughout the season and against Notre Dame, finally broke out, evening things up late in the second, then scoring two goals during the first ten minutes of the third period to break the game open. The Cornell offense just had no answer, and a late empty-net goal by the Beavers rounded out the scoring for the 4-1 final.
Part of the Big Red's problems can be attributed to injuries. Both Devin brothers missed the entire post-season. Blake Gallagher valiantly played through injuries down the stretch, but was definitely not 100%. These and other injuries forced Coach Schafer to consistently switch-up lines during the second-half of the season. It was during this time that the Cornell offense just didn't look in sync, while the defense also wasn't quite as effective.
Despite a tough finish to the season, the future looks bright for the Cornell Hockey program. The Red will lose seniors Evan Barlow, Taylor Davenport, Troy Davenport, Tyler Mugford, Derek Punches and Jared Seminoff, but return the bulk of their scoring output from this year. Assuming NHL first-round pick Riley Nash sticks around for another year in Ithaca, Cornell will return their top three scorers from this year, and bring back plenty of other talented players on both offense and defense. Furthermore, the Red's recruiting class looks solid, headlined by two defenders already drafted by NHL squads. The Lynah Faithful will hope that they can bolster the Red's defense, which should continue to improve and become more physical.
The Cornell Big Red came into this season with limited expectations after missing the NCAA Tournament and failing to finish higher then fourth in the ECACHL back-to-back years. The Red surpassed the expectations of many by quickly rising to the nation's elite during the first part of the season. Although Cornell struggled a bit down the stretch, the Big Red still finished second in the ECAC, won a game in the NCAA Tournament, and were among the final eight teams left standing in the country. With a plethora of experienced, talented skaters, a world-class goaltender, and some solid recruits all on-board, Cornell could easily rise to even greater heights next season.