Omens, Fate ... 'Lost' in the NCAAs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
It's a weekend of elation, of heartbreak, and everything in between.
No, it's not a LOST marathon — it's the NCAA Tournament. And while it would be hard to top last year for the size and scope of its epic-ness, every season is destined to have its share of amazing moments.
It's no secret that I've directly covered the ECAC since 1988, and so a lot of the NCAA moments indelibly etched in my head, stem from games involving ECAC teams.
The two most haunting, however, each involve Cornell — one of which was a game against New Hampshire, and the other of which was a game played in Albany, seven years apart. This weekend, the Big Red play New Hampshire IN Albany, another seven years later — an ominous confluence if there ever was one.
The first moment came in 1996. It was Mike Schafer's first year at Cornell, and after shaking out the kinks, the Big Red went on a tremendous second-half run that led all the way to their first ECAC title in 10 years and an NCAA bid. The opponent, in Albany, was Lake Superior State, two years removed from winning a national championship, and with Jeff Jackson in his last year as head coach (unknown at the time).
No one thought Cornell would win, let alone keep up with the Lakers in a run-and-gun game. But after falling behind, Cornell did just that, and were tied in the third before allowing a crushing goal to make it 6-5 LSSU. Then, in the final minute, Cornell senior P.C. Drouin teed up a one-timer that clanged off the crossbar so loud that it still reverberates in my ears, followed by the obligatory, yet in this case overwhelming, "oooooh." Schafer's Cornell teams have gone 6-0 in the NCAA First Round since then.
(The next night, in a story I've told many times before, Vermont's Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin proved to the entire nation what amazing talents they were, winning 2-1 over the Lakers to reach the Frozen Four. But that's another issue.)
The other haunting moment came in 2003 — seven years later. Cornell made the Frozen Four as the No. 1 overall seed and faced New Hampshire in the semifinals in Buffalo. That Cornell team had five future NHL players on it — Doug Murray, Ryan Vesce, David LeNeveu, Matt Moulson and Mike Iggulden — three of whom are still playing significantly.
Cornell dominated the first 10 minutes, but had a goal disallowed for a high stick. That's still controversial. From there, the Big Red went in a funk, and New Hampshire scored three times over the next 20 minutes for a 3-0 lead. The Big Red eventually regrouped, and midway through the third, had cut it to 3-2. That's when they poured it on again (interrupted by a minor penalty). And in the last minute, with the extra skater on, the Big Red buzzed. The puck came to 6-foot-5 Stephen Baby at the side of the cage, and he lifted a shot destined for the corner of the net. But as he did, New Hampshire goaltender Mike Ayers dove across the goal cage, and deflected the puck away with his head. Game over. New Hampshire wins.
Last year's Princeton loss would've been equally brutal, if not moreso, had I seen it. I was spared the horror of their two-goal, last-minute meltdown to Minnesota-Duluth (one which Miami duplicated two weeks later), by listening to it being described to me over the phone by Clarkson radio voice Bob Ahlfeld as I worked in the East Regional press room in Bridgeport.
Of course, every fan of every team, everywhere, can recount their own tales of woe. But that Albany/UNH/7-year connection seems like too obvious an omen too ignore.
What does fate have up its sleeve for this weekend? Anything like those previous ones, and I'll be wishing for the smoke monster.