Devin May Care Attitude
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
With three goals at New Year's and his team in 11th place, Joe Devin — like most of his Cornell teammates — still believed there was a good season to be had.
But of Devin's 14 goals in the second half of the season, it was one in particular — his overtime game winner in Sunday's Game 3 of the ECAC quarterfinals against Quinnipiac — that helped him and the Big Red turn that belief into a reality.
"We lost a lot of key players from last year's team. We were juggling lines," Devin said. "After about two months, things started to turn around. Coach put me with Greg Miller and Tyler Roeszler and right off the bat we had great chemistry."
Indeed, Miller has been the playmaker, with 24 assists this season — though it was defenseman Sean Whitney who set up Devin for Sunday's dramatic winner.
"We clicked right away. If you look at the stats, it's no secret that Greg Miller is a great player," Devin said. "He gets you the puck, he finds you, he sees the ice really well. When you're open, he's going to get it to you."
Still, only Devin (17) and Roeszler (12) have more than seven goals for the Big Red this season. Yet it's the whole team that has improved in many ways, not just in scoring.
"We've played better, so he's benefited from that," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said.
Devin's 17 goals this season is a career high, which is something you'd expect of a senior. But Schafer always believed Devin was headed in this direction.
"When we first saw him play, he was definitely a guy who scored goals," Schafer said. "But ever since he's been here, he was a secondary scorer. He scored eight goals his (sophomore) year, and that's pretty good for not playing on the first line or power play. He's worked his way through.
"He works so hard on it all the time. He's always working around the net, he's the first one out there at practice. He's been doing it since he was a freshman. There's maturity in his game too, he's scored in all different fashions, 2-on-1s, tips, deflections, rebounds ..."
Cornell's struggles early on were to be expected, to some extent. It was left to "rebuild" after making the NCAAs the last two seasons and losing a number of high-end players, including two, Colin Greening and Brendon Nash, who have played in the NHL this year. But the cupboard is rarely completely dry at Cornell, and those that returned didn't want to hear about rebuilding.
"This year has been a roller coaster," Devin said. "But Coach doesn't panic. He keeps everything under control. We trust him to lead the way, and we found a way to get to the (ECAC) Final Four. Anything can happen.
"You hear the (talk) about rebuilding, but you look at the guys doing really well, Miller was a healthy scratch most of last year. I knew we had guys who could play. I knew it would take some time. ... Once we got the confidence, and learned to play in certain situations, things got better."
Nevertheless, it was hard to say otherwise when stuck in 11th place at the holidays. It was especially frustrating to lose a pair of overtime games — to St. Cloud State and Maine — at the Florida holiday tournament.
But in the second half, Cornell turned a lot of those close games into wins.
"We found ways to win those," said Devin, who also has six game winners in Cornell's 15 victories. "That's why against Quinnipiac (this past weekend), in overtime we were pretty comfortable."
Devin is part of an interesting tradition at Cornell — a twin combination with defenseman brother Mike. Just in last 10 years, Cornell has also had twins Cam and Chris Abbott, and Matt and Mark McRae.
But it's the more fundamental traditions — like winning, fan support, and scholastic — that drove Devin to Cornell, even though he's not in the Big Red's usual recruiting universe.
"Most kids from my area, they don't even bother looking elsewhere," Devin said. "They want to play at BU or BU, they want to play in The Beanpot."
Being from Scituate, Mass., a Boston suburb, the Devins grew up watching Chris Drury and Shawn Bates play for Boston University, dreaming of being in their place. Boston is an area Cornell usually leaves for others to recruit in. But Schafer and his coaching staff received a recommendation on the Devins, and went to see them play at a summer tournament in Walpole, Mass.
"We were in our senior year at Catholic Memorial, and we came for a visit. We saw the opening weekend against Michigan State (in October 2005)," Devin said. "Then Coach contacted us that February and said he wanted to commit to us. It was a no brainer. It's a great program, a great atmosphere and an Ivy League education. It was between Northeastern and Cornell. With no scholarships (at Cornell), it was a tough decision, but we're very happy with what we did."
Said Schafer, "I remember the day we committed to him, we had just had a bunch of other guys say they wanted to come here and then went back on their commitment," Schafer said. "So I said to Joe, 'You have my word we want you,' and he said, 'You have my word I'm coming.' And we were so frustrated at that time, that we were just so happy to have him."
Cornell first sent the brothers to a more traditional Big Red recruiting environment, Nanaimo of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League — a place that has churned out Cornell players. It was a culture shock, but a needed one.
"We played 25 games in high school, then our year in Nanaimo, we ended up with something like 92 after playoffs," Devin said.
The brothers then came to Ithaca and started contributing right away.
There's some twist of fate, of course, in a BU fan coming to Cornell. As Cornell players tend to do, Devin studied up on Cornell history, and if you do that, you know that those two schools were once bitter rivals.
"Our freshman year, we played BU at Madison Square Garden," Devin said. "It was unbelievable. We grew up watching guys like Chris Drury and Shawn Bates play for BU, then to actually be playing against (BU). It was a dream to play college hockey there."
Now Devin and Cornell are trying to add to their own legend. What started as a season where a senior like Devin would merely provided some leadership for the youngsters and lay the foundation for brighter days ahead, has turned into a chance for a record 13th ECAC Tournament title.
First it has to face Dartmouth in the semifinals Friday, a team which features Mike Keenan on defense, a former teammate of the Devins at Catholic Memorial and Mike's former defense partner.
"Being named captain, you're on a list with Colin Greening, Ray Sawada, Doug Murray," Devin said. "I'm honored to be part of that tradition."