Cornell Gets Off Deck to Win 3rd-Place Game and Earn NCAA Bid
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. Consolation games may be an anachronism of a bygone era, but for Cornell on Saturday, it was a necessary evil if it wanted to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Coming off its worst loss of the season, 6-1 in the ECAC semifinals to Harvard, the Big Red had less than 18 hours to lick their wounds and find a way to win a game against a team with nothing to lose, Colgate.
Add to that, Colgate had defeated Cornell twice this season already.
After a slow start, Cornell managed to shake all of that off and defeat Colgate 3-0, to reach the NCAAs for the third time in four years.
"It's a lot of pressure coming into the game knowing we had to win. It's a tough turnaround, to have your hopes dashed for winning an ECAC hockey championship get dashed and they're gone, then have to come back and win to get into the NCAAs," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. "I give our kids a lot of credit. I'm really proud of how they came back and played with pride. All of us, as coaches, I take full responsibility for not having our guys ready, and our guys really responded."
The six goals Cornell allowed in the semifinal were the most all season. It particularly stung for goaltender Andy Iles, who has played every minute of every game this season, and had five straight home shutouts at one point.
"Today was huge," Iles said. "I didn't sleep well last night — I felt like I let my family down. But that's going to happen sometimes, so you just have to move on."
Sean Collins helped get Cornell going, after what seemed to be a sluggish start, scoring late in the first period. From there, Cornell continued to hold Colgate at bay. The Raiders could've played as loosey-goosey as they wanted to, but the Big Red never let them get rolling.
"Yesterday there was a lot of disappointment," Collins said. "Any time you come out with that kind of effort, it's not something you plan out. But the guys did a good job putting it behind them."
This season has had its ups and downs, but only by Cornell standards. In the big picture, it's a successful year, no matter what happens in the NCAAs. The success is a double-edged sword sometimes, as the Big Red fielded questions all season — too many questions, Schafer believes — about their mettle in tight games, something that is typical of trademark of Cornell's success.
"We've been in the ECAC championship three years in a row," Schafer said. "There's a lot of pressure to play at Cornell. That kind of scrutiny by the media, our fans and alumni, it propels us to be a program of excellence, it propels us to want to win and represent our university with pride. Little things like protecting a lead, we take a lot of pride in. These guys have faced that question since the first time it happened, and they've handled it knowing they'll have to take that question for probably two years."
Or for this season, at least one more week. And Cornell will gladly take that.