Little Things Don't Add Up For Cornell
by Greg Bates/Special to CHN
GREEN BAY, Wis. No team in the ECAC has come close to what Cornell has achieved in the postseason over the last 17 years, since Mike Schafer took over the program.
The Big Red have won five ECAC championships, and eight NCAA games, with no other ECAC teams winning more than two NCAA games.
But for all that, there is the agony of coming so close to the Frozen Four so many times, only to come up a hair short, save for its 2003 appearance in Buffalo. And some extra agony this year, since a win would've meant a date with fellow ECAC school Union in the Frozen Four semifinals.
This year, it was the little things that helped Cornell earn a huge first-round win Friday night against Michigan. It was also the little things that hurt the Big Red on Saturday night and ended their season. Cornell (19-9-7) couldn't get anything going on the power play against Ferris State in the Midwest Regional championship game Saturday night at the Resch Center and fell 2-1.
"A lot of things have to go right in order to give yourself a chance to get to the Frozen Four and we had our opportunity and didn't capitalize on it," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said.
With the game knotted at 1, Cornell had a prime opportunity to take the lead. A Ferris State player was called for a five-minute major for checking from behind. But the Big Red had a difficult time getting the puck near Ferris State goalie Taylor Nelson.
"It kind of came down to a special teams battle for a lot of the game," Cornell senior defenseman Keir Ross said. "We had a lot of power-play chances that we didn't quite take advantage of. We did a decent job on the kill. They did a good job killing off a five-minute penalty and a lot of their minors there, and you've got to give them credit. We've got to be able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
The special teams difficulties this season were uncharacteristic of Cornell teams under Schafer, and it bit the Big Red on Saturday.
Cornell has now gone 7-2 in first round NCAA games under Schafer, and then 1-6 in seven regional finals. Cornell has been the so-called "underdog" in all but one of those losses, but it stings nonetheless to come so close yet again. In 2006, in this same building, Cornell lost a 3-OT thriller to Wisconsin. The year before, the Big Red lost in OT to Minnesota at Mariucci Arena. In 2009, it was a loss to Bemidji State in Grand Rapids.
Wasting the five-minute man advantage was a big turning point in the game as Ferris State netted the eventual game-winning goal just 12 seconds after Cornell's power play ended.
"I felt we had a couple of opportunities — we passed up on a wide open net here we had a pass to the back door instead of shooting it," Schafer said.
Once Cornell got behind for the second time in the game and for the second straight night, it was an uphill climb.
"It's tough to play from behind, it's tough to play ahead, it's tough," Schafer said. "The bottom line is all the teams that you're facing this time of year are well coached. They're good teams, and it's difficult."
A night after beating top-seeded Michigan and killing off eight penalties, Cornell killed two penalties in first period, but looked sluggish in the opening 20 minutes. A late night and big victory over the Wolverines proved to be draining for the Cornell players.
Ferris State (25-11-5) opened the game by registering the first 11 shots of the game. Cornell didn't get its first shot on Nelson until 12 minutes, 45 seconds into the contest.
"We did a good job of surviving the first period," Schafer said.
It took two periods of scoreless play before both teams turned it up another notch with the Frozen Four on the line. The first goal was a tough break for Cornell. A Big Red player broke his stick on the opening faceoff of the third period and Ferris State raced down into Cornell's zone and Garrett Thompson scored just 11 seconds in.
Cornell answered 1:21 later after a Ferris State turnover in neutral ice; Kirill Gotovets fed Dustin Mowrey on a beautiful pass to tie the game. However, that was all the scoring Cornell could muster.
"To get there and be so close to it and not achieve that goal of getting to the Frozen Four is a huge disappointment," Schafer said.