Much has been made of Cornell’s third-period troubles this year, starting from the very beginning with an opening-night home loss to Mercyhurst despite holding a 4-3 lead with fewer than 10 minutes to play.
Cornell has lost four games and tied six in which it held a lead at any point in the third period, a fact that had fans and pundits frothing.
That hasn’t been an issue for the Ithacans in the last two weeks — they successfully ended Dartmouth’s season by playing determined hockey until the final horn and did it again Saturday with a 3-0 victory over Colgate in the ECAC Hockey third-place game.
Cornell coach Mike Schafer argues that it’s really never been an issue at all.
“We give up a few leads in January and it’s like the plague, this gets written about over and over again, and it happens,” he said. “And I think our guys got sick and tired of listening to it being asked, the same question over and over, and it’s like that now in the media. Our guys take a great deal of pride in protecting leads, and getting leads. Our guys haven’t had any problems with leads in a long time.”
Cornell’s last blown third-period lead was in the regular season finale against Rensselaer, a 2-1 overtime loss.
“There’s a lot of pressure to play hockey at Cornell,” Schafer said. “We’ve been in the ECAC Hockey championship game three years in a row, we’ve been here five years in a row, there’s a lot of pressure and that’s why I give these guys a lot of credit. That kind of scrutiny by the media and our fans and our alumni, it compels us to be a program of excellence, it propels us to want to win and represent our university with pride.
“These guys have probably faced that question since we blew our first lead, way back in January. They keep answering it, and they do it knowing that they’ll get that question probably for the next two years.
“It’s over. But you can keep asking if you want.”
Colgate’s Lone Star sets
Colgate didn’t send any players to the postgame news conference after another disheartening loss, but coach Don Vaughan was certain to represent Colgate’s brightest star following his final collegiate contest.
“I think his statistics speak volumes about what he did,” Vaughan said of Hobey Baker Award candidate Austin Smith, who is also the nation’s top goal-scorer by a significant margin. “Obviously, the number of goals he put up — I think he had three or four empty-net goals, a bunch of short-handed goals (six). These were not secondary assists, and we played some good teams this year. I think more than anything — and I’ve been at this a long time — we had somebody who I thought could have arguably won the Hobey Baker in Andy McDonald in 2000, and I think Austin Smith has had the kind of year, and in some ways a little bit better, than Andy McDonald had his senior year in 2000.
I think people sometimes lose sight of the fact that the award is about more than just on-ice talent, and I think that Austin Smith embodies all of the other qualities that the Hobey Baker Award stands for. Great player, and I just hope that the committee gives him really serious consideration, because he deserves it.”
Smith was visibly upset following Friday’s loss, barely able to keep his head up and eyes dry at the news conference. His coach said as much on Saturday, but also said that the senior winger tried to “have some fun” in the third-place game, knowing the stakes.
“He had some opportunities, and that’s the other piece of this: He’s been a marked man in almost every game we’ve played this year, and he still found a way to put up those numbers. I think we played two teams [this weekend] that track him better than most,” Vaughan said. “I thought Union for sure … and I’ve got a lot of respect for the way Mike [Schafer’s] teams play defensively. I thought Union did a great job, and Mike’s teams are traditionally stingy anyway.
“I hope people don’t hold the fact against him, that he didn’t score this weekend.”