Tango in the Chenango

Jessie Markovetz

Our own words can do little justice to the annual Colgate-Cornell hockey series, which began 50 years ago. Everyone knows about the week-long buzz before that Saturday evening finally arrives, the intense pre-gaming with your friends, the endless wait just to get one entrance ticket, and of course, the electrifying roars of the smothering Starr Rink crowd with every Colgate hit, save and score.

The games always come down to the wire (11 of last 12 games between the two teams have been decided by two goals or less). But these facts are a given every year, so what makes this series so special? For us writers, this will be our last Colgate-Cornell series that we will witness as Colgate students. Sad, I know. On a less teary and more important note, Colgate can match Cornell in the league standings with two wins this weekend. Furthermore, the Raiders will firmly entrench themselves into the ECAC race with a pair of victories, which is crucial because a top-four seed ensures a first-round bye and home-ice advantage in the quarterfinals of the ECAC Tournament.

Why else do the players and coaches think this two-game series is important?

“The Colgate-Cornell series is always during the stretch run of the season, so [the series is important] in order to secure home ice advantage in the playoffs,” senior Ben Camper said. “We love the energy that surrounds the weekend; that’s why you play college hockey. As for Cornell being Colgate’s safety school, I have no comment.”

“The Cornell game is one that we mark on our calendars each year early on because of the excitement that is generated by both fan groups each time we play,” senior captain Jesse Winchester said. “It is a special weekend because the level of play rises a couple of notches. Going in to the weekend, we know that there will be extra intensity from both squads that will translate into some great goals, saves and big bodies flying. Given the support of both schools at each venue, it is a special series to be a part of.”

“I think the series is taken so seriously by people on campus due to the close proximity of the schools to each other and obviously the long-lasting rivalry that the Colgate Raiders and the Cornell Little Red share,” senior goaltender Mark Dekanich remarked. “The fans for these games at both rinks are pretty crazy, so it’s a lot of fun to play in these series.”

“Colgate always has a great team, so the games always mean something,” Cornell Head Coach Mike Schafer responded regarding his team’s biggest rival.

Colgate’s season in review: The Raiders enter this pivotal weekend at .500 with a 10-10-4 record (4-5-3 in ECAC Hockey). Fortunately, the team has gotten better as the season has progressed by winning three of its last five games. Colgate also held conference leader and 10th-ranked Clarkson to a 1-1 draw at Starr Rink two weeks ago. The Raiders are eighth in ECAC Hockey with 11 points, but they are just four points behind Cornell and Quinnipiac, who are tied for third.

Cornell’s season in review: The Big Red’s 2007-2008 season has been so-so. Cornell has played better against its ECAC opponents (7-4-1 ECAC and 9-7-3 overall), which currently has them tied for third place in the league. Like Colgate, Cornell had its ups and downs over the course of the season. The Big Red beat third-place Quinnipiac, but lost to Harvard and Union, who are lower in the standings. Also, like Colgate, Cornell mustered a tie with first-place Clarkson earlier in the season.

Colgate Offense vs. Cornell Defense: Senior Jesse Winchester leads the Raider offense with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists). Classmate Tyler Burton is a point behind, but he has a team-best 12 goals. Sophomore David McIntyre has avoided the sophomore slump with 21 points, and he notched a three-point game (two goals, one assist) against Brown last Saturday. The Big Red’s success is largely attributable to its defense. Cornell only gives up only 2.16 goals per game, and the heart of its defense resides in its goaltending. Ben Scrivens has a .937 save percentage and 1.76 GAA in ECAC games, which puts him at the top of the conference. Scrivens has not allowed more than three goals in any game this season.

Cornell Offense vs. Colgate Defense: Cornell is not a high-scoring unit, mustering only 2.88 goals per game, but Colgate must defend its net early, as Cornell is 8-0-1 in games in which it scores first. It will not be an easy task, as Cornell relies on a balanced attack that boasts six players with 10 or more points. Riley Nash, Edmonton’s first-round pick in last summer’s NHL Draft, leads with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) and he is a candidate for ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year. Senior Topher Scott is second with 15 points. Classmate Raymond Sawada, a former NHL Draft selection by the Dallas Stars, recorded nine points in January.

The Raider defense is a tough nut to crack. Junior Mark Anderson is +12, while first-year Wade Poplawski is +11. Junior Nick St. Pierre has 35 blocked shots and is +3. Colgate outscored its opponents by 10 overall and blocked 293 shots so far. Senior goaltender Mark Dekanich is 10-8-4 with a 2.17 GAA (2.05 in ECAC).

Colgate Power Play v. Cornell Penalty Kill: The Raiders’ power play is arguably the team’s biggest weakness. Colgate has only converted on 13.2% of its power plays in ECAC play this season, although the Raiders managed to score three extra-man goals against Brown last Saturday. Hopefully, this trend will continue into the weekend against a robust Cornell penalty kill unit. The Big Red is currently on a remarkable streak of 24 consecutive penalties without allowing a power play goal and it has a 91.8% ECAC penalty kill mark.

Cornell Power Play v. Colgate Penalty Kill: Cornell’s power play is 14th in the nation with a 19.1% rate. In conference play, it has been a Big Red Machine with an ECAC-best 21.6% success rate. Cornell had two power play goals last Friday against Brown and one the following night against Yale’s top-ranked penalty kill.

So what other stats matter?

Scoring the first goal: As noted previously, Cornell has yet to lose a game this year when they score the first goal (8-0-1). However, when Cornell gives up the first goal, its record is 1-7-1. Colgate is 7-3-2 when it scores first and 3-7-2 when it gives up the first goal.

Short-handed goals: Colgate has scored five of them this season. Although we don’t figure short-handed goals to play an enormous factor in this series, don’t be surprised if the penalty kill unit manages to sneak one by Scrivens.

Humanitarian Finalist: Although this is not going to be a factor on the ice, it should be noted that Colgate sophomore Ethan Cox was just named as a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian award, which is given to the college hockey player that gives the most back to his or her community. Congratulations to Ethan for his honorable and remarkable charitable efforts!

Home ice advantage: Cornell leads the series all-time with a 66-55-9 overall record (43-30-5 home record), but the Raiders have the edge in Hamilton with a 25-23-4 record.

“A packed Starr Rink is one of the loudest, most intimidating places to play in our league,” Camper said. “It truly is the best home ice advantage when the students are on their feet and pushing the boundaries. I hope students camp out the night before.”

“The support from our student body is second to none for this event,” Winchester noted. “It is an amazing feeling when you can step on the ice for warm-ups to a packed house of classmates yelling obnoxiously at both teams. We definitely feed off of the added dose of energy in the building because it is something that we don’t typically see at Starr Rink.”

Along the same vein (and purposely saved for last), we asked if it gets annoying when the fans throw toothpaste and sticks of gum on the ice after every goal.

“I think the toothpaste and gum throwing and the newspaper toss at Cornell are some of the coolest traditions that I have seen at a sporting event,” Winchester remarked.

“Absolutely not. My mother has been stocking up on Big Red gum since July,” Camper said.

“It is always fun to what students do at different rinks for different teams. I think it is a big part of college sports,” Coach Schafer noted.

“Definitely makes it more fun,” Dekanich replied.

“Personally, I like the tossing of toothpaste and gum on the ice.,” senior Matt Torti said. “Just seeing the gum go flying on the ice is priceless. I think it is funny as long as I don’t step on it and fall!”

The teams will square off at Lynah Rink in Ithaca at 7 p.m. on Friday and at Starr Rink at 7 p.m. on Saturday. If you don’t get there early and you don’t get there ready, you won’t be there at all.

Special thanks to Michelle Kelley for providing the authors with many of the statistics.