For all the marbles

Well this is it, people: Cornell vs. Yale for the title game. The Big Red wore the crown last year, while the Bulldogs won it two years ago – over Cornell, to boot. Here they meet again, but under quite different circumstances.

That is because these teams have quite different motivations tonight. Yale is already assured an NCAA berth, likely as a No. 1 seed no less, thanks to a strong regular season and a healthy PairWise position. The Blue will be playing near home in Bridgeport, Conn. as the East Regional’s host program. Cornell on the other hand took a semester to warm up to the campaign, and need to win the league title and its NCAA auto-bid in order to extend its season. Those are bound to be quite disparate vibes in the locker rooms, even though the sides are ostensibly playing for the same prize: The Whitelaw Cup.

(As a side note, a Yale victory should also place Rensselaer in the tournament as an at-large bid, according to the latest PairWise analysis by the esteemed Jayson Moy. A Cornell win eliminates RPI.)

The Prediction

Yale is the better team. They have more skill and they possess it in deeper numbers than their Ithacan counterparts. Senior Ryan Rondeau has been solid all year long as Yale’s No. 1 keeper, while Cornell has been put in the most atypical situation of having two equally competent ‘keepers splitting time ‘tween the pipes. (As I write this, it appears that rookie Andy Iles will be making his “usual” Saturday start following Mike Garman’s Friday night shutout of Dartmouth.)

Yale’s been pegged as a national player for two years running, if not longer, while this is as much of a rebuilding year as Cornell ever has. The Bulldogs have the experience, they have the superstars, they have all the expectations, recent precedent (two wins over Cornell already this year), and confidence of a team that knows it will be playing next weekend.

So who will it be: the “better” team, or the hungrier one? Never sell a Mike Schafer-led team short – not in the postseason, not ever. It will be a fascinating matchup of finesse and skill against grit, size, and desperate need.

I wish I could amend my prediction minute-by-minute, but that wouldn’t be very sporting. So here’s my say:

Yale 4, Cornell 3.

Stay with us all game long on our live blog, as associate Nate Owen and I will do our best to keep you abreast of every development on and off the ice.