TMQ: Giving props to Cornell, defense winning championships, Arizona State’s new rink

Anthony Angello (Cornell - 17) and Ben Foster (Princeton - 22) battle for position. ((c) Shelley M. Szwast 2016)
Anthony Angello (left) leads Cornell in scoring with a 12-8-20 line through 21 games this season (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Each week during the season, we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Jim: Despite the fact that the calendar is about to turn to February, we have a new No. 1 team in the USCHO.com poll as Cornell jumps into the top spot for the first time this season – and first time in almost 15 years.

The Big Red have done it the patient way. They’ve slowly climbed up the poll, consistently posting win after win while the teams most have believed in all season – Denver, St. Cloud State and Notre Dame – have all faltered along the way.

Cornell is doing it with defense, boasting the best back end in college hockey. Cornell has allowed just 1.43 goals per game, and that’s heated up of late, allowing just two goals in the last five games.

I mean, read that.

Cornell has shutout three of its last five opponents while allowing a single goal in the other two games. Goaltender Matthew Galajda now has six shutouts on the season.

This reminds me of the Cornell teams of old, particularly those of the early 2000s, when Cornell won two ECAC tournament titles and reached the Frozen Four in 2003.

I’ll admit that it’s taken me some time to warm up to this Cornell team, but also believe when a team simply becomes a shutdown defense in hockey, there is a lot of potential for success.

Paula: Cornell’s current undefeated streak (9-0-1) is particularly impressive because the Big Red has allowed on average 0.80 goals per game in this 10-game stretch.

In addition to the three shutouts and just two goals allowed in Cornell’s last five games, the Big Red allowed more than a single goal just once in January – the 3-3 tie with Yale Jan. 12 – and Galajda has four total shutouts in the first month of 2018, including the three consecutive that you mention.

While Cornell steadily improved through the first half of the season, I’d say that the team’s January numbers indicate a definite arrival. That was an insanely good month of hockey for the Big Red. Like you, it took me a while to warm up to Cornell, but I am convinced. As I’ve mentioned before, I also have a healthy respect for unbeaten streaks, especially when they come in the second half of the season.

A brief mention of the team that lost the top spot in the poll this week. The 5-0 Wisconsin win that snapped Notre Dame’s win streak seemed like an anomaly, but an important one: it was a lesson in what can happen when a team nearly completely dependent on defense has a defensive breakdown. The Irish are 23rd nationally in scoring offense. Their defense was superb in their 1-0 overtime loss to Minnesota Friday, but again that inability to score was exploited.

You mention Denver, too, a team that received a single first-place vote. The Pioneers are unbeaten in their last five games (3-0-2) after tying North Dakota twice this weekend, and like Cornell and Notre Dame, Denver has one of the top defenses in the country. They didn’t have the month that Cornell had, but the Pioneers allowed more than a goal in two of their six January games, a 4-3 loss to Miami Jan. 5 and a 3-3 tie with North Dakota this past weekend. Tanner Jaillet was in net for all six of Denver’s January games with two shutouts and two games in which he surrendered a single goal. That’s in tough NCHC competition, too.

Jim: I guess the point to be debated here is whether or not defense alone can win a championship. It’s a well-debated, almost overdone topic in college hockey as I feel like somewhere around this point in the season we’re always asking this exact same question.

My gut is to say that defense alone isn’t enough. A solid defense with a better-than-average offense can be enough. So let’s look at the stats as to which team is where in the national rankings.

Cornell, Clarkson, Notre Dame and Ohio State are your top four offenses. But when it comes to offense, Clarkson and Cornell are the only two of those schools to be in the top 10. So let’s go to the other side. The top four defenses are Minnesota State, Penn State, Omaha and St. Cloud State. Minnesota State, tied for fifth in defense, is the only one of those teams in the top 10.

So where does that leave us? I guess it’s a matter of opinion.

Personally, I feel like a team that can score and be able to be pretty good defensively is the team I’d put my money on in the NCAA tournament. Defense is great, trust me. But in a single-game scenario, when a great defense meets a great offense, so often that defense can break down. Thus, if you’re not able to score at the other end, a good defense isn’t enough.

Do you agree?

Paula: I am 100 percent with you, Jim.

In an email conversation Monday morning, I was discussing this very thing with another college hockey devotee and the conclusion that we came to is that defense – or any one specific skill set – isn’t enough in single-elimination play. If you can’t score, you can’t win. A team may be able to ride a really hot goalie into the NCAA tournament, for example, but without the ability to adjust to whatever a game throws at you in single-elimination, you just can’t rely on any one dimension of the game. And defenses can and do break down. We’ve seen it.

The points you make about top offenses versus defenses and the overlap are very interesting. I wouldn’t all be surprised to see Cornell, Clarkson and Minnesota State in St. Paul because of each team’s ability to play both sides of the puck.

A Tip of the Cap…

Jim: … to the Regents in Arizona for starting the process to build a new on-site arena for Arizona State. This program definitely needs a new home. The current home, Oceanside Ice Arena, is too small, holding less than 1,000 fans. Playing games in Glendale at Gila River Arena is a horrible option as it is too far from campus.

Having been to Tempe this past weekend for the Boston University series, I can say convincingly this is a place hockey will work. But having an on-campus arena is critical. This past week, the process to build that venue moved in a positive direction when the Business and Finance committee of the Arizona Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve a project that would build that arena. The next step is a full vote on Feb. 8, but this seems like a process that is headed in the right direction and will make ASU a very viable program quickly.

Paula: This is a great step for a program that is already a very good addition to the college hockey community. We know that because snowbirds have brought their love of hockey to areas of the U.S. where winters don’t lend themselves to outdoor play that hockey is proliferating throughout the country. Arizona is no exception.

By the end of 2015, there were over 7,000 kids registered to play youth hockey in Arizona, and in October of last year, the Coyotes announced that they would be investing $1.2 million in local youth hockey development. As you said, this commitment to a new arena will help the Sun Devils develop quickly and it will contribute to the growing interest in hockey as a sport in the Southwest U.S.

25 COMMENTS

    • Cornell:
      Avg. PWR ranking of last ten opponents is over 34.
      Avg. scoring offense of opponents, by goals scored, over the last ten is 48.

      Positively, the freshman class is full of contributors. Cornell and Clarkson have very good freshman.

  1. I have to think that the lesser competition Cornell and Clarkson play on a regular basis (strength of schedule) plays a role in their gaudy defensive stats (and overall record). While I do think they are both great defensive teams, if they were playing better competition, life would be a lot tougher than it currently is in the ECAC.

    • I am so sick of this mantra. The ECAC has had a down year this season in terms of out of conference record, but over the past 5 seasons the ECAC has fielded 2 national champions and had at least 1 team in the frozen four in all but 1. The programs in the ECAC are very competitive nationally. I will grant that the NCHC overall is the best conference in college hockey, but I don’t think the gap between NCHC and ECAC is as wide as many believe. Cornell has always been a powerhouse defensively (witness 1-0 and 2-1 losses in tournament games in the early 2000’s) but this year is putting it together offensively better than ever. The RPI and KRACH rankings take into account SOS and both have Cornell and Clarkson ranked in the top 4 teams nationally. And this with the handicap of having to recruit players who can pass a course more demanding than basket weaving.

      • I didn’t say that the ECAC was pure crap over a long period of time. I simply stated that the conference’s overall SOS this year isn’t great. I don’t think Cornell would only have 2 losses if they were playing better competition as a whole. That’s all I’m sayin’ crasher.

      • I am so sick of people that get so worked up, they don’t comprehend what they read. What gimruis stated was absolutely correct, Cornell (21) and Clarkson (20) play a weaker schedule than a lot of the ranked teams. Since you read both RPI and Krach, you should realize that the only thing gimruis stated was totally accurate. He was not knocking their rankings, only that their statistics might be skewed because of their competition. With your last sentence, I guess I wasted my education since I didn’t attend an Ivy League school. I don’t remember basket weaving being part of the curriculum at my college though. Can you please elaborate on which universities, or colleges, you are demeaning by your sarcastic remark?

  2. The top 4 offenses, in order, from this very web site’s team stat list, are Minnesota State, Penn State, Omaha, and SCSU. Jim has this same list of teams as his top 4 defenses. He got the list of best team offenses and defenses backwards from reality in the article above.

    By the way, a good defense beats a good offense, every time, and, in any sport.

    Case in point. Omaha is 1-5-0 so far this season against North Dakota, SCSU, and Denver, has been outscored 29-8 in those games, and also was shut out 4 times in those 6 games. Those 3 teams are all in the top 16 in team defense in the country.

    Omaha has one of the top offenses in the country and when they have played stellar defensive teams with good goaltending, they have been utterly throttled.

    The other team cannot beat you if they cannot score.

  3. The argument about the ECAC not being tough is old and worn. We’re talking about a division where six of the 12 schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Despite that, the conference has been well represented in the Frozen Four over the last 15 years or so, especially in 2013 when Yale d. Quinnipiac for the Championship.
    As for Cornell, their FRESHMAN backstop has 6 shutouts with a sick .938 save%, and are 7-1-0 against teams in the top 20.

      • …and a farce. Like D-3 schools (who aren’t permitted to offer athletic scholarships) those same pious ECAC schools who don’t offer athletic scholarships most certainly offer academic scholarships to cover the cost of their varsity athlete’s education.

        • Exactly. I don’t think there are many people that go to Harvard or Yale that don’t get some sort of assistance or academic scholarship.

    • I wouldnt say the ECAC has been well represented over the last 15 years or so at the frozen four at all…..2012 Union, 2013 QU and Yale, 2014 Union, 2016 QU, 2017 Harvard. So….15 years with 4 teams in each frozen four is 60 teams and the ECAC has 6 of a possible 60 for 10%. I wouldnt say that is anywhere close to well represented. North Dakota has been in 8 frozen fours during that same time.

    • I guess “well represented” is in the eyes of the beholder. Fact is that in the past 15 years the ECAC has been represented in six Frozen Fours. Considering one team from each conference must be chosen for the Regionals each year, this is not what I would consider “well represented”. The ECAC is less represented than any conference, except the AHA. Instead of “old and worn”, regarding ECAC not being tough, I would use “tried and true”. While you wipe away your tears about six of the 12 schools not offering athletic scholarships, suggest you check the only NCAA teams that are really “handicapped”, Air Force and Army. They are hampered by both citizenship and academy regimen.

      • Did you play sports for one of the academies? Having gone to the Naval Academy, I can tell you that the football players, aside from having to complete core requirements and training, are given a fall semester that isn’t taxing enough to miss practice. I’ve heard similar stories from my mates at West Point and the AFA. In terms of scholarships, the academies are tuition-free, and each Midshipman/Cadet gets a monthly stipend.

        • Since you went to Annapolis, you know hard it is just to get qualified for acceptance. I did not play sports, but did attend West Point. Hard to believe you stated, “aside from having to complete core requirements and training” and actually went through it. Unless Naval Academy is different from West Point, your statement is well understated. Granted, football players can take early regimentation to make afternoon practices but the same does not apply for other “minor” sports. Notice you didn’t comment on citizenship or service commitment. You do realize that a hockey recruit who wants to go from college directly to the NHL, will not attend Army or Air Force, don’t you?

          • Your last question isn’t necessarily true. Unlikely to go from academy to the pros? Sure but not prohibited.

            “Starrett, 22, left the Atlantic Hockey program this spring, taking advantage of a longstanding Department of Defense policy that allows sophomores to leave the service academy without penalty if they decide the military is not for them.”

            “He signed a two-year contract on April 10 with the Edmonton organization and joins the Oilers for their development camp the first week of July. At this point, he is assigned to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League.”

            “The recent reversal of another DoD policy that had allowed academy graduates to go pro and forgave their five-year military commitment, makes Starrett’s opportunity a unique one for former Falcons. He is grateful for the chance.”

            The last paragraph speaks to your point but the exit door, if they decide the military life is not for them, remains for freshman and sophomores. Weird tish for sure.

          • You are citing an excellent case, certainly the anomaly. This reversal can be rescinded by the DoD, on a case by case basis. It has been done in the past for both football and basketball. Note the DoD “hook”, the “if they decide the military is not for them.” If pressed by the Academy, kind of hard to prove the military is not for you.

      • Last time I checked the service academies were free, so scholarship status is moot. They are hampered in their recruiting by academic credentials. Like the ivies and other similar school in the ECAC, they actually have to recruit STUDENTS who can perform academically.

        • You are right, scholarships are not relevant since it is totally “paid”. What is relevant is other schools can recruit STUDENTS from anywhere, not just U.S. citizens. Also. other schools can recruit 5-star hockey players who want to bail to the NHL whenever they want. An Army or Air Force player can leave before their senior year, prior to commitment, if they can afford to pay back their “cost” the academy put out for their education.

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