Two teams, one spot: Saints clash with Cornell, vying for a spot in the ECAC championship game

Whenever Cornell and St. Lawrence meet, good hockey is the result. The pace is always tremendous, the skill readily apparent, and the intensity at playoff level, but when these two teams meet in the postseason, it’s really is hockey at its best.

These are historic programs, with success that has come at different points over their long histories. Cornell is not so far removed from their dominant run through the ECAC, when they captured 4 straight regular season titles from 2010-2013, 4 of 5 tournament titles from 2010-2014, and appeared in 3 straight Frozen Four’s in 2010, 2011, and 2012. St. Lawrence accumulated most of their hardware in the mid-2000’s, advancing to 5 Frozen Four’s from 2001-2007, as well as capturing two regular season titles in 2004 and 2006. But what is at stake this weekend, the ECAC tournament championship, has only been won by SLU once, in 2012.

While the coaching staff remains from the championship, none of the players still don the Scarlet and Brown, but for Cornell, the senior class, including two of their top three scorers, and presumptive starting goaltender Paula Voorheis, won an ECAC championship in 2014.

Cornell is a veteran team, with good offensive talent. Hannah Bunton leads the way with 28 points in 31 games, followed by ECAC rookie of the year nominee Kaitlin Doering, who picked up 25 points in 29 games in her first year in Ithaca. As a team, they don’t score much, just 2.52 goals per game, and 2.46 in ECAC play, but their defense is the heart of their strength. They allowed just 1.68 goals per game this season, and 1.54 in ECAC play, while also icing a strong penalty kill, which succeeded 86.9% of the time.

SLU handled Cornell easily, or so it would seem, at Appleton, winning 5-2, but boxscores don’t always tell the full story. The Saints were outshot 30-26, including 14-5 in the third period, both of Cornell’s goal’s came on special teams (SHG and PPG with the goalie pulled), and SLU picked up an empty net goal midway through the third period. It was a past paced game, as they always are, and SLU took a lot of penalties.

When they met again at Lynah Rink, Cornell stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to scrap out a tie against SLU in a low scoring, defensively sound game. The teams allowed just 39 shots combined, and took 3 penalties in total.

What the season series indicates is that if the Saturday’s game turns into a track meet, it favors the Saints, but if the teams favor defense, the Big Red match up more evenly with SLU. That’s why the home-ice advantage SLU gets by virtue of being the higher seed is so important. It will allow Coach Wells to keep Marchment, Webster, and Miller away from Cornell’s top defensive pairing, like he could at Appleton, and the results should be evident. Miller had 3 points against Cornell at Appleton, Marchment had 4 and Webster had 3, and the Saints won 5-2. Marchment was the only one who found the scoresheet at Cornell, with a goal, but reassuringly, SLU was still able to tie the Big Red.

With the advantage of last change, SLU should be able to get significant production from the top line, and the new-look power play featuring Maggie McLaughlin in front of the net, but more than production, they’ll get possession, which will limit Cornell’s chances, and then Harrison and the nation’s third best defense will do the rest.

Even if the Miller-Webster-Marchment has one of their mythical off-nights, SLU has the depth, and the tenacity, to beat Cornell. Players like Justine Reyes, Kayla Vespa, Kalie Grant and Nadine Edney, who might not find the scoresheet as often as the top line, still provide strong scoring, but also a ferocious forecheck and really strong active sticks in the neutral zone and at the Saints blue-line, which makes it really hard for teams to get into the Saints end effectively and set up offensively.

They also have an extremely mobile defensive corps, with players like Kirsten Padalis, Alex Moore, Lydia Grauer, and Amanda McClure, who can skate and move the puck well, and are all sound defensively, with good sticks and spacing. There are no glaring weaknesses on this SLU team

Grace Harrison also had nine shutouts this, which speaks for itself.

No matter what kind of game it turns out to be, SLU has the ability to beat Cornell. Whether they do it with an avalanche of goals, or stifling defense and shot blocking remains to be seen, but SLU is equipped to best Cornell in every facet of the game. They are a tough opponent, that plays SLU well every time and is experienced, but Sunday should bring a chance to play for an ECAC tournament title. And if the hockey gods are willing, it’ll be SLU-Clarkson, and we can hand the Golden Knights a loss on their own ice.