(Denver, December 27) It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done. That's probably the best thing that can be said about the first round of the Denver Cup, played this evening at McNichols Arena. Everyone in the house not sporting Carnellian and White or Blue and Silver was looking forward to a Denver University-Colorado College showdown in the final tomorrow night. And they weren't going to let a little something like underdogs Cornell University and Air Force get in their way. What resulted were a couple of ugly games. Ugly, as in CC leading Cornell 1-0 after one minute of play and 2-0 after two. Ugly, as in Denver's Brent Cary setting a tournament record with six points (two goals, four assists) against Air Force. Ugly, as in the two favorites piling on a total of 22 goals in the two games.
The Big Red of Cornell, who are tied for third in the ECAC with a 4-1-3 mark, but whose big losses to Michigan State (6-2) and Boston University (7-1) seemed to indicate they're not prepared to be a player on the national scene, were never really in the early game. Things had already gotten far enough out of hand for Cornell coach Mike Schafer to call his time-out in the first period, trailing 3-0. It didn't help much, though, as freshman goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier ended the period having surrendered 4 goals on 15 shots, while the Red could only muster 4 shots of their own. Cornell switched goalies to Senior Eddy Skazyk at the intermission, and although their defensive woes continued, typified by tentative checking, they did manage to mount a few offensive flurries of their own, and even out-shot the Tigers 11-10 on the period. But they would never succeed in lighting the lamp, and suffered the indignity of a shorthanded goal in each of the last two periods of the 11-0 defeat. Oddly, the Red's few bright moments came shorthanded, where despite giving up two Tiger power play goals in six opportunities, they looked stellar on one penalty kill in the third, and then killed off a minute and a half 5-on-3 opportunity for the Tigers.
The late game, pitting #7 Denver against hapless Air Force, whose only victory of the season came against division III Elmira, seemed even more of a mismatch, and sure enough, the Pioneers also scored thirty seconds in, and again two minutes later. But then the Falcons tightened up, and played even for the rest of the period. Slowly but surely, though, things got away from them. Junior goalie Pat Kielb, who made some impressive saves but also let in several long goals, was finally replaced in the third with Denver up 8-1, but the Pioneers added three more to make the final 11-1. DU Goaltender Sinuhe Wallinheimo, perhaps subdued by his shelling at the hands of North Dakota in his most recent start, entertained the crowd with none of his famed antics, but was nonetheless named by the Denver media as the #2 star of the game (after Cary), stopping all but one of the 23 shots he faced.
Over 9,000 people attended the first day of the tournament, the largest crowd ever to see DU play in Denver, but I found their level of involvement disappointing, even considering the lopsided nature of the games. None of the four schools sent a pep band. I rallied the small Cornell contingent as best I could, and a few "Let's Go Red!" chants went on. but I doubt many people could hear us over the piped-in music. The CC fans were louder, but didn't seem very organized. The late game was of course more enthusiastically viewed by DU fans (I could detect no substantial Air Force cheering section) but had the feel of a pro game, with the Pioneers being introduced in a spotlight on the darkened rink, and the public address announcer bellowing about "your Pioneers". A few young people chanted "sieve" at Kielb a couple of times, but on the whole, I didn't get the feeling of crazy student fans. Another thing which detracted from any potential excitement was the lack of much animosity between the schools. (The Cornell-BU game last month may have been a blowout, but both sides of the crowd were vocal to the end.) This problem, at least, should be solved at the CC-DU championship game, 7pm tomorrow (preceded by Cornell and Air Force in the consolation at 4:00), which just goes to show that today's action served its purpose after all.
(Denver, December 28) After the disappointing blowouts in both Denver Cup semifinals, fans of College Hockey had to expect more from the second day's play, with Cornell and Air Force looking to redeem themselves in the consolation, and powerhouses Denver and Colorado College facing off in the main event. And sure enough, the teams came through. [Jump to final]
Cornell came out at the beginning of the consolation game against Air Force looking ready to dominate the 43rd-ranked Falcons. They scored early and spent most of the first five minutes in the Air Force end. But then things slacked off later in the period, and the underdogs got an opportunity with a 5-on-3 power play. The Big Red killed off the two-man advantage, but Air Force was able to score on the ensuing 5-on-4 to tie the score. For the next period or so, Cornell was able to regain some control, despite being whistled for 7 penalties in the first two periods to Air Force's 1. But then, up 3-1 late in the second, a series of misfortunes struck the Red. A Cornell player took a shot to the head from an Air Force attacker away from the play in the middle of the Cornell zone, but the officials didn't call it and the Falcons scored a few seconds later. Then, already shorthanded, Cornell's Steve Wilson was called for a five-minute major hitting from behind, sending a Falcon into the boards head-first. Time expired before the delayed call could be enforced, so the Big Red faced the prospect of starting the third period two men down for a minute and a half, followed by three and a half more minutes of 5-on-4. But the Big Red special teams stepped up and took charge, killing the 5-on-3 and scoring on Andre Doll's shorthander to turn the tide. Cornell never looked back, adding two more goals to win 6-2 and take third place. They also seized the chance to regain a little pride heading out of the holiday season and into a big ECAC series with St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
Perhaps a third of the Cornell supporters from yesterday's games returned this afternoon, but those of us who were there were louder than in the semi-final, not least because we had something to cheer about. Without a band, most of the Cornell cheers require something good to happen; there's no point in riding a goalie who's shutting you out; you both know he's not a sieve. And since you can only chant "Let's Go Red!" so many times before it gets old, it was hard to muster much in the CC-Cornell game yesterday. But today was different. Early on, there were almost no Cornell fans, and I got the feeling we were going to be the loudest 5-person cheering section ever. There were two alums from the early '80s sitting with me who hadn't been to the semifinal, and they were more than loud enough to make up for the few noisy fellow '90-somethings we'd lost from yesterday's bunch. (Unfortunately, between the number of beers they'd had and the fact that they hadn't been to a game in over a decade, the precision of their cheering left a little to be desired.) Plus we were joined by a current undergraduate living in Denver and her friend, who'd sat farther up before.
As an added bonus, talking to a real live member of the Lynah Faithful gave me some inside information, for instance that the enormous object thrown on the ice at the beginning of the latest Cornell-Harvard game was a Lynah record 19-pound tuna head. She also insisted that the now-infamous fish thrown at the beginning of the second period of the previous Harvard game came from Section F, not Section D, where she was sitting. So she hadn't appreciated the chants of "Section D sucks!" after Harvard converted the ensuing power play. I also learned that the only cheers Coach Schafer has forbidden so far are those involving farm animals or ending in "munch munch munch".
Speaking of cheers, although only I yelled "Red!" during the national anthem (and half a beat early at that), we did sing "Davy" at the beginning of the first two periods and after every goal, plus the Alma Mater (which got the best participation from the non-lunatic Cornell contingent) at the end of the second intermission. In the end, I can only hope we made an impression. I'd like anyone who sees a Cornell hockey game, home or away, to come away saying, "Boy, those Cornell fans are nuts, but they're really into it."
The first period of the much-anticipated final between WCHA foes the University of Denver and Colorado College was filled with end-to-end action, with the CC Tigers getting the better of it, outshooting Denver 12-6 and scoring two pretty goals, one off the rebound and one from a perfect setup at the doorstep. With the 2-0 lead after one, Colorado College seemed on their way to another demonstration of why they entered the game at 15-0-3. But the host Pioneers responded with a vengeance in the second period. After starting the period with a disappointing power play, they spent most of the rest of the period on the attack, firing 10 shots in the period to CC's 6. Antti Laaksonen scored to bring DU to within one, and as the Pioneer attacks continued, one could feel the tide turn. Erik Andersson scored the tying goal shorthanded, and the teams went into the locker rooms tied at 2. Laaksonen scored his second goal early in the third to put DU on top, 3-2. CC put on a number of fierce attacks throughout the period (in which they outshot the Pioneers 6-4), including a 2-0 breakaway when DU was caught in a line change, but DU goalie Jim Mullin stopped them every time, and Denver prevailed 3-2 to take their fourth straight Denver Cup and snap Colorado College's unbeaten streak.
The top two stars of the game were no surprise, as Laaksonen took the #1 spot with two goals and an assist, and was also named tournament MVP, and Mullin was named the #2 star.
Both schools were well represented, and the crowd was noisy and excited. (And the overwhelming majority of the 14-and-a-half thousand on hand showed up after the Consolation.) But again I'm struck by how different this seems from the College Hockey scene I'm used to. I heard a few chants of "CC sucks!", and the Pioneer mascot led the crowd with a "GO/DU" sign, but there was none of the sort of ritualized enthusiasm of, for example, Cornell, BU, Wisconsin or Minnesota. (In fact, during the consolation, someone a few sections away yelled at me to sit down and shut up near the end of the Davy/count/"Sieve!"/"It's all your fault!" routine after Cornell's fifth goal.) A Cornellian from Denver told me that DU hockey is very much a family event, which I assume came about somewhat during the years when Denver had no NHL franchise. And I suppose it's also to be expected when you have less than 3,000 undergraduates in a city of several million. Anyway, at least the fans were more into the play tonight, as contrasted with all the people who chose to find their seats for the DU-Air Force semifinal while the rest of us were trying to watch the end of the Cornell-CC game, and the mass exodus during the third period of DU-Air Force. But then when the action's as hot as it was in the final, who wants to leave?