Cornell building on excellence
Goaltenders excel in hockey program
Doug Derraugh came to Cornell as a forward in the fall of 1987, but there was no doubt what the school was known for.
“When I came to Cornell as a player,” Derraugh said, “I remember somebody called it ‘Goalie U’ because of all the great goaltenders who had gone through the men’s program.”
Indeed, from Ken Dryden in the late 60s to All-Americans and Hobey Baker Award finalists like David McKee and David LeNeveu in more recent years, Cornell’s hockey tradition has been built on goaltending excellence.
Now, in his sixth year as head coach of his alma mater’s women’s hockey team, Derraugh is seeing goaltending excellence worthy of addition to that legacy from his goaltending duo of junior Amanda Mazzotta and freshman Lauren Slobodnick.
Heading into Thursday’s ECAC semifinal against Quinnipiac, Mazzotta leads the nation in save percentage at .953 and goals-against average at 0.91, while Slebodnick is fourth in the nation in save percentage (.942) and second in goals-against average (1.15). While Mazzotta was the Big Red’s go-to goalie early on and Slebodnick stepped up in January when Mazzotta was injured, Derraugh credits both goalies with making the Big Red – No. 2 in the most recent USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey polls – one of the nation’s most successful teams.
“Both those goalies have done a tremendous job for us all year long,” Derraugh said. “Mazz started out the year phenomenal year, had a number of shutouts right off the bat, and she had been great. Then, Lauren came in to replace her after she got injured, and it didn’t seem like we missed a beat. Both goalies have very different styles, but both of them have been very effective for us.”
Mazzotta has yet to play in a game since Slebodnick stepped in on January 7 – she made her return to the bench over the weekend, dressing as a backup in the Big Red’s ECAC Hockey quarterfinal wins over Rensselaer - but the interaction between Mazzotta and Slebodnick has made both better.
“They’re both very competitive in different ways,” Derraugh said, “but they get along really well. They encourage one another, cheer each other on to be better. They push each other in practice. Mazz is very organized, a very intense and very focused individual. Lauren is more of a calm demeanor, but inside, has a really competitive edge to her. They get along really well, but they also push each other to be better really well.”
Indeed, the presence of Mazzotta and senior Katie Wilson has been a big help to Slebodnick in her freshman campaign.
“All three of us get along great,” Slebodnick said. “We all push each other, which I think is really nice, and having Mazz on the ice to practice now, I really like it because it pushes me to be better. We’re like a little family, the goalies, but it’s great to have her back on the ice with us again.”
As for the Cornell goaltending tradition, Slebodnick wasn’t sure where she and Mazzotta fit in – “I never really thought about that before,” Slebodnick said – but for her coach (who played in front of a future NHL goaltender in Corrie D’Alessio), the performance of Slebodnick and Mazzotta has nothing to do with the goaltending successes of Cornell’s men’s program.
“I don’t think it really has anything to do with the men’s side,” Derraugh said. “We’re really separate entities as far as women’s and men’s ice hockey, and we’ve had our share of great goaltenders in the past, too. Obviously, it’s a critical component for any team that wants to be successful. You have to have great goaltending, or it’s just not going to happen. We’re very fortunate to have three very capable goaltenders.”
What the Big Red doesn’t have – yet – is an NCAA Championship. Cornell came heartbreakingly close last season, losing to Minnesota Duluth in triple overtime despite a 61-save effort by Mazzotta, but the Big Red is ready to chase the crown again, starting this weekend with the ECAC Championship. The Big Red will host Quinnipiac on Thursday, and, if successful, will host either Harvard or No. 9 Dartmouth to play for the championship.
The Big Green defeated the Big Red on the last weekend of the regular season, denying Cornell a perfect mark in conference play. However, according to Mazzotta, that disappointment has only upped Cornell’s focus heading into the last three weekends of the season.
“No one like to lose,” Mazzotta said, “and no one was happy with losing that game, but at the same time, it’s a learning experience, and it reinforces to us that we have to come to play for a full 60 minutes every time.”
If Cornell can do that, the Big Red may be ready to bring home the first NCAA Championship in program history. And if Slebodnick can finish what Mazzotta started, the two Big Red netminders will be happy to share the credit.