I f the men’s hockey team sweeps Princeton and Yale this weekend, it will earn a place in the ECAC playoffs. Not that the team is actually concerned with that.
“I didn’t even know that,” admitted junior Sam Paolini. “Making the playoffs wasn’t even one of our goals. If Cornell hockey doesn’t make the playoffs, something’s wrong.”
“We know we’re going to be in the playoffs,” Mike Schafer ’86 echoed. “We have bigger goals than just making the playoffs.”
Riding a six-game win streak, Cornell (15-5-1, 11-2-1 ECAC) welcomes the Tigers (7-14-0, 6-8-0) ECAC and the Elis (6-13-2, 5-7-2 ECAC) to Lynah Rink. While the Red holds a fat five-point lead on Harvard in the conference title race, its two opponents are muddling about in the middle of the pack — both are currently in seventh and fighting for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
“They have a lot to play for, and I’m sure we’ll see them come out firing,” Paolini said.
However, it’s Cornell that has been on fire recently. During the most emotional weekend of the season last Friday and Saturday, it swept Harvard and Brown. And the Red’s run of six consecutive victories is its longest since 1989-90, when it won seven straight. It stands eighth in both major polls and even received one first-place vote in the USA Today rankings.
“It’s feeling good right now,” senior defenseman Brian McMeekin said of the team’s confidence, “but we know we have a job left to do.”
For the first time since the start of the season, Cornell is in the midst of a four-game homestand. And the road-weary Red is quick to be thankful.
“We paid the price earlier in the year by going on the road and playing four games,” Schafer said about a stretch last semester when Cornell traveled to B.U. for a pair of games and then went to Yale and Princeton the following weekend. “Now we get the benefit [of] back-to-back home games. We have to capitalize on that fact.”
Though neither Princeton nor Yale has yet proved itself to be a force in the league, they haven’t exactly rolled over for anyone either.
Princeton, despite a disappointing run last semester, is 3-3 in the new year and has defeated the likes of Harvard and Bowling Green. And Yale, which is 1-4 in its last five games, took down Ohio State two weekends ago and has fought to tight losses against Harvard, Boston College, and New Hampshire this year. And last Friday against Clarkson, the Elis were up 5-2 in the opening minutes of the third period — only to fall apart at the close of the game.
“It’s going to be a fight for four points this weekend,” Schafer said.
Adding importance to this weekend is the fact that both games will count in the Ivy League standings. Cornell is tied for first in the Ivies with Dartmouth and Harvard.
“When Princeton and Yale come here, it’s always a big Ivy League matchup,” McMeekin said.
In its final ECAC games of last year, the Red hit the road to defeat Princeton 4-0 and tie Yale 1-1 the following night.
The Tigers sport one of the statistically weaker sides in the ECAC —