With just four games remaining in its regular season, the men’s hockey team will take the ice at Lynah Rink this weekend for a set of games that could be critical in determining playoff positioning. In what will be the Red’s final home weekend of the regular season, No. 20 Quinnipiac will do battle with No. 18 Cornell tonight, while Princeton will be in town tomorrow night.
Quinnipiac (14-10-5, 9-5-4 ECACHL) currently sits in third place, just two points ahead of Cornell. The top-4 teams at the end of the regular season will earn a first-round playoff bye and play the quarterfinal round with home-ice advantage. The Red (12-9-4, 8-6-4) sits just one point ahead of fifth-place Dartmouth entering the weekend, but right now, all minds are focused on the Bobcats.
[img_assist|nid=21448|title=Unimpeded|desc=Senior Mark McCutcheon (10) attempts to elude a Rensselaer defender during Cornell’s 6-1 win last Saturday.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=79]
“We haven’t seen them in a while, but we know they have good special teams and a great power play,” said assistant coach Scott Garrow. “They will zip the puck around and make you pay. They are a quick team that likes to get up and down the ice.”
Back on Nov. 18, Quinnipiac cruised past the Red en route to a 5-2 victory in Northford, Conn. The Bobcats scored two power-play goals in the win, and freshman sensation Brandon Wong led the way with a goal and an assist. Wong currently leads Quinnipiac in goals (23) and points (37), establishing himself as a big-time offensive threat. The Bobcats have been successful on over 20 percent of their power plays, a decisive advantage over the Red, who score on 13.4 percent.
Sophomore Bud Fisher has been solid in net for Quinnipiac, putting up a 2.70 goals against average to go along with a .898 save percentage. Backing him up on defense is All-American senior Reid Cashman, who has amassed 26 assists on the season, cementing his place as one of the league’s premier defensemen.
“Since he has stepped into the [ECACHL], he has been great since day one,” Garrow said. “It’s funny to say about a defenseman that you need to know where he is on the ice at all times. You have to play him tight and you’ve got to hit him.”
The Red knows that stopping Quinnipiac will be a tough challenge, but it is more than up to the task.
“Our goal is a league championship, and we think we have a realistic shot at that right now,” said senior captain Byron Bitz. “If we win out, we’ll have the bye. It really doesn’t matter where we finish, so long as we get that bye and a week’s rest.”
Senior weekend arrives at a critical point in the season for the Red. While over the last few years Cornell has seen some dominant teams, this year’s squad is having slightly more trouble. However, the team knows that, whileit may not be having as much success, it is still very much in contention, and the seniors have been guiding it through the season’s ups and down.
“This has been a character-building year, a time when the seniors have been keeping everything positive, and they have shown great leadership,” said junior assistant captain Topher Scott. “It really is a great group of guys.”
After playing at Colgate tonight, Princeton (10-12-3, 7-9-2) will continue its central New York road trip and pay a visit to Lynah Rink tomorrow night. The Tigers have been slumping lately, going just 1-3-1 in its last five games.
Princeton will have to turn it around fast or risk traveling in the first round of the playoffs, as it currently stands just two points ahead of ninth-place Rensselaer. Led by sophomore Lee Jubinville and senior Darroll Powe, the Tigers will try to avenge a 3-2 loss to Cornell back on Nov. 17.
Like Cornell, Princeton also has a two-man rotation in goal, with freshman Zane Kalemba garnering most of the playing time. Senior B.J. Sklapsky, though, was in goal for the shutout victory over Dartmouth last weekend.
Cornell knows it can’t take the Tigers lightly. At this point in the season, every game in the schedule and every point in the standings is critical.
“They also like to get up the ice and play offence,” Garrow said. “You have to be disciplined against them and take care of the puck in your own end. To have success, you have to make them defend.”
Topher Scott currently leads the Red in scoring with 21 points, and freshman Tony Romano is right behind at 19. In net, the Cornell coaching staff has been splitting time between freshman Ben Scrivens and sophomore Taylor Davenport, with Scrivens seeing more playing time lately.