After a tough road trip on which the men’s hockey team dropped two games to end the regular season, the Red returned to Ithaca disappointed, tired and with several injury problems.
However, a loss by Quinnipiac (18-13-5, 10-8-4 ECAC) on the final night of the regular season eased some of the pain and granted the Red an all-important first-round bye. The week off would be crucial to healing a team that was suffering from a string of injuries to its defensive unit. This weekend, a rested Red squad (14-11-4, 10-8-4) will host Quinnipiac in the ECAC quarterfinals with a trip to the semifinals in Albany on the line.
[img_assist|nid=21970|title=Pardon me|desc=Senior Mark McCutcheon fights for the puck in the Red’s 5-1 home victory over Clarkson on Feb. 2. McCutcheon looks forward to having the Red at full strength for this weekend’s tussle with Quinnipiac.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=79]
At Harvard, in the last game of the regular season, the Red was forced to play with just five defensemen, and the lack of depth showed as head coach Mike Schafer ’86 admitted that his team looked fatigued. However, a week of rest can work wonders for a team worn down by the grind of the ECAC season.
“It’s a big benefit for us, because we did have some injuries that have kept guys out of the lineup, or some have been playing through them,” said senior forward Mark McCutcheon. “Anytime you have that extra week off, you can really focus on just getting back to full strength.”
Freshman defenseman Brendan Nash agrees with McCutcheon’s point.
“After the last couple of games we had some bad injuries, and having the break is a great opportunity for us to get back to full strength,” Nash said.
Sophomore defenseman Taylor Davenport and senior Kevin McLeod are both expected to play this weekend, while sophomore Jared Seminoff remains sidelined. Either way, the extra depth along the blue-line will definitely be needed against a Quinnipiac squad that is renowned for its offense and tied for first in conference goals with 3.36 per game.
The Red practiced last week, but practices were lighter and lacked the normal intensity. However, a game simulation last Friday set the tone for this week’s practice.
“We had a good practice Friday that was a little bit longer than normal,” McCutcheon said, “We tried to simulate a game, but we didn’t want to go too hard or anything like that, but this week its back to normal.”
This week, the Red has been practicing every day, as usual, with all minds focused on Quinnipiac and the upcoming weekend.
“We slowed it down a bit last week to give everyone a rest, but this week we’re right back with it,” Nash said.
The Red will have to work on its special teams, an area in which it has struggled all year. Unfortunately for Cornell, the power play and penalty kill are a big strength for Quinnipiac. The Red has been working hard in practice to improve, and this weekend could be a barometer of how far it has come.
While hockey players are known to be a superstitious bunch, especially come playoff time, this version of the Red has limited itself to the standard playoff beard. For some members of the Red, growing the beard that has become a staple of playoff-hockey locker rooms can be a bit more of a challenge than for others.
“Some of us grow playoff beards and some are a little better than others,” McCutcheon said, “But we just try to stay relaxed, its playoff hockey and that’s what we are focused on. It’s what we all love to do, and it’s just a fun time of the year.”