For the Red this weekend, hockey is a numbers game. The difference between number four and five has never meant more than it will tonight and tomorrow night when the Red (12-10-3, 10-7-1 ECAC Hockey) go on the road for the last time this regular season to compete against Quinnipiac (17-9-4, 9-5-4 ECAC Hockey) and Princeton (15-10-0, 12-6-0 ECAC Hockey). The fourth place ECAC finish means a first-round playoff bye. Fifth means one more weekend of hockey.
“We’ve done a good job on the road of being aware of who the other team’s best players are and trying to take them out of the game,” said head coach Mike Shafer ’86. “Its always been a strength with us. Every team has the same guys, so…we’ll make sure our guys are well aware of when they are on the ice and if they don’t produce offense and we can shut them down that will obviously increase the odds of us winning.”
For senior co-captain Topher Scott, this weekend could also have a big impact on his individual numbers. Just two points shy of a 100 point career at Cornell, Scott could potentially reach that milestone this weekend. Characterized as a big offensive producer since his freshmen campaign, his coaches and teammates are not at all surrespect the opponents.”
Against both teams, the Red managed to lock down some of the Ivy League’s top guards. The Red held senior Eric Flato to 0-for-four shooting and Brown’s senior Damon Huffman to two-for-12. Despite its previous success, Donahue knows the challenge of stopping the two will important to the team’s success.
“Huffman and McAndrew are so much of Brown’s offense,” Donahue said. “They always have the ball in their hands and always attacking. As a team, you have to do a good job against those two guys if you are going to do well against them as a team … Eric [Flato] is one of the better guards in the conference. We are obviously going to give him attention and try to limit his touches.”
Over the past couple of games, the Red came out to slow starts, something that the team would like to avoid.
“We have had stretches this year where we have gotten off to bad starts and we have had stretches where we have gotten off to great starts,” Donahue said. “If we talk about it and we realize that these teams are coming in here ready to play. You can’t do too much more than that and to make sure your ready to go. Starts are extremely important, especially in a game of this importance.”
“I think it’s been a little bit of a lack of focus,” Foote said. “We learned that every game when you are No. 1 is going to be hard. We really feel that way this weekend, with the Ivy League at hand, we have to win these games.”[img_assist|nid=28091|title=Turning the corner|desc=The Red needs to maintain or improve its No. 4 ranking in order to get a first-round bye in the playoffs.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Despite a two-game advantage in the Ivy standings, coach Donahue would still like his team to play better defense. On the season, the Red has held its opponents to an average of 42.7 percent shooting and only two of its last 10 opponents have topped 70 points.
“I think our defense can continue to get better,” Donahue said. “Our communication can be a lot better and our lack of lack of ball pressure at times. We go through stretches where we don’t pressure the ball enough, so teams are able to execute. We struggle with teams that tend to hold the ball until late in the shot clock. Lastly, our transition defense has been just so-so. That can get better as well.”
The Red’s defensive lapses almost cost the team a victory last week. Last Friday, the Red was down by five points with 25 seconds on the clock. Several Harvard miscues and three buckets by sophomore Alex Tyler’s allowed the Red to escape with a 72-71 win.
“In the Harvard game, we didn’t do a good job of communicating,” Donahue said. “I thought we let them get easy shots in transition. With Yale so good in transition, that is really a concern. As is Brown when it comes to attacking when you are not set in position.”
“We want to be real tough defensively,” Foote said. “We want to win all the loose balls and win all the 50-50 opportunities and then use that to build momentum.”
With quality Ivy League competition coming to Newman this weekend, the crowd could play a factor in this weekend’s outcome. Last time the Red was home, students and fans sold out Newman Arena, forcing Penn’s coaching staff to use flash card instead of calling out plays.
“We got some signs ready to go,” Donahue said. “We did it for the Duke game, we kind of carried it over from that game. Sometimes, they can’t hear me and that’s a good thing. If they can’t hear me all the time and they just go out there and play, I trust that my guys will make good decisions. But the noise is something that we talk about and we hope that is something that will be an issue this weekend.”
Foote, who has been known to high five fans after home games.
“I love playing at home,” Foote said. “There is really no better feeling, the crowd gives you that energy and gets you really excited to play.”