The point of Saturday night’s exhibition for the Cornell men’s hockey team was never to come out and dominate Ryerson (which they did, for the most part) or establish its dominance over a collegiate team that is not even in the NCAA (which they also did, for the most part). The goal was to put that newly established locker room culture to the test on the ice versus an actual opponent for the first time. And boy, did it look real good for the Red.
To say that the Red passed the test with flying colors would be an understatement to the display of dominance put forth at Lynah Rink in the team’s 5-2 victory over the Rams.
While the quality of the Red’s opponent — Ryerson has not played an NCAA Division I opponent this season — likely played a role in the team’s high-octane offensive output, there was a certain balance and patience that Cornell displayed against the Rams that the team rarely, if ever, displayed last year when the offense centered on the output of Cole Bardreau ’15, Joel Lowry ’15 and John McCarron ’15. The lines set forth, which will face tweaks in the early parts of the season, appeared to favor balance over all else.
“We go back to resetting the culture is that if guys don’t want to shoot the puck, he won’t be there,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Our fans have gotten used to seeing that these are four or five guys that are on the power play and they get those roles and they keep those roles. Twenty years ago, I’ve gone back to my roots and if you don’t shoot the puck, you won’t be on the power play. If you don’t do the simple things, you don’t play.”
All of the Red’s offensive output came in the first period. Cornell struck first when senior forward Christian Hilbrich snuck it past Ryseron goalie Tory Passingham in a blink of an eye after a boarding penalty called on Ryerson put the Red on the power play. Junior forward Jeff Kubiak scored a goal on a 5-on-3 power play at the ten-minute mark followed by sophomore defenseman Ryan Bliss’ goal two minutes later that the sophomore defenseman sniped top shelf past Passingham.
The offensive standout performance of the night came from junior forward Matt Buckles, who followed up Bliss’ goal with one of his own 13 minutes into the first period. But Buckles was not done. The junior forward followed up with another goal a little over two minutes after his first to give the Red a 5-0 lead heading into the locker room at the end of the first period. Buckles, who scored eight goals and tallied three assists for a total of 11 points in 2014-15, flung 10 shots on net on Saturday and personified the shift in offensive philosophy the Red has implemented this season.
“We’ve done a lot in the fall so far, changing up our offensive philosophy,” Buckles said. “Basically, we just try to get all pucks and bodies in the net and we’re confident and we’re getting used to our new offensive systems and it paid off in the first period.”
Kubiak proved himself as the second star of the night for the Red, tallying a total of four points with his own goal and an assist on the scores from Hilbrich and both Buckles’ goals.
“I know guys like [Buckles] here and other guys on our team are shooters, so I kind of like to be a passer,” Kubiak said. If I give them the puck and they’re willing to shoot and it goes in, it kind of helps me out.”
Junior goalie Mitch Gillam had a solid night in net, stopping 18 shots and allowing two goals. Gillam, in midst of a competition with sophomore netminder Hayden Stewart for playing time, put in an effort that certainly did not detract from his chances of taking up the majority of the time for the Red between the pipes.
In the Reds’ second exhibition of the weekend against Laurentian, the team saw standouts performances from its freshman class. Freshman forward Anthony Angello netted four goals while freshman defenseman Alec McCrea and freshman forward Mitch Vanderlaan each lit the lamp twice as well en route to Cornell’s 6-1 exhibition win.
As Schafer told The Sun this past week, the head coach is trying to change the culture of the program after feeling as if some of his players lacked accountability in recent years. Both Buckles and Kubiak have seen this shift in locker room culture affect the team early on this year.
“Guys are holding each other accountable more. It’s not like if someone says something to someone they’re going to take it personally or the wrong way,” Kubiak said. “They’re going to use that to be better the next time, use that in the future to make our team succeed. I think that’s one big positive thing that we can trust each other, and we all feel together and tight. It’s going to be monumental for our team in the future, because obviously you have to have trust in your teammates and commit to each other and have good camaraderie to win anything in hockey.”
Schafer said he feels as if he gave some players in recent years too much room for error. That room for error is gone now.
“I was the biggest culprit of putting guys in those situations and having too long of a leash, and I said that the first guy here had a very short leash,” Schafer said. “If you didn’t do the right things, you sat. We sat two guys in the third period tonight that didn’t do the right things. That’s different for our guys. They’re all in.”