Survive and advance; that’s how the motto goes. It doesn’t matter how you win at this point in the season — a gritty fight to the buzzer, or a demoralizing blowout. Anything will do.
That’s just what the men’s hockey team was able to accomplish this past weekend, sweeping Union in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. The Dutchmen gave Cornell (15-9-7, 8-8-6 ECAC) trouble all season, but the Red won when it mattered in a 1-0 win on Friday, followed by a 2-1 OT thriller won by junior forward Matt Buckles, who was kept out of the lineup in Friday’s game.
“It was just nice that I was able to score that goal contribute to help the team win,” Buckles said “When I wasn’t in the lineup I tried to be the best team guy I could be, help out the team and be positive.”
Even with the win on Friday, the addition of Buckles was driven by the need to get the team going, according to associate head coach Ben Syer.
“Buckles is really well liked by his teammates and we knew we would get a great effort out of him,” Syer said. “We knew we needed a little bit of a lift, a little bit of energy.”
While Syer said the Red is happy with how this past weekend panned out, he knows there is still work to be done.
“It’s kind of a sense of a job well done, maybe partly a bit of relief,” Syer said. “We’re ecstatic to still be playing and moving into the next round.”
Now, No. 1 Quinnipiac (25-2-7, 16-1-5) — top-ranked in both the national poll and the ECAC tournament — stands in the way of Cornell reaching the ECAC semifinals, and it’s a true battle of David vs. Goliath.
“Quinnipiac is a really good team,” said freshman forward Mitch Vanderlaan. “They battle hard, they compete and that’s something we have to match. Winning battles at the net and putting home rebounds against them is important.”
Cornell has met the Bobcats already twice this season, and each of those games produced exciting, exhilarating finishes. In the first meeting, the Red lead 4-1 a little more than halfway through the third period, but a resilient Quinnipiac finished off Cornell in overtime 5-4. Later in the season, a last minute Cornell goal resulted in an impressive tie for the Red.
“We know they’re good, we know they’re ranked one in the country, we know they’re number one in our league,” Syer said. “We see this as a great opportunity to go down and compete with the best. We’ve played them well and anticipate this will be a good, hard-fought series. Our guys are excited about it.”
One degree of separation for each team has been rest, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Right now, the Red is in its groove and could catch the Bobcats off guard with a quick start, but at the same time Quinnipiac’s strong legs — the team is coming off of a bye — could prove to be a challenge in the long-term.
“We’ve been in it the last week, they’ve been off,” Buckles said. “We’re going to try and use that to our advantage. With that time off they may start a little slower, so we definitely want to try and jump on them like we did [against Union]. We want to capitalize early especially with the rink and their fans to quiet them down a bit.”
In accordance with the tradition around the hockey world, the men have been growing their superstitious playoff beards. The challenge has become a friendly competition off the ice for the boys.
“The team decided about three to four weeks ago to start growing playoff beards. Vanderlaan’s is right up there; he looks a bit like a lumberjack,” Syer joked. “The boys are having some fun with it for sure.”