For an intensive, play-by-play recap of the loss to Dartmouth, click here.
“Questions?” was the first word uttered in the postgame room by head coach Mike Schafer ’86 upon his entrance — not the standard procedure.
“Can you just start us off with general thoughts?” Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Brandon Thomas asked the head coach, which is usually standard format following a game.
“I don’t have any general thoughts, but thanks. Questions?” the head coach asked again.
The tense opening to the press conference following the shocking 4-2 loss against Dartmouth was fitting given how the game unfolded before Schafer’s eyes. For the second straight night, Schafer’s watched his team head into the second intermission with the lead, playing like the better team and poised to defeat an Ivy rival. But unfortunately for Schafer, his squad, yet again, gave up the lead in the third period and allowed the visiting team to squeak by with a victory.
“[We are] disappointed that we couldn’t play to the tradition of Cornell hockey and win in front of them,” Schafer said in reference to attending members of the 1967 NCAA championship team — who were honored at first intermission. “Disappointing to have that kind of environment on the weekend, but not get the wins.”
On Friday night, after losing 4-1 to No. 9 Harvard, Schafer was asked if the loss would “change anything.” The head coach said he did not want to overreact to one loss that boiled down to a weak third period, where the team allowed Harvard to score four unanswered goals.
But Schafer did make a surprising lineup switch for Saturday’s Dartmouth game: highly critical of the recent lack of production from his top line trio of sophomore wingers Mitch Vanderlaan and Anthony Angello and senior center Jeff Kubiak, Schafer elected to make a lineup switch, breaking up the JAM line and swapped the team’s leading scorer of Vanderlaan with freshman Noah Bauld.
In the opening minutes, it worked. Cornell sprinted out of the gate and dominated the first few shifts. Just like the Harvard game, the Red came out swinging, not afraid to flex its muscles by throwing the body.
Just 3:26 into the game, it paid off on the scoresheet. Sophomore forward Beau Starrett found defensive classmate Matt Nuttle alone in the slot, who wristed the puck home to put Cornell up. Nuttle appeared in only two games last season, but has quickly established himself as a dependable blueliner with a spot in the lineup every game this season. His goal that put Cornell up early against Dartmouth was the first of his career.
“He’s been working hard. Kind of a little snake-bitten, but to get that first goal I’m sure was a weight off his back,” said senior captain and forward Jake Weidner. “Hopefully there’s many more to come.”
Cornell was not done scoring in the first after Nuttle’s tally. After a lackluster night on the power play on Friday, the Red made the most of its very first man-advantage on Saturday. Sophomore defenseman Alec McCrea unloaded a shot from the point, which found the stick of senior Matt Buckles for a skillfully-deflected goal.
But midway through the second period, the game took a decidedly chippy turn. Several Cornell players nearly dropped the gloves, and several Cornell and Dartmouth players took penalties after attempting to fight just behind senior goalie Mitch Gillam’s cage. Senior forwards Eric Freschi and Weidner got into the mix and were sent off, along with Dartmouth’s Will Graber and Josh Hartley.
“It happened pretty quickly,” Weidner said trying to explain the hectic sequence towards the end of the second. “[Gillam] covered it up and they got a couple extra whacks on them. I gave the guys a shove and then all hell broke loose.”
While killing off the remaining seconds of an earlier-committed tripping minor via junior forward Dwyer Tschantz, Dartmouth defenseman Cameron Roth cut the lead in half with just 35 seconds left before second intermission.
Dartmouth forward Alex Jasiek then scored a pair of goals within about a minute of each other in the third, one of which went in off the chest of Weidner. Jasiek gave his team the 3-2 lead, and Troy Crema’s empty netter with 1:31 to go sealed the deal for the Green.
At the start of the third period in the Harvard game, Cornell had taken a back seat, allowing four goals and 14 shots within the 20 minute frame. Despite a similar result, the Red played notably better in the third against the Green compared to the night before, outshooting the Green 14-9 in the final period and racking up plenty of solid scoring opportunities.
“We said we wanted to be less passive in the third period and I thought we did that,” Weidner said. “We had some chances to put them away but we obviously didn’t capitalize. Penalties cost us and the discipline wasn’t there tonight.”
To Cornell’s defense, puck luck played a major role in being outscored 7-0 across two third periods on the weekend. A couple of Harvard’s goals in the 4-1 loss came in an instance where seemingly supernatural occurrences got pucks past Gillam, and several of Dartmouth’s goals went in off Cornell players.
“We’ve had enough bad bounces the last two nights to last a year,” Schafer said. “Hopefully those things turn and go the other way for us.”
Penalties, too, were a sore spot in Saturday’s loss. Schafer expressed notable displeasure with the officiating — both on the bench and in the postgame room — saying several of the calls against the Red in the third “weren’t appropriate.” Cornell’s top-ranked penalty kill unit only mustered to kill three of the penalties on the night — 50 percent.
Without making a statement win in a weekend that presented the Red an opportunity to better establish itself in the league, the next weekend at No. 5 Union — along with last-place RPI — will be telling for the Cornell program.
“We have to get better at putting a full 60 together and just taking those weak parts out of our game,” Weidner said. “We have to be able to put teams away.”
“There are certain things in the sport you can’t control. You can’t control the officials … [and] when pucks hit your guys and go in,” Schafer added. “What we can control is how we can respond to this tough weekend going on the road to Union and RPI and how we can bounce back from this.”
Hopefully for the Red, the response next weekend will be less awkward than the responses tossed around during the opening moments of the postgame press conference Saturday.