It certainly wasn’t pretty, but a win is worth two points no matter how it comes. No. 4 Cornell squeaked by Quinnipiac, 1-0, last Saturday night to secure a 2-0 start to a stretch of 16-straight ECAC contests after a 7-1 thrashing of Princeton the previous night.
“Those points add up, especially once you start getting toward the end of the season and that [ECAC playoff] bye starts coming into play,” said junior defenseman Brendan Smith, who had two assists Friday against the Tigers. “Getting those two points against Quinnipiac and Princeton was huge, especially because both teams are skilled and can put the puck in the back of the net.”
Now Cornell (13-2, 7-1 ECAC) will hit the road for another pair of contests against Ivy League and ECAC foes, Yale and Brown, who both cling to 4-6 ECAC records and sit eighth and seventh in the conference, respectively. After a home-heavy first half of the year, nine of the Red’s final 14 games will come away from Lynah Rink.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said his team’s lack of a weak link or exploitable line makes it confident heading into road games.
“When we go on the road, we’re going to be ready to compete,” Schafer said. “We’re built to win anywhere.”
Even ranked fourth in both national polls for the first time since 2012, the Red still feels it has plenty to prove.
“I just want us to really win the games that we’re supposed to win, and games against [teams] like Clarkson that are ahead of us I want to shock the country with those,” said Smith, whose plus/minus rating of plus-15 leads the team.
This weekend’s matchups both fall into the supposed-to-win category. Yale and Brown are 36th and 46th, respectively, in PairWise rankings. But both opponents may be heating up at the right time.
Yale (7-8, 4-6), in the midst of a five game homestand, has won four of its last five games and is 3-3 in games against ranked teams. Junior forward Joe Snively leads the team with nine goals.
“I don’t think [Yale is] as physical as they used to be in the past but they’re a really skilled team and they can bury the puck,” Smith said. “It’s ECAC hockey, it’s always going to be a battle.”
The Red went 1-0-1 against the Bulldogs last year and swept the season series with Brown.
Brown (5-8-3, 4-6) enters the weekend coming off a pair of 4-4 ties against New Hampshire and Maine. The Bears haven’t played an ECAC game since Dec. 2.
Schafer emphasized his team’s focus on itself, playing “our kind of hockey” and knowing that every game is a chance to prove something.
“I think that’s the kind of mentality you want and mindset you want that you always have something to prove because the competition is so tough,” Schafer said. “If you respect someone you’ve got something to prove.”
Cornell enters the road trip with lingering uncertainty between the pipes. Senior Hayden Stewart appeared to have won the starting job after a hot start from freshman Matt Galajda. But Galajda, filling in for an injured Stewart Saturday after Stewart won the Friday game, earned his third shutout of the season against Quinnipiac, bringing the goaltender question back into play.
It’s a problem Schafer is happy to have.
“Whether we split or go with the hot hand is something we’re going to have to make a decision on a week-by-week basis for now,” Schafer said. “It’s comforting to know that both those guys can play and both can get the job done.”
The one game at a time mentality continues to prevail in the Cornell locker room.
“I sound like Bill Belichick right now, but we’re just trying to focus one game at a time,” Smith said. “Focus on [our opponent and] do everything we can to prepare for that team and go out and execute.”
Opening faceoffs Friday at Yale and Saturday at Brown are both set for 7 p.m.