“Cornell men’s hockey coach Mike Schafer.”
To anyone covering Cornell men’s hockey, ECAC Hockey or Ivy League athletics, the phrase just rolls off the tongue. Mike Schafer ’86 has coached the men’s hockey squad since the 1995-96 season; in other words, Schafer started coaching this team before all current Cornell undergraduates were born. Schafer is already the winningest coach in team history, with 437 career victories, and ranks 44th in all-time wins for college hockey coaches nationally. In 23 seasons, he has sewn his fabric into the diverse quilt of Lynah Rink, winning trophies and helping players become better versions of themselves, on and off the ice. Simply put, he is the best men’s hockey coach in Cornell history.
Before coaching the Red, Schafer went to Cornell and played as a defenseman for four seasons from 1982-86. During this period, he was known for his excellent defense and physical play, foreshadowing his coaching strengths. He captained the Red for two seasons and scored 10 goals and recorded 60 assists in 107 career games. He also served as president of the Red Key Athletic Honor Society. Schafer checked all the boxes for what a Cornell hockey player should be: a productive hockey player, a conscientious student in the classroom and a charismatic leader.
Instead of pursuing a professional hockey career after Cornell, Schafer retired after graduation and headed directly into the coaching field. He then spent a few years as an assistant coach at Cornell and then as an assistant and an associate coach at Western Michigan. By all accounts, he did an excellent job as an assistant for both schools and then returned to his alma mater in 1995.
Schafer could feasibly coach the Red for several more seasons, but the University should begin to consider how they should honor a man that has given so much for the school. Likely, Cornell will enshrine him in the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame and perhaps honor him in the atrium area of Lynah Rink outside Section A.
However, this is not enough recognition for Schafer. Cornell should retire his number 3 and hang it in the rafters alongside Ken Dryden’s 1 and Joe Nieuwendyk’s 25. This would be provocative, as some would claim that Schafer did not reach the playing heights of those two Cornell legends — Stanley Cup winners and NHL Hall of Famers.
However, others would cite Schafer’s status as a complete role model for Cornell hockey players and claim that his number should justifiably hang in the rafters next to the two Hall of Famers. While Nieuwendyk and Dryden’s jerseys serve as a reminder of how Cornell hockey players have the potential to reach the pinnacle of their sport, Schafer’s jersey would symbolize the intangible requirements of the Cornell hockey program: drive, work ethic and commitment, on and off the ice. For the last 35 years, no one has exemplified these characteristics, given more to the program or done more to create a successful hockey team in Ithaca than Mike Schafer.
Whomever succeeds Mike Schafer will have giant shoes to fill. Schafer is the quintessential Cornell hockey coach: he played for the Red, learned the physical, defensive style of hockey and now teaches it. He excelled academically, understood the importance academic success in the Ivy League and preaches it. There is no one more deserving of a jersey retirement in the hallowed rafters of Lynah Rink than Mike Schafer.