By EMILY BERMAN
With a first-round ECAC Championship playoff bye on the line and Lynah rink already sold out for Saturday’s senior night game, the men’s ice hockey team faces its highest stakes yet as it closes out the regular season.
The No. 11 Red (14-7-5, 10-6-4) has a chance to earn the first-round bye with either a win against Dartmouth (7-16-4, 6-12-2) on Friday or Harvard (9-14-4, 5-11-4) on Saturday. The game against the Crimson — historically one of the Red’s biggest rivals — also serves to honor the program’s six departing seniors, who will be called out in a postgame ceremony.
“It’s a special rivalry, whether it’s up there or here — it’s so much fun to play in,” said senior netminder and reigning ECAC Goaltender of the Week Andy Iles. “For it to be senior night adds another
dimension. You’ve got to play it like a playoff game, then when the final buzzer goes you can kind of enjoy some of the rest of the festivities afterward.”
With pressure mounting as the team prepares for playoffs, Iles added that last weekend’s regular season games — in which the Red earned the Ivy league title for the second time in three years after completing a road sweep of No. 8 Quinnipiac and Princeton — as well as this weekend’s games were being treated as post-season level hockey.
“Though this doesn’t have the playoff title with it right now, it’s playoff hockey,” Iles said. “These are four huge points for many different reasons, and we’re prepared to go to battle this weekend, but at the same time you have to approach it like any other weekend — never too high, never too low, put in the work, prepare.”
The Red welcomes the Green to Lynah in the weekend’s first matchup, which will be the first time Cornell has seen Dartmouth since a disappointing effort resulted in a 1-1 tie in mid-January. Dartmouth opened its season 0-8, but has since gone 4-1-1 in its last six games and earned a 3-3 tie with defending national champion Yale last weekend.
“They’ve been getting better and better as the season’s gone on,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They’re a good hockey team. We really underestimated them when we played them up there. We didn’t come ready to compete and do all the things necessary to win, so we got what we deserved — probably better than we deserved — which was a tie.”
Senior forward Dustin Mowrey scored the Red’s only goal in that contest. Mowrey, who leads the Red in points-per-game, has missed the last four games with an injury. Schafer said that although the team would like to have Mowrey back in the lineup for these last regular season games, he does not want to risk worsening the veteran player’s condition at such a critical point in the season.
“We’re hoping we’ll get him back for the weekend,” Schafer said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he continues to progress and go in the right direction. Going into playoffs, you don’t want to force an issue with a player injury-wise and have them come back too soon.”
Although it’s unclear whether Mowrey will take the ice on senior night, both Schafer and Iles emphasized that playing on senior night is ultimately less important to the team than securing a good playoff spot.
“You’re not looking to get your seniors a start; our responsibility is to the team,” Schafer said. “The whole part of being a senior at Cornell is to play your last game on the ice at Lynah in the playoffs as a champion headed to the ECAC final four. That’s the kind of passage you want as a senior, not to play on senior night.”
Iles agreed, adding that hockey is a selfless sport and that he trusts the coaches to make the right lineups for any given night.
“When you’re trying to win championships, senior night isn’t the end all. We’ll be back here, we’ll be back playing games at Lynah and that’s something I’m really looking forward to,” he said. “The way I see it, this is the start of our second season, it’s not the end of the season. I’m excited about what lies ahead, and we’re incredibly excited and passionate and driven because we have a lot of unturned stones out there and a lot of goals that we’re still looking to accomplish.”
The fact that senior night takes place against perennial rival Harvard only adds to the excitement. The Red topped the Crimson, 3-2, in the last meeting between these two squads after Mowrey’s late second period goal broke a 2-2 tie.
“It’s going to be a special weekend for [the seniors], playing against Harvard,” said junior defenseman Joakin Ryan. “It’s been nice having them show us the ropes, and watching how hard guys work, like Andy. [I] hope we can get a win for them Saturday night.”
Iles, who was recently named a finalist for the 2014 Senior CLASS award, recorded 66 saves last weekend and needs only 10 saves this weekend to take sole possession of the program’s career saves record. Iles said he does not focus on numbers, noting that zoning in on statistics causes slumps. He added that this weekend’s games mean a lot both to the senior class and the team as a whole as an opportunity for the team to experience new postseason success.
“I think that’s another thing that makes this weekend so big — it gives us a chance to put ourselves in a position that we feel gives us the best chance of winning championships and that’s why we come to school here,” Iles said. “Unfortunately, up to this point our senior class hasn’t won the championships that we had hoped of. But that’s exciting at the same time, because it gives us something to strive for and really focus on. We want to leave here with a number up in those banners and leave a mark on this program.”