As the men’s hockey team wraps up its regular season schedule this weekend, it has a chance to capture the ECAC Hockey regular season title. While the No. 11 Red might need some help from other teams to win the title, the possibility does exist. Tonight, Cornell will be in New Haven, Conn., to take on Yale, and tomorrow the Red will travel to Providence, R.I. to face off against Brown. Two Cornell victories combined with a Yale loss on Sunday and Princeton losing one of its two weekend games would result in the Red taking the ECAC title, a fact that is not lost on head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and his players.
“The biggest thing is that we have to give ourselves an opportunity to try and win the league championship,” Schafer said. “We put ourselves in this situation by losing to [Yale] here and having ourselves a couple of losses. But, we have to give ourselves an opportunity to go down and have a four-point weekend.”
Cornell has already guaranteed that it will have a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, as the squad can finish no worse than third in the conference standings. Tonight’s game against the No. 12 Bulldogs (19-6-2, 14-4-2 ECAC), who beat the Red, 4-3, earlier this season, also has important ramifications for Cornell’s chances of securing a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Red is currently tied for eighth in the National PairWise Rankings, which are designed to simulate the formula used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. A victory over Yale, a team that currently sits atop the ECAC standings, would most certainly strengthen the Red’s case for inclusion in the NCAAs.
“It’s huge for us, for the PairWise rankings, and for the national tournament,” said junior goaltender Ben Scrivens. “This is just one step. We obviously want a little redemption for the game earlier this year, but we know that they are a great team.”
The Red coaches and players recognize that going into New Haven and pulling out a victory over Yale will be no easy task. Yale has been a powerful force in the conference all year long, as the Red learned firsthand when the Bulldogs visited Lynah Rink. However, Schafer explained that in the Cornell’s loss to Yale on Jan. 23, the Red simply did not play with enough passion and did not compete or perform at its typical level.
“Our guys know that we didn’t play very well here last time against Yale,” Schafer said. “Honestly, that game and maybe the St. Lawrence game are the two games where [our opponents] played well and we didn’t come ready to play at that tempo and with that intensity. That’s what got us into that little bit of a funk in the first place. Our guys know that we can bring much more to the table.”
Yale’s offense is led by sophomore sniper Broc Little, who has 13 goals and 15 assists on the year. Little is joined by a pair of junior forwards, Mark Arcobello and Sean Backman, who each have 14 goals this season. Senior defenseman Jared Seminoff recognized that the Red will need to focus on shutting down Yale’s stars in order to be successful tonight.
“I think we just have to play a little more defensively,” Seminoff said. “We played well the last time that we played them, it just literally came down to the fact that they put the puck in the net more times than we did. So, we just have to clamp down, give them fewer scoring opportunities and bury more of our own, and we should be set.”
In tomorrow’s game against the Bears (3-20-4, 3-14-3), the Red will be facing a team that is currently last in the league. Brown has struggled all year, and Cornell pounded them by a score of 5-1 in the teams’ first meeting of the year on Jan. 24. While most of the attention may be on tonight’s game against Yale, the Red knows that it must take care of business tomorrow against Brown in order to have any chance at capturing the ECAC title.
“Going into the Brown game, the kids know of Brown’s record,” Schafer said. “But, they also know that Brown played hard here and that they beat Quinnipiac on the road last weekend. The guys know that there are no easy games. ... There is so much parity between the top and bottom teams in college hockey. Our guys are well-aware that if you don’t come ready to play, then Brown, just like anybody else, will be extremely difficult to beat.”
The Red is coming into this weekend after collecting four points last weekend in a sweep of RPI and Union, a two-game set in which the typically low-scoring Red potted a total of nine goals. Cornell will be looking to maintain that offensive firepower for its games against Yale and Brown in order to head into the playoffs with momentum. Scrivens attributed his team’s sudden offensive explosion to increased aggression and determination on the attacking end.
“Guys were driving the net,” Scrivens explained. “They were really intense in terms of getting pucks on net and following the pucks there, whether it was two on ones or odd-man rushed with the partner going hard to the net without the puck and drawing defensemen in and creating scrums in front of the net. Also, it was guys not being afraid to shoot the puck. We have a lot of guys who can really rip it out there.”