November 2, 2001

A Defense With Its Sights Set On the Scoreboard

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A strong hockey team starts with a strong defense. That was Cornell’s credo last year, and it hasn’t changed going into this season. Even with the loss of the imposing Danny Powell ’01 — who is playing minor league hockey in Columbus — the Red is well stacked along the blueline

“Most of our defensemen are back,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said. “We have depth, but we have good depth.”

Returning practically all of its defense, which was ranked second in the nation in scoring defense last year, while adding two highly touted rookies, there are few question marks among the defensemen.

“You win championships by being good defensively. You don’t do that by being afraid of the other team, but by being aggressive,” Schafer asserted.

And on those words, the defense will continue to limit the opposition’s rebound scoring chances, chasing after loose pucks and using its physicality to its advantage.

On the other hand, Schafer has fashioned a less conservative defense than last year’s, counting on it to push into the offensive zone and contribute in scoring more so this year.

“You have to be very solid in your own end,” Schafer, a former Cornell defenseman, said. “I doubt that we’ll be able to produce the kind of numbers we did a year ago, but I hope we can keep our defense exactly where it is.

“I’ve always been a strong believer that defense should take care of their own end, but at the same time we really encourage the defensemen to jump into play.”

And he has the personnel to do just that.

Junior co-captain Doug Murray and classmate Mark McRae are two proven veterans. The 6-3, 230 Murray is injury free after sitting out eight games last year with knee problems. He will likely be paired against the opposition’s top lines, and is expected to rack up his share of penalties with his bruising style of play.

“I don’t think that there is a better physical defenseman in the country than Doug Murray right now,” Schafer said.

Though smaller in stature at 6-0, 190, McRae has also contributed consistently on defense since his freshman year. Being the other defenseman on the power play next to Murray, he also offers another scoring option.

“I think you saw [Doug and Mark] improve last year and I think you’ll see greater improvement in their abilities this year,” Schafer said.

Senior Brian McMeekin, junior Travis Bell and sophomore Ben Wallace won’t put up offensive numbers like Murray and McRae, but they are “blue collar,” hardworking defensemen who have performed well in the past for the Red.

Both McMeekin — who was drafted by the Blues — and Wallace are imposing on the ice at 6-4, 205 and 6-2, 180 respectively. Bell, who is a smaller 5-9, 190, adds his blazing speed to the corps of defensemen.

“Brian McMeekin and Ben Wallace are quiet defensemen and no one really notices them, and that’s a good thing. They’re not very flashy but they’re a key part of our team defensively,” Schafer observed about the pair.

Freshmen bookends Charlie Cook (6-0, 180) and Jeremy Downs (5-11, 185) bring even more speed and offensive prowess to the defense this year.

“Downs and Cook will have a hard time replacing Danny’s steadiness and his defensive attributes,” Schafer commented, “but at the same time they bring a different attribute in that they’ll help to bring more offense.”

Although the defense has the comfort of playing front of one of the best goalies in the nation in senior Matt Underhill, Schafer doesn’t diminish it’s importance as “a collective group that’s very critical to our game.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel