February 8, 2002

On Cloud Six

Print More

“I’ve never felt more confident. We have this certain air about us, even in practice,” junior Sam Paolini said.

“We feel like we can beat anybody,” classmate Matt Underhill agreed.

The men’s hockey team exudes a confidence right now. It wafts out of the locker room and onto Lynah Rink. Last Friday night against Harvard it was palpable and the following night against Brown it was implicit.

The team simply believes that it can beat any team in college hockey now. But the Red is concentrating on the task at hand — four more weekends and eight more games in regular season ECAC play. Cornell isn’t resting on its five point lead over next best Harvard, it’s aiming to vanquish its future opposition.

In fact, every Monday morning, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 dissects the team’s previous two games and shows the players their mistakes in his constant effort to better the team.

“We know we can get the job done, we know we’re just as good as anybody. But at the same time, we know we can improve,” Paolini said.

And since its last loss to Dartmouth, Cornell has arrived ready to play every game. It has had opportunities for letdowns, such as its road trip to St. Lawrence and Clarkson after a sweep of Colgate. Or a match up with the upstart Brown team one night after a rout of Harvard. That wasn’t the case, though, and the team is riding a six game winning streak — the longest since the ’89-’90 season.

Perhaps the best example came in the third period comeback against SLU. Down 1-0 with eight minutes left, Cornell waited for its shot to hit the net, and it happened twice — both times from the unlikely hero, junior defenseman Travis Bell.

The winning streak, the No. 8 ranking in the USCHO.com poll and being among the NCAA’s statistical leaders in practically every category except penalty minutes could turn the team’s confidence into complacency, but it hasn’t.

“With an immature team, confidence can turn into arrogance, but our guys know where our bread and butter is,” Schafer said.

“It could turn into complacency, but I don’t think it will,” Underhill said.

The key is to stay focused on the games at hand, while it is sometimes hard not to look down the road to playoffs.

“I think when you start looking down the road, that’s when you get yourself into trouble,” McMeekin said, lending his four years of experience to his statement. “Taking it one game at a time, being ready for every game is going to be crucial for us to maintain our success.”

“This team’s not looking ahead, we’re looking at what we have right in front of us,” Schafer concurred.

The confidence surrounding the hockey team has circled it all season. The last time the team was feeling invincible, though, it took a road trip down to Cambridge and lost 4-3 in overtime to Harvard. A slip of concentration or a moment of satisfaction could lead to a disastrous result.

“You’ve got to be careful. We know we can beat every team in the league, any team in the country but it’s still a matter of coming to do it every game,” Underhill said.

“Every team in the league is shooting for us,” he explained. “We’ve got to keep our guard up. We’re the ones everyone is gunning for. We’re the ones with a target on our back.”

The awareness of the team’s goal — not to win down the road, but just the next game — has the team ready for each match. And with the parity of the ECAC, every team could act as spoiler.

“Our guys really have a lot of focus right now,” Schafer assured. “If you had a lot of spare time on your hands and you sat around and you started thinking about things, you’d be in trouble.

“We talked all week about remaining focused on the job at hand, and that’s winning hockey games.”

McMeekin noted, “We’ve seen teams’ leads in the standings evaporate before. Nothing is secure.”

But the temptation to look ahead at the season even lures the veteran defenseman into speculation. When asked if the team can win the rest of its games, McMeekin answered, “That’s our plan.”

Paolini also admits to peeking into the crystal ball:

“It does get a little overwhelming,” he said about trying to keep his focus on one game at a time. “We’re not trying to look ahead, but it’s in the back of everyone’s minds.

“The only way to get there is by winning these games.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel