It’s been no ordinary year for the men’s hockey team (21-6-2, 17-3-2 ECAC), which captured the ECAC regular season crown and Ivy League title in what has been its best season in nearly 30 years. It’s been no ordinary year for the ECAC, either. The conference’s third place team is separated from its tenth place team by only three points.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that most of the Cornell players and coaching staff do not expect a typical No. 10 versus No. 1 match up when Yale comes to town today for the start of a best-of-three quarterfinal series.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and his crew are not putting much stock in any sort of ranking scheme.
“We start right out at zero. All 10 teams are going for the common prize — an ECAC championship,” he said.
“Once playoffs start, you throw the records out the window,” affirmed junior Sam Paolini.
If the regular season was any indication, the Red may have its hands full this weekend. The Bulldogs played Cornell as tough as any team did all season, skating to a 1-1 tie in New Haven on Nov. 30. Most recently, the icers eked out a 3-2 win at Lynah Rink courtesy of a goal from Paolini with 15.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
“They gave us some trouble,” Paolini said. “We are a pretty even team with them. They’re frustrating at points. They counterattack very well. They transition very well.”
The teams come in playing fairly different styles. Cornell is noted for its defensive stinginess and stellar netminding, while Yale is regarded as a team that takes more chances and generates more offensive opportunities.
The Red boasts the second-ranked defense in the nation, surrendering just 1.76 goals per game. The stingy defense is anchored by two of the finest goalies in the nation — Schafer has alternated between freshman David LeNeveu and senior Matt Underhill for the entire season and the platoon system has paid dividends. LeNeveu sports the best goals against average in the country (1.50), while the elder Underhill’s 1.79 mark is nation’s third best.
“You ask any coach in the nation and they’d love to have the two [goalies] we have in terms of their ability and their competitiveness,” Schafer said.
Key for the Red will be establishing a physical presence that should enable it to slow down the Elis and settle into the gritty type of defensive
contest it thrives in.
“They’ve got some real good players offensively. They can be creative and
be skilled. Defense, to me, is the critical area. We need to be very solid
defensively and really limit and frustrate the other team coming into our
rink,” Schafer explained.
Cornell is hoping its style of play will be an advantage in the short
“It’s much like the Colgate series,” Paolini reasoned. “You let your play
Friday dictate how it will be for the rest of the weekend. If you come out
hitting hard early, then they know they wouldn’t be able to go in the
Yale netminder Dan Lombard might be overshadowed in the presence of
Cornell’s goalie tandem, but the Bulldogs chances of success rest largely on his shoulders. The senior is having a year reminiscent of his sophomore campaign, sporting a 2.84 goals against average, a significant improvement from last season.
“[He] is the heart and soul of their team. If he didn’t stand on his head
the two games we played against them, it would have been a different story,”
Paolini said of Lombard.
Added Underhill: “He’s solid. He’s a big part of their team. He’s played
well against us for as long as I can remember.”
Cornell will be looking to exploit Lombard’s faulty puck control skills.
“If we get a lot of shots on him, I think they’ll be rebounds we can put
in,” senior Matt Underhill said.
The intensity is palpable on the squad as playoff time approaches.
“We prepared all season for this. It started the day after we lost to St.
Lawrence last year,” Paolini said, said in reference the Red’s defeat in the ECAC championship game.
“It’s playoff time and everyone plays to their max,” junior defenseman
Doug Murray said. “We have to play our hearts out.”
Despite the talk about being on an even keel, the Red knows that it will
be the favorite against any team it plays in the tournament.
“We’ll say were the best team in the league and we’ve proved it. It’s up
to other teams to knock us off. I think teams who play against us relish the
underdog role. They’re going to be tough to play,” Underhill said.
This weekend’s series pits two of the best strategic coaching minds in
the game as Schafer meets heads with Yale’s Tim Taylor, a long time friend.
It should make for exciting hockey.
“Tim and I have a lot of respect for each other,” Schafer said “He’s made
a tremendous amount of impact on not just college hockey, but the game of
hockey in general. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Concluded Underhill: “It is going to be a hard fought battle for two
Archived article by Gary Schueller