The men’s hockey team began its season with three goals: claim home ice for the playoffs, get to Lake Placid, and win its first ECAC Final Five Tournament since 1997.
Two goals down, one to go.
Yesterday morning the Red (23-6-2) got on its bus and traveled to Lake Placid to seek a conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Tomorrow it will play the winner of tonight’s play-in game between Dartmouth (14-12-5) and RPI (18-12-4).
“I really feel the pressure’s off. The biggest thing was to get to Lake Placid,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said. “If we didn’t get to Lake Placid, a lot of people would have viewed the season as a failure.”
Some of the players on the team feel otherwise, believing the season will be a failure without an ECAC title.
“All I want to do is go up there and win Lake Placid. The pressure is on to win [it],” junior assistant captain Doug Murray said,
After distancing itself from the rest of the conference teams, the Red clinched first-place with two weekends left in the season. It finished nine points ahead of second-place Clarkson.
But regular season stats and accolades don’t count in the single-elimination tournament. However, the Red is ready to prove its worth on the Olympic-size ice at 1980 Arena.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking because the bounces could go the wrong way. It’s do-or-die, and we know that,” said junior center Matt McRae
The team’s been there two years in a row, as a fifth-seed in 2002 and a third-seed in 2001. Two years ago, Cornell won the play-in game before losing the semifinals and consolation game. Last year, the team beat Harvard in the semifinals before succumbing to St. Lawrence in the championship match.
“Experience is absolutely huge,” McRae said, as the majority of the team has played five times on the Lake Placid rink.
“[Senior goalie Matt Underhill’s] been there before,” he added.
As he showed last weekend, Schafer will start Underhill in net through the rest of the season over freshman David LeNeveu.
“Matt needs the opportunity,” Schafer said. “Dave will have his opportunity in the future.”
In fact Underhill has put up impressive numbers at 1980 Arena. Starting in both games last year, he let in a total of four goals on 78 shots for a .948 goals against average.
The Red has historically played well on the larger ice surface, something which may be to the advantage of its No. 1 ranked defense. While it doesn’t want to engage in an up-and-down battle, the team also believes that it can compete with the speedier teams in Olympic Arena. Most importantly, though, Cornell must stick to the things that have made it successful all season —