The folks at the American Heritage Dictionary define the word stingy as “giving or spending reluctantly.” In the next edition, they might want to think about putting a picture of the men’s hockey team’s defensemen next to the entry.
The Cornell defensive unit certainly was reluctant to give opposing offenses goals last season, surrendering just 63 in 35 games, or 1.80 goals per game. The Red was second in the nation only to Michigan State in that category.
Brian McMeekin ’02 was the epitome of defense for Cornell last year, and was accordingly honored by the ECAC as the conference’s best defensive defenseman.
Although his offensive contribution was minimal, his presence on the blue line was immeasurable. A ninth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1999, he earned the Cornell Hockey Association award last season, given to the player whose contribution to the team is not apparent in the box scores.
“We lost Brian McMeekin, which is a big loss, and Brian was a great defensive defenseman, [He had] very good size and skating skills. He played the position very well.” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
Fortunately for Schafer, the rest of his defensive unit is back this year, and it brings the experience of a successful season with it.
Leading the way is 6-3, 240-pound senior captain Doug Murray, a vicious hitter who also boasts a laser-like slap shot. Murray ranked fifth in the nation among defensemen in points per game (32 points in 35 games) and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. Those 32 points were also the highest total of any ECAC defenseman.
Senior Mark McRae, who was taken by the Atlanta Thrashers in the ninth round of the 2000 draft, posted stellar offensive numbers as well last season, notching eight goals and 22 assists. His 30 points in 35 games ranked 10th in the nation in points per game for defensemen. McRae was also a second team All-ECAC selection as well as an academic All-American.
Rounding out the returnees from last year’s defensive unit are senior Travis Bell and sophomores Charlie Cook and Jeremy Downs.
Bell, who’s listed at 5-9, 195 pounds, isn’t the most feared weapon on the ice, but he secured a spot in the starting lineup early last season and justified Schafer’s decision to keep him there with his steady defensive play. However, Bell also scored his first three collegiate goals last season, all of them clutch markers.
Cook and Downs both played in every game last season as freshmen and also showed they belonged on the country’s second-best defensive team.
“Jeremy Downs and Charlie Cook obviously have more experience than they had last year coming into the season, and they were basically in our top four defensemen last year,” said Schafer.
Junior Ben Wallace played in only five games last season, but he is a leading candidate to step up and fill the hole in the starting six left by McMeekin.
“We have Ben Wallace, who was out of the lineup last year, who’s a real good defensive defenseman as well,” said Murray. “We have a freshman coming in, Jon Gleed, who’s looking really good out there too.”
The 6-2, 200-pound Gleed played his junior hockey for the Brampton Capitals, the same team the McRaes played for, and Mark praised the freshman after doing a background check.
“Everyone I talked to said that he is a very solid defenseman, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him play this year,” said McRae.
Although six returning defensemen have game experience, only Murray and McRae are firmly set in the starting six this season. Cook and Downs will likely see the same playing time they did last season, but they will be pushed by Bell, Wallace, and Gleed, who will also be competing for the last two spots.
“Ben Wallace has played very well, Jon Gleed’s played very well, and Travis Bell’s played very well, so there’s a lot of competition amongst them,” said Schafer.
Archived article by Alex Fineman