Every journey starts with a single step. And the first step in the 2002-03 men’s hockey team’s journey towards an ECAC championship will take place tonight at Lynah Rink.
The Red will open its ECAC regular season schedule at 7 p.m. against Yale and will continue its opening weekend with another night game against Princeton tomorrow at the same time and location.
The doubleheader weekend will be the first of 14 the Red will play this season and should provide an accurate early litmus test for the talented group.
Cornell (1-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC), which faces some of the highest expectations for any hockey team on East Hill in a long while, has thus far responded to the pressure like true champions. The Red has already shown its potential, discarding an overmatched York University team 9-1 two weekends ago at Lynah, and overcoming a better prepared Ohio State team, 3-1 a week ago in Columbus, Ohio.
The Red’s early success has earned it an eighth-place ranking in each of the last four USCHO national polls. Cornell has been ranked as high as third by other publications.
The ECAC schedule is, as in any other year, this team’s most important priority. Though the Red advanced all the way to the national quarterfinals last season, a loss to Harvard in double overtime of the 2001-02 ECAC championships remains the bitter taste that drives this year’s team.
Yale (0-1-0, 0-0-0) has had a rough start to its 2002-03 campaign. The Bulldogs began their regular season last weekend against No. 5 North Dakota and were dropped 7-3. However, the opening game loss on home ice was not the most devastating result to come out of the contest.
Rather, a second period brawl which led to the game disqualifications of four Yale players will surely have consequences on this weekend. The ruckus began when a North Dakota player took exception to a hit by reigning ECAC Rookie of the Year Chris Higgins. After Higgins apparently boarded Matt Jones, who actually slipped before even being hit, players from both benches charged the ice and a five minute melee ensued.
Once the dust had cleared, Higgins, along with teammates Evan Wax, Stacey Baumann, and Nick Deschenes, had all received game disqualifications for fighting, meaning they would be suspended for Yale’s subsequent game.
The Elis’ misfortune will likely be to the great benefit of the Red. In particular, the loss of Higgins — the 14th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft — will be a major advantage for Cornell.
The Red will hold a strong advantage physically over the Bulldogs and will muscle itself into scoring opportunities on power play situations. Such an advantage will be an important point of exploitation as the Red boasts a returning power play unit that was ranked fourth in the nation last season.
Yale will likely start junior Peter Dobrowolski in goal. The former back-up to now-graduated Dan Lombard has limited big game experience and may be caught wide-eyed and distracted in the midst of the Lynah Faithful.
Princeton, unlike Yale, is a team with few expectations heading into the ECAC season. Princeton lost most of its scoring output and star goaltender Dave Stathos to graduation last season and is counting on an untested freshman class for production this year.
Thus far, the Tigers (0-2-0, 0-0-0) have seen a lack of offensive output, coupled with an inability to close a bleeding wound characterize its play. Last weekend, Princeton lost its first two games of the year to No. 5 North Dakota, 5-2 and No. 11 Providence, 8-1. In each game, the Tigers’ opponent was able to cut loose a big offensive period while suppressing the Princeton offense throughout the run.
On the bright side, the play of sophomore forward Mike Patten has been an early surprise for Princeton coach Len Quesnelle’s team. Patten had two goals and an assist last weekend and will be a player to watch in tomorrow night’s contest.
As for the Red, this weekend marks the first time it will play against other teams hampered by Ivy League restrictions. Last weekend, the Red along with the Tigers and Bulldogs, had to fight uphill battles against teams which had four more weeks of preparation than their Ivy opposition.
Seniors Stephen B