February 21, 2003

No. 2 Men's Hockey Hosts RPI Tonight; Union Comes to Lynah on Senior Night

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Their journey began over four years ago, when they committed to Cornell and embarked on bringing the program to national prominence. This weekend, the seven seniors on the team will be celebrated after the team’s final regular season home game. It will be a bittersweet ceremony for them, but nostalgia associated with Senior Night is not the team’s first priority.

First, No. 2 Cornell (20-4-1, 15-2-1 ECAC) must defend its three-point lead over Harvard in the ECAC standings and its position in the polls when Rensselaer (9-20-3, 3-12-3) and Union (13-13-4, 9-7-2) visit Lynah Rink tonight and tomorrow, respectively.

The Red, coming off a three-point weekend, tying Brown, 2-2, and beating Harvard, 4-3, is trying to maintain its dominance over the ECAC and take the top seed going into the playoffs. The team clinched a first-round playoff bye last weekend.

“We’ve got a lot at stake right now. First place is still at stake, NCAAs are still at stake. We can’t afford any kind of letdown at all. And it’s just as important to us as anybody else in the league. Everybody is fighting for all types of reasons,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.

The Red faces one of the hottest and one of the coldest teams in the league this weekend in the Dutchmen and Engineers. RPI only picked up one point last weekend, a tie with last-place Princeton; Yale beat the Engineers the next day 5-3. Union, on the other hand, has won six out of its last eight games.

However, those scores might be surprising considering the results from the Red’s earlier games against the two teams. Cornell beat the Dutchmen 6-0 in their first meeting before eking out a close 3-2 win at Houston Field House.

“RPI played a heck of a game when we were up there last time, they played us extremely tight. Union also has a good team, I know we got a couple of goals on them quick,” said senior defenseman Mark McRae.

As the season has dwindled to its last four games, many of the teams are vying for positions in the playoffs. RPI, which is currently in the 11th slot can only move as high as 8th.

The Union trio of freshman goalie Kris Mayotte, and sophomores Jordan Webb and Joel Beal has led the Dutchmen to their fourth-place standing in the ECAC and a chance of claiming one of the coveted first-round byes. For the first time since Union entered the ECAC, the Dutchmen have all but guaranteed a finish higher than their travel partner. As always, the Red is less concerned about the other teams as it is about its own style of play.

” From our standpoint again, we focus on ourselves. We expect Union to play very well, as we expect every team that you’re going to get a great effort out of. These teams will come in very very hungry, but we just need to take care of our own house,” Schafer said.

Tomorrow’s game should be closer than the precursor, when sophomore goalie David LeNeveu came back from the World Junior Championships to get his fourth shutout on the year. LeNeveu is still looking for his sixth shutout to tie the single season record set by Ken Dryden ’69. However, helping the netminder reach that mark comes second to winning games.

“Our concern is to win hockey games, and if we win every game for the rest of the year 2-1, we’ll be very happy,” Schafer said. “It would be a nice honor for David to get, but it’s got to happen naturally, and it doesn’t take precedence over what the other guys are doing on the ice.”

After a weekend on the road, the team is glad to be back at Lynah, where it boasts a perfect 11-0-0 record this season. Teams have been outscored 53-11 in front of the boisterous Cornell fans in those 11 games.

But tomorrow will also be a venue to bid a premature farewell to the Lynah Faithful. With a home playoff series in the cards, the team and the seniors aren’t ready to say goodbye just yet.

“It’s going to be kind of sad, but we’re going to play again in Lynah, we know that, so it’s going to be a nice night,” said McRae.

“They’re looking forward to it,” added Schafer about his senior class. “Traditionally, senior night is the last night of the playoffs when we move on, but I know that this is always a special night for them and the team itself.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel