Last season, the men’s hockey team entered its NCAA quarterfinal matchup with New Hampshire as an underdog. The Wildcats were ranked first in the nation, while Cornell didn’t even have the benefit of a bye the day before, instead coming off a win over Quinnipiac.
This time around, the shoe is on the other foot. It’s the Red (30-4-1, 19-2-1 ECAC) which is sitting atop the polls, while New Hampshire (27-7-6, 15-5-4 Hockey East) is viewed by many as the challenger. The two schools will meet each other once again on April 10 in the semifinals of the Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y.
Rankings aside, the major difference between last year’s 4-3 Wildcats win and the rematch is the newfound confidence that the Cornell players have in themselves.
“Once you start to win, the good sign for your team is that you go into every game expecting to win and nothing else,” said Red head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
If Schafer’s words are true, then expectations are soaring for Cornell, which has won 11 games in a row and has gone 14-0-1 in its last 15 games, the longest unbeaten streak out of the Frozen Four teams.
Fourteenth-year New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile, who is making his fourth visit to the Frozen Four, knows that the Red will pose a bigger challenge in Buffalo than it did last year in Worcester.
“Obviously they were a good team last season, and they’ve got a lot of key players back from last year’s team, and Mike mentioned that they’re playing with confidence now, knowing that they expect to win,” he said. “They’re obviously the No. 1 team in the country, and they’ve earned that right because of how well they’ve played this season.”
The teams will match up very evenly, as both teams are anchored by strong defenses. Cornell is allowing an NCAA-best 1.31 goals per game, while the Wildcats are third best, surrendering just 2.23 per game. Behind those defenses are outstanding goalies. Red sophomore David LeNeveu and New Hampshire’s Mike Ayers are both in the top three in the country in GAA, save percentage, and shutouts.
“We pride ourselves on defense and great goaltending, so those kind of aspects, with the great defense and goaltending, we pretty much mirror University of New Hampshire,” said Schafer.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities between Cornell and UNH, so it’s going to be an interesting matchup,” agreed Umile.
The difference between the Red and the Wildcats’ defensive styles is that Cornell utilizes its size to wear down opponents, while New Hampshire plays a fast, close-checking game similar to how Boston College played in its 2-1 double-overtime loss to Cornell in the East Regional final.
An important factor in the Frozen Four will be the virtual home-ice advantage that the Red will enjoy in Buffalo. Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, whose team won the championship at last year’s Frozen Four, held in Minnesota, believes that a supportive crowd can be a strong influence.
“We were fortunate last year; we had a terrific home ice advantage because it was right here in the Twin Cities, and boy, the atmosphere was just incredible,” said Lucia, who picked Cornell as his favorite to win the Frozen Four. “There’s a good possibility that Cornell will have that same advantage this weekend with being in upstate New York and Buffalo and only two or three hours from campus. So, if anyone should maybe have that advantage like we had last year, it would be Cornell.”
One wild card in the contest will be whether or not the Wildcats’ leading scorer, senior Lanny Gare, will be able to play. Gare, who is averaging 1.27 points per game, suffered a separated shoulder in the Northeast Regional final against Boston University. Umile was uncertain as to whether Gare would be dressing next Thursday.
“It doesn’t look great, but there is a possibility it might settle down at the end of the week, so we’re hoping, and we’ll know more at the end of the week,” Umile said of Gare’s chances of playing.
Archived article by Alex Fineman