It was a long season for the men’s hockey team; it began on Oct. 19 with the annual Red-White scrimmage and ended almost six months later at the Frozen Four in Buffalo. It consisted of 30 wins, five losses and one tie, and a remarkable 15-0 record at Lynah Rink. There was the nation-leading 1.36 goals against average, and sophomore goalie David LeNeveu’s record-setting 1.20 GAA. Cornell had five All-Ivy, five All-ECAC and three All-America selections. All making 2002-03 one of the best seasons recorded at Cornell.
“A lot of things go into a real good season,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “You need to stay healthy, which I thought we did for the most part of the season. You need to be consistent to have that kind of year, and the guys needed to be focused and committed, which I think they were. You need to be a little bit lucky, which at different times we were and weren’t.”
It’s been three weeks and one day since the men’s hockey season incurred that fifth loss at the hands of New Hampshire in the national semifinals. But Schafer just relived the game yesterday. After controlling the tempo in the opening 12 minutes, the Red finally broke the scoreless tie on senior Shane Palahicky’s redirected tip, or so it seemed. The goal was eventually disallowed on a high-sticking call. The Wildcats then scored three consecutive goals, and the Red never fully recovered.
“I just watched the goal against New Hampshire today for the first time and there’s no doubt in mind, that’s clearly a goal. But at the same time we caught a break maybe at the Harvard game when the puck went rolling down the ice and veered off at the right,” Schafer said.
The team went into the season with the motto 4B — four banners: one for the Ivy League championship, the ECAC championship, an NCAA tournament appearance and a national championship. The fact that the team didn’t get that final fabric to hang on Lynah’s rafters doesn’t diminish the value of the previous three.
Those goals were put in place by the senior class, one of the most talented to graduate from Cornell. The four forwards and three defensemen all stayed on the hill over the summer in an attempt to realize a national championship. They were also instrumental in earning the respect of a No. 1 team.
“I thought that we were one of the best teams in the country. It’s been said many times that the best team in the country doesn’t win at that level at that particular time,” Schafer said.
While the team will miss Stephen BÃ¢by’s physical presence on the boards, Sam Paolini’s tips in the crease, Doug Murray’s slapshots from the point among many, Schafer has challenged the members of the 2003-04 to match the dedication of the senior class, and bring the team back to where it can contend for a national championship.
“That group is going to be very, very missed by our program, but at the same time its time for the program and the players within the program to grow,” Schafer said. “Those guys really fostered a great environment here for us to be successful. … And I challenged all the returning players to match the commitment and sacrifice and dedication that those seven guys have brought to our program.”
The incoming freshman class consists of four forwards and four defensemen, seven of whom are at least 6-0. Their combined size is intimidating, but their resumÃ©s match their stature. Five of the eight are ranked by the NHL Central Scouting Service and will probably be selected in the upcoming NHL Draft. Dan Glover, a defenseman from Alberta, was selected last year by the New Jersey Devils in the eighth round.
Two recruits come from the Nanaimo Clippers, the same team that produced junior Greg Hornby, LeNeveu and Shane Hynes. Byron Bitz, a forward, and Ryan O’Byrne, a defenseman, are big both in terms of size and in skill. They are both listed at 6-4 and are expected draft selections.
“Byron is a big power forward, much like Stephen. I think he’ll come in the door probably a little more polished than Stephen as far as his skating ability,” Schafer said.
“Ryan O’Byrne is our biggest as far as high is concerned. He’s skates extremely well for his size. I think he’ll remind a lot of people of Brian McMeekin [’02],” he added.
The name Mark McCutcheon should be familiar to those following the Cornell hockey program since his father Brian ’71 was a member of the Red as a player and coach. Mark, who is a winger on the New England Jr. Coyotes is one of the more skilled players in the Class of 2007.
Mitch Carefoot, a 6-1 forward, is the youngest among the group but also comes highly touted. Evan Samela is the type of defenseman who can be effective on a power play, according to the coach. Both Glover, a defenseman, and Kevin McLeod, a winger, committed last year and deferred to play in Canadian junior leagues but will join the Red next year.
“[Dan] committed last year and wanted to go back and work on his game. And he’s on a great playoff run with his team right now,” explained Schafer. “I think he’ll fit in perfectly with our style of hockey.
“Kevin also committed to us last year, he was accepted and differed. And he’s the kind of forward we really like. He doesn’t post numbers that a lot of other junior hockey players do, but he controls the boards really well.”
The last person to commit is Mike Stachurski, who hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba via Finland. The 6-3 defenseman is ranked 89th among Europeans by the scouting service.
“[Stachurski] is very mobile and he plays against all the top players in that Finnish league, so we’re very excited about him also,” Schafer said.
With the combination of experience gained this year with the new talent coming into the program, Schafer believes that the Red will be a top 10 team for the third year in a row, and maybe seek that fourth banner once more.
Archived article by Amanda Angel