Last year, the men’s hockey team led Division I in defense on its way to its first Frozen Four appearance in 23 years. Backstopped by the nation’s top goalie — David LeNeveu ’05 — and featuring most imposing blueline figure in college hockey — Doug Murray ’03 — the Red was virtually impenetrable, allowing a paltry 1.36 goals per game. The mark was almost a full point better than second-place Ohio State (2.21).
Unfortunately for the Red, LeNeveu and Murray will not be around to help the team in its ECAC title defense this year, leaving a gaping hole on the blue line and some serious concerns for head coach Mike Schafer ’86 to contend with for the coming season.
However, Schafer is confident that the remaining defensemen will be more than competent in picking up the slack created by the absence of Murray and classmates Mark McRae ’03 and Travis Bell ’03.
“What you need to bring to the table is different guys who all have to play physical. Jeremy Downs needs to play more physical and Charlie Cook and Ben Wallace [are] physical and strong. It’s a group effort,” Schafer said. “You can’t just depend on one guy to provide that physical presence.”
The Red’s new group effort approach to defense begins with senior assistant captain Wallace and juniors Cook and Downs, each of whom has tremendous experience to impart to their younger teammates.
“Obviously Charlie, Jeremy, and Ben have logged a lot of time over the last couple of years and have been put in a lot of pressure-packed situations and should provide a stabling force for those young guys,” said Schafer.
Among the younger players is sophomore Jon Gleed, who in limited game action last season progressed tremendously in his skill level.
“He’s 6-2 and skates really well and handles the puck,” Schafer said. “Last year, he really developed as the season went on, but people didn’t really realize that because he didn’t play — we had no injuries on defense.”
A class of four rookie defensemen — one that has Schafer very excited for the prospects of the defensive unit — joins the Red this season.
Freshmen Danny Glover, Ryan O’Byrne, Evan Salmela, and Mike Stachurski will all be expected to contribute within the Cornell defensive system. The biggest challenge, though, will be fitting these new pieces together.
“I think they’ll do a great job of adjusting to Division I hockey,” said Schafer. “The biggest adjustment will be working in their pairs, or trying to find guys that have good chemistry between them. We’re still trying to find that chemistry of partner pairs, and it’s also difficult when you still have so many guys competing for a spot, you don’t know who’s actually going to be in the lineup.”
The transition has been going fairly well for the younger players as well as some of the more experienced defensemen.
“Everybody is doing a good job getting real familiar with the system,” said Downs. “The beginning of the year is kind of a mismatch. Guys don’t know exactly who they’re playing with, so you’ve got to get used to everyone and just rely on the system.”
Further, the entire defensive corps will have to step up into some unfamiliar roles — roles that will allow little time for a letdown in the level of play.
“We’re going to have to come to every game ready to play,” said Wallace. “Having Doug back there was great because we could always rely on him to do the right things and help out the team, both offensively and defensively. We’re going to have to be able to come and be more consistent and play as a team.”
Challenges aside, the Red heads into the season confident in the ability of its defensemen to again carry the team to national prominence.
“I think we have a young corps, but we’ve got a lot of size. The freshmen are stepping up,” said Cook. “It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and prove themselves.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner