Dorothy once said that there’s no place like home and the men’s hockey team couldn’t agree more. Taking a not-so-relaxing break from its ECAC schedule, Cornell (3-1-2, 3-0-1) will finally play at Lynah Rink after a two-week hiatus from its friendly confines. The Red will host Bowling Green and No. 12 Ohio State at 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow respectively, in an important test for a team that has yet to show its potential on a national level.
“The biggest thing is it’s an opportunity to show some people that we’ve grown some since we played here three weeks ago,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
Last weekend, the Red remained unbeaten in ECAC play, battling for a disappointing tie at Clarkson and stealing two points from St. Lawrence in a 2-1 victory the night after. Currently second in the ECAC with seven points, trailing league-leading Brown by a single point, the Red will be looking to continue to gel this weekend.
Unlike last season, which saw the Red succeed mainly by way of the nation’s best defense, this year’s campaign has taken on a more offensive focus.
In four conference games, the Red has led the ECAC with a 4.25 goals per game average. Also, linemates senior Ryan Vesce and sophomore Matt Moulson are currently ranked one-two in individual conference scoring. Vesce, the Red’s offensive captain, has four goals and six assists over the four-game span, while Moulson has contributed three goals and four helps.
Of course, Schafer’s teams are always indoctrinated with a defense-first mentality and the Red has responded by allowing just 2.17 opponent goals per game — good for seventh best in the nation.
“We’re a better defensive hockey team than the last time we played here,” Schafer said. “We had people back who picked up the wrong people, and we’ve sorted those things out.”
Bowling Green (3-5-3, 2-4-2 CCHA) enters tonight’s contest having somewhat stumbled out of the gate. Most recently coming off a loss-tie weekend against conference-mates Lake Superior, the Falcons have yet to win in consecutive games this season.
While struggling to consistently contain opponent offenses, one strength of the Bowling Green defense is its ability on the power play. The Falcons penalty kill is currently ranked fourth in the nation at 93.1 percent and is riding a 36 opponent power play scoreless streak over their last six games.
Leading the oftentimes inconsistent goal scoring attack for Bowling Green is senior forward Mark Wires. Wires is currently tops on his team with a plus-3 plus / minus rating, on four goals and four assists.
“We know Bowling Green is extremely hard working and can put the puck in the net,” said Vesce.
Schafer agreed with his team’s captain, comparing the Falcons to Cornell’s last home opponent.
“Much like Western Michigan, they’ve got some very dangerous forwards on transition, and arguably some of the best goaltending in the country,” he said. “They’re a pretty solid hockey team.”
Ohio State (8-5-0, 7-3-0 CCHA) comes into the weekend boasting a particularly intense recent history with the Red. Last season saw the two national contenders split in two of the Red’s most intense regular-season games of the year. The Red’s Dec. 29th loss to the Buckeyes completed the back-end of Cornell’s only two-game losing streak of the storied season.
The fact that the two teams come into tomorrow’s contest separated by a single number in the national rankings, will only add fuel to the fire.
“These could be two tough games, definitely,” said Vesce. “We’re excited about the challenge.”
“They’re both really skilled teams and we’re going to have to play solid throughout the whole lineup,” agreed co-captain Ben Wallace.
Ohio State has already experienced its up and downs in 2003, beating several nationally ranked teams while falling to lesser opponents.
The Buckeyes are coming off a weekend split with conference-rival Michigan. The Buckeyes hadn’t beaten the Wolverines since 2001, before a 5-2 victory last Saturday.
The Buckeyes are most notably led by the solid play of senior goaltender Mike Betz. Betz is currently third nationally in minutes played and has made 284 saves this season, including 44 in the win against Michigan.
While Cornell has begun to show signs of greatness, this season will play a large role in forecasting just how far this team can go. The Red will be thankful that it will be performing before an amped-up home crowd that has missed its favorite sons.
“It’s always nice to come home,” said Wallace. “We’ve got the fans on our side, which helps us build our momentum.”
“It’s about time,” said Vesce of the team’s long-awaited return. “Last time we were hear we didn’t really give the fans what they deserve. I think they’ll see a much better team.”
Archived article by Scott Jones