February 13, 2004

Men's Hockey Faces Must-Win

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Cornell currently holds a seven-game winning streak over Princeton. The Red scored seven goals in this season’s New Jersey matchup. Yet, seven isn’t just an auspicious number for Cornell this weekend as Princeton and Yale come to town, it’s the only number the team will accept.

Cornell (10-7-6, 8-5-3 Ivy) knows full well that it cannot afford anymore losses. And while the team has appeared solid on the road this season, this weekend, it’s looking to maintain its consistency at home.

“We’ve been inconsistent,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “From our standpoint, we need to focus on what makes us a very good hockey team, and I thought we did that with Vermont and Dartmouth.”

One strike against Cornell is the loss of captain Ryan Vesce, one of the team’s most potent offensive weapons, to injury. The Red has lacked a scoring presence since losing the veteran just three games ago, evidenced by the fact that Vesce still remains second on the team’s points list.

Cornell appeared to experience a scoring resurgence last weekend, scoring four goals against Dartmouth, but fell back to earth the next night at Vermont. Despite landing 30-plus shots on the Catamounts’ netminder, the team buried just one.

Princeton, with just one league win in the past 10 games, does not appear to be a valid threat. The Tigers’s squad is young, and has just three players who have ever scored a goal against the Red.

While Cornell’s defense should have no trouble with Princeton’s low-production offense, the Red don’t expect the Tiger’s travel partner — Bulldogs — to roll over and play dead.

“Yale’s someone who’s right next to us in the standings, so it’s going to be a big weekend,” said Schafer.

“If this was two weeks ago, it’d be a lot different,” he added. “It almost seems like a different season ago when we played these guys. They’re much different teams, and we’re a much different team.”

Yale enters this weekend on a deceptive two-game losing skid. The Blue and White were upended by Harvard and Brown last weekend, but put up staggering statistics in the process. Bulldog goaltender Josh Gartner made a career-high 51 saves against Harvard, while the team’s offense poured in four unanswered goals before falling 7-5.

Part of that comes from a season’s worth of experience.

“Both power plays are different, penalty kills can be different, freshman can be more experienced, sophomores can be more savvy — it’s a whole different ball game,” Schafer said.

Still, the coach is confident that Cornell can take control of both games simply by focusing in on the basics.

“We’ve really got to continue to focus on ourselves and be consistent,” he said. “We need to do the things we did on the road — frustrate teams, stay above them, don’t give them any scoring chances, and play the kind of hockey we need to play to get ready for the playoffs.”

While Schafer expects his team to earn four points this weekend, another goal is gearing up for a playoff run.

“You want to start playing your best hockey of the year, and I thought we took a really good first step last weekend,” he said. “Now we have to take that next step towards three weeks from now, four weeks from now. That’s where we have to head.”

Archived article by Matt Janiga