With statistics that place the men’s hockey team fourth best nationally in goals allowed per game, and with 87 percent penalty killing rate, most would have considered the 2003-04 season successful. The problem with statistics, however, is that they only tell part of the story. According to head coach Mike Schafer ’86, there’s still a ways to go for the Red defense.
“Defense was the one area where we needed to improve our game from last year.” Schafer said. “I think I’m pretty happy with how they play in our own end, but once we get the puck, making solid plays to our forwards. Everybody talks about offense. Offense starts from your own goal line, making good outlet passes, good transition passes.”
At several key points during last season, Cornell appeared tentative, something Schafer thinks other teams were able to pick up on.
“More critical what occurred last year was teams began to sense that our defense didn’t get the puck to the net very well in the offensive zone in the cycle,” he said.
As a senior assistant captain and a tenured member of the defense, Charlie Cook believes most of those problems have been solved through recruiting and the weathering of growing pains.
“This year we have a lot of depth,” Cook said. “I think we’ve got eight solid defensemen who could step in and get the job done every night, and it makes the team that much stronger.” Schafer has generally agreed, pointing to the exhibition game against McGill as a sign of things to come.
“If you watch our team closely, our defense was up on the play all night long.” he said. The team’s early results are the product of hours of off-season workouts. Weight lifting, conditioning, and skills training were a daily regimen for the 14 players who stayed in Ithaca over the summer, and the results are getting noticed.
“Guys like Jeremy Downs and Ryan O’Byrne have improved in the summer as far as their ability to shoot the puck, especially Jeremy,” Schafer said. “We’re a year older, and I think that makes a big difference.”
Overall, the team returns six veteran defensemen this season, including seniors Cook and Jeremy Downs, junior Jon Gleed, sophomores Dan Glover, O’Byrne, and Evan Salmela. Freshman Doug Krantz, and Sasha Pokulok are also ready to make an immediate impact. “The two freshmen stepped right in, and showed the strength of those guys is their ability to shoot the puck and get it to the net,” Schafer said of his rookies in the McGill game.
“We think we can be the best defensive team in the nation this year, and we’re working hard to do just that,” Cook said.
Archived article by Matt Janiga
Sun Staff Writer