The journey for the No. 2 men’s hockey team to capture a Frozen Four berth begins tonight, as the Red hosts No. 10 Michigan State (2-0-1, 0-0-1 CCHA) at Lynah Rink in the first of a two-game series between the sides.
Despite the fact that Cornell has not played an actual regular season game yet – its first live action was last weekend’s 4-1 home win over the U.S. Under-18 National Team – it has risen two spots from its initial No. 4 preseason ranking and the squad is feeling fairly confident going into its encounter with the Spartans.
“The pace is picking up in practice and everyone knows we’re a long ways away from where we want to be, but we’ve got to come out with the same kind of mentality [tonight] against State as we did against the U.S. team, and that’s to play very physical and to play very hard and not get bogged down by mistakes that we’re going to make,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They have a good hockey team and we’re anxious to prove ourselves.”
Last Saturday at Lynah, Cornell received goals from four different players, including two on the power play, and limited the U.S. squad’s scoring chances until the visitors found the back of the net with seconds left to play.
However, Michigan State will provide an extremely difficult challenge for the Red. For one thing, the Spartans have already played three regular season games and two exhibitions, most recently defeating the visiting U.S. U-18 team, 5-2, on Tuesday. In addition, Michigan State has already faced top competition, beating the likes of No. 6 North Dakota, 3-0, and tying rival No. 1 Michigan, 3-3, this past weekend.
Through three regular season games, the Spartans are led in points by forward Bryan Lerg and defenseman Corey Potter, who each have four, while Chris Mueller has scored two goals – a team high. In net, junior goaltender Dominic Vicari has a 1.30 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.
Last season, the Spartans earned a tie and a win when the Red visited in November. Although it was still early in the year, members of the Red speculate that those results could have had an effect on Cornell’s credentials in last season’s national tournament, when Cornell was sent to Minnesota and given a second seed instead of playing closer to home, and being granted a top seed.
“It was brought up at the beginning of this year in some meetings that those games at Michigan State did cost us a number one seed in the East, even if though was so early in the season,” said senior defenseman Jon Gleed. “You never know what can happen and these games coming up … they’re must wins just in case something [happens] down the road.”
Schafer downplays the notion that this series’ importance could prove to determine the team’s fate for the rest of the year. In regards to this weekend, he emphasized that because the team has still not gotten all of the kinks out of its system due to the lack of live action, his squad must keep the game simple.
“We always know we need to out-work other teams, but especially this weekend. … We’re going to have to work extra hard,” said senior forward Cam Abbott, who scored one of the Red’s goals against the U.S. squad.
One of the many bright spots against the U.S. team was the play of Abbott, and his linemates, senior Daniel Pegoraro and sophomore Topher Scott. The line combined to make a number of scoring opportunities and could prove to be a strong foil in comparison to the physically bigger top line of senior Matt Moulson, junior Byron Bitz and sophomore Raymond Sawada.
“[Pegoraro and Scott] are pretty easy to play with,” Abbott said. “They’re both really smart players and they move the puck well and it’s been easy to jump on and play with them this year.”
Several freshmen were also able to experience their first real game at Lynah against the U.S. One of these newcomers was freshman Evan Barlow, who was paired on a line with senior Chris Abbott and junior Mitch Carefoot. Barlow said that the rink’s “atmosphere was unbelievable” and Abbott added that the newcomers are generally doing well in getting acquainted with the Cornell system.
“Mitch and Chris are doing a great job of communicating on the ice and they’ve really helped me on and off the ice with video,” Barlow said. “They’re two awesome players, they play a very physical game, and they’re going to help me [a lot].”
With the Red being a goal away from reaching the Frozen Four last season, expectations are understandably high for those who follow Cornell hockey. And despite the rust that might be apparent over the first few games, the Cornell players’ goal for this weekend is equally lofty.
“We’re not going to be happy with anything short of two wins, plain and simple. I don’t think you can measure it any other way,” Abbott said.
The puck drops at 7 p.m.
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor