The No. 4 Cornell men’s hockey team (1-1-0, 0-0-0 ECACHL) will begin its quest to capture its second straight conference title as it hits the road to face Yale and Brown tonight and tomorrow, respectively.
The Red split its first regular season series against No. 8 Michigan State last weekend at Lynah Rink. Cornell took the first contest, 4-2, but a four-goal second period in the second game gave MSU a 4-3 win.
Throughout the weekend, physical and highly competitve play was the norm between the two teams and after the teams’ game on Saturday night, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 tried to get the MSU players off the ice because he was afraid for their safety. As some fans threw objects onto the ice, Schafer pulled a few MSU players’ jerseys as the Spartans were lingering and celebrating on the ice.
Although his intentions were good, because of the jersey-tugging, ECAC Hockey League Commissioner Steve Hagwell announced yesterday that Schafer will be suspended for the Yale game tonight.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” Schafer said over the phone last night. “I tried to do the right thing, but the way I did it was wrong.”
Schafer said that he did not want any problems to occur or escalate following the already-heated series between the two teams. In addition, it is usually not common practice at Lynah for visiting teams to celebrate to their fans on the ice after a win.
Despite the suspension, Schafer has the support of Cornell Athletics behind him.
“The Cornell Department of Athletics and Physical Education respects the authority of the ECACHL,” athletics director Andy Noel said in a statement. “Coach Schafer tried to calm a situation before it escalated. He regrets grabbing the jersey of an opposing player in an attempt to guide the team safely off the ice. We addressed this matter internally, and with this suspension consider the matter closed. Mike is a tremendous teacher of young men and a great role model in our community. We continue to offer Mike and his program our unwavering support.”
Even though Schafer’s suspension has gained much attention, the Red is setting its sights on earning its first four-point weekend of the season. Senior captain Matt Moulson continued his reputation of being one of the top offensive players in the nation by scoring three goals and notching two assists against MSU, earning ECACHL Player of the Week honors.
The Red controlled play for much of the weekend, but special teams mistakes let it down against the Spartans during the second game, and the visitors capitalized.
“I think the biggest thing we needed to work on this [past] week is focusing on details on the penalty kill,” said senior co-captain Jon Gleed. “Special teams are huge, they’re going to win you or lose you games right now and penalty kill and power play lost us that game on Saturday.”
Gleed said that the team has to stay disciplined on the road and try to minimize mistakes as the squad continues through the regular season. But, the Red should benefit with playing the two games against MSU, according to Schafer, who said he is pleased with the team’s overall effort so far.
Yale were the ECACHL bottom-feeders last year, but the team has 17-of-19 players who recorded one point in the 2004-05 season returning. The Bulldogs will be led by senior Christian Jensen, who scored 11 goals and recorded nine assists, while classmate Jeff Hristovski notched eight goals and 16 assists this past season.
Last weekend in an exhibition, the Bulldogs beat Concordia (Quebec), 7-3. While it is unclear who will start in goal for Yale, freshman netminder Alec Richards played the first two periods against Concordia and earned the win after letting in only one score and made 15 saves.
“I think Yale will be a much more improved hockey team than last year, they’ve got some great recruits who have come into their program,” Schafer said.
Despite the fact that he will not be on the bench against the Bulldogs, Schafer said that he is confident that his assistant coaches, Scott Garrow and Brent Brekke, will be fine.
“They’ve done a great job and our players have a lot of respect for them,” Schafer said.
Like Yale, Brown could potentially give the Red problems tomorrow at the Meehan Auditorium, as Schafer said that Brown is one of the favorites to end up in the conference’s top-4. Seven of Brown’s 10 top scorers are returning last season, including junior forward Brian Ihnacak, who recorded 12 goals and 11 assists and sophomore defenseman Sean Hurley (three goals, 18 assists). Brown also faced Concordia this past weekend and came out with a 5-4 win, as four of the Bears’ five goals came on the power play.
This weekend’s series will be another part of the Red’s difficult early-season schedule. In one week, Cornell will again hit the road to face league powerhouses Harvard and Dartmouth.
“Brown-Yale and Harvard-Dartmouth, it’s the toughest first four games in the league that I can remember for us,” Schafer said. “It’s a real tough start to the season, but hopefully, we can come through with flying colors.”
And because Cornell is the defending league champions, coaches and players expect that the opposition will be more than ready to try and upset the Red.
“It’ll be a tough weekend, just like any on the road,” said senior co-captain Chris Abbott, who scored the eventual game-winning goal against the Spartans last Friday. “Every team in our league is going to be gunning for us. Whoever they are, they’re always going to play their best game when they play Cornell, so we just have to go out there and play the way we can and stick to our systems and compete. We’ll be successful if we do that.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor