Though the No. 5 Cornell men’s hockey team (4-2-0, 3-1-0 ECACHL) suffered a crushing 6-1 defeat at the hands of Dartmouth last Saturday in Hanover, N.H., the Red is taking the loss in stride, using it as a learning experience for the rest of the season.
“I think it was a rude awakening,” said junior goaltender David McKee, who was pulled for the first time in his Cornell career during the game’s the second period after the Green scored five goals. “We haven’t been paying attention to details as we wish we had been, and there’s been a few things that we really needed to work on and have been neglecting.”
Compared to last season, Cornell’s defense – a usual trademark of the team – has struggled in its first six games of this year. While the Red has played four tough league road games and two highly-charged encounters against No. 13 Michigan State at Lynah Rink, Cornell has already given up three or more goals in three games this season. This is in contrast to last year’s squad, which gave up three or more goals only three times over the course of the Red’s entire 2004-05 campaign.
According to Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86, the team was, “upset,” “determined,” and “embarrassed” after its loss to Dartmouth.
“We didn’t come ready to battle, [Dartmouth] was a desperate hockey team and we didn’t have that same desperation to win,” Schafer said. “Now, it’s back to work … [we need to] shore up some of the [problem] areas and continue to get better as a hockey team.”
Schafer said that the team needs to become more aggressive and cohesive in the defensive end, especially on the penalty kill. Opponents thus far this season are converting 18.4-percent of their chances on the power play, compared to 10.8-percent last year. On Saturday night, Dartmouth scored on 3-of-10 extra-man opportunities.
“If you don’t work as a foursome on the penalty kill … you’re going to have breakdowns and you’re going to have guys who are tentative and should be moving, [but] are standing still,” Schafer said.
Schafer said that he will make some changes in the lineup this weekend when Union and Rensselaer visit Lynah Rink. Although he was not specific in what changes he would make, he indicated that lines will be altered, as he and the coaching staff hope to find strong chemistry between different players.
One example Schafer mentioned was the top-line of senior Matt Moulson, junior Byron Bitz and sophomore Raymond Sawada, which has not produced an even-strength goal all season – something he called “unacceptable.”
“There’s been a six-game segment … and a lot of guys have had an opportunity to prove themselves,” Schafer said. “Some guys have played themselves into the lineup and some guys have played themselves out of the lineup.”
One aspect of the squad which will undoubtedly not change is the goaltender situation. Despite McKee being pulled on Saturday and senior Louis Chabot making 11 saves and allowing only one goal in the junior’s place, Schafer made it crystal clear who his top netminder is.
“I think we’ve very happy for Louis … but don’t forget, Dave McKee is one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the country,” Schafer said. “You don’t throw your Hobey Baker candidate from last year under the bus after [he was pulled from a game] for the first time in his career. I’d be the stupidest coach in the country if a guy has a rough outing and I [bench him].”
McKee’s statistics so far this season area are a far cry from his stellar numbers a year ago. His goals against average and save percentage in 2004-05 were 1.24 and .947, compared to 3.31 and .868 marks this season, respectively.
But, although the goaltender admitted that he was not fully prepared to face Dartmouth on Saturday, he said that he is making adjustments to his own game and cares more about winning than any statistics he produces.
“[Getting pulled from a game] is something you deal with and if anything, I’m kind of glad it happened,” McKee said. “I think it’s going to push me and I feel much more determined and more more aware of some things.”
As for the defense, co-captain Jon Gleed, the only senior blueliner on the squad, said that each player needs to be more aware of everything that is going on during any given play. Gleed and Schafer said that the team must make sure that opposing attackers are accounted for and do not get behind the Red defense and generate odd-man rushes.
“I think we just have to go back to the starting point,” said sophomore defenseman Sasha Pokulok. “We have to get puck our of our zone, we’ve got to be active, we’ve got to have energy and be intense out there.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor