During the tail end of Tuesday’s men’s hockey practice, the players were skating around casually, wristing the remaining pucks lying around into the net. Off to the side, senior captain Matt Moulson and sophomore Topher Scott were playfully pushing each other around along the boards. Moulson, at 6-1 and 210 pounds, has seven inches and about 50 pounds on Scott, so pushing the younger teammate was not a terribly difficult task for him.
When asked if they poke fun at Scott’s smaller frame during practice, Moulson and sophomore Raymond Sawada laughed, saying, “everyday.”
However, despite the quips made about Scott’s size among his teammates, his performance on the ice over the past two years has been no laughing matter for No. 7 Cornell’s (17-6-4, 12-5-3 ECACHL) opponents. This season, Scott has continued to establish himself as one of the Red’s biggest threats on the power play, as the sophomore has amassed a team-leading 20 assists – good for eighth in the ECACHL.
“Like last year, I think he started to play his best hockey late in the season,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “He has been doing a tremendous job.”
What Schafer is referring to is Scott’s knack for scoring crucial goals and playing well in big games. As a freshman, Scott scored the game-winner against then-ECACHL team Vermont on Jan. 22, 2005, then notched the overtime winner in the second game of the ECACHL quarterfinal series against Clarkson. A week later, Scott tallied the opening goal in the semifinal win over Vermont.
Things haven’t changed much this season. While Scott has scored a mere four goals during this campaign, one of them was the game-winner at Harvard in November.
This past weekend – in possibly the most important series of the regular season – Scott opened up the Red’s account on Friday night’s 3-1 win over Dartmouth, before notching the game-tying goal in a heartbreaking, 4-3, loss to the Crimson.
“I think it’s every kid’s dream, playing in their basement when they are growing up, to get the big goals in the big games,” Scott said.
“A lot of times this year and last year, it was being at the right place at the right time and everybody doing their job on the play and [me] just putting it in.”
The Buffalo Grove, Ill., native admitted that he has had many skeptics of his ability because of his 5-6, 160-pound stature “ever since I was five-year-old.” Even Moulson had a typical first impression when Scott came to Cornell.
“Obviously when I first met him, I wondered if he was someone’s little brother,” Moulson said.
What Scott lacks in size, he makes up for in speed, skill and determination. Scott said he enjoys the physical nature of college hockey and has found himself a niche on Cornell’s first power-play line.
Usually located down low along the right boards, Scott often provides teammates including Moulson, Sawada and junior Byron Bitz with cutting passes, enabling them to get off open shots on net.
“He’s the first guy we go to on the power play to get the puck to other guys like Moulson and Bitzy and [senior Daniel] Pegoraro on the point,” Sawada said. “He’s an integral part of that power play and without him, it doesn’t work really well.”
This quarterbacking-type role was not always easy for Scott, who jumped straight into the power play as a freshman.
“It was a little tough for him being on the power play last year. [Shane] Hynes [’06] would yell at him if he didn’t give me the puck and I would yell at him if he didn’t give me the puck,” Moulson said.
“He was kind of stuck in the middle, but I think he’s developed a lot of confidence and just a respect from other players on the ice and off the ice.”
In a lighter sense, it is not uncommon to see Scott get into tangles with players of opposing teams, some of whom tower over him. Scott said that opponents do taunt him about his size, but he just uses it as fuel on the ice.
“I think sometimes he forgets how small he is,” Moulson said. “He’s very intense. He doesn’t back down from anyone. If a 6-5, 6-6 guy challenges him out there, he’s going to stand up to him, no matter what. Even though he might not win the fight, he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty.”
Scott realizes that while he is difficult to get hit on the ice because of how relatively small he is, he must also work on skills such as his shot and speed.
However, his desire to win and improve is unquestioned, and according to teammates, these are the traits that make him a big man on the ice.
“If you know Topher, he has a big heart and that’s all that really matters in the game of hockey,” Moulson said. “He’s obviously is not the biggest guy, but he works hard to make sure his disadvantage isn’t a disadvantage out there.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor