From Nov. 19 until Feb. 4, the men’s hockey team went unbeaten in 15 of its 16 games, with a sweep of then No. 17 Colgate in a home-and-home series coming in the final two games of that stretch.
Since then, however, the Red has been limping – literally – into the upcoming ECACHL playoffs, recording a 2-3-1 record in its final six regular season games.
Despite the sluggish finish, the No. 8 Red earned a first-round bye in the conference playoffs, so the squad is hoping that the week off will help heal its wounds.
“We didn’t practice [Monday] and [we had] just a light skate [Tuesday], and we’re going to try to take some time off throughout the course of the week,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “And then [we’re going to] get ready, because it’s going to be more important how healthy we are in two weeks than we are this weekend. So that’s the goal right now – to get rested and get healthy.”
The bulk of the Red’s injuries this season have come on the defensive end, as only one defenseman – freshman Jared Seminoff – out of the eight listed on the Cornell roster has played in all 29 of the team’s games this season.
While Schafer has said that he would not yet disclose any of his team’s injuries, one needs to look no further than recent box scores to see who is hobbling.
Junior Ryan O’Bryne has not played since the Red’s 2-2 tie with Yale on Jan. 28, while sophomore Sasha Pokulok, save the team’s games against Dartmouth and Harvard two weekends ago, has not played since Cornell’s 4-1 win over Colgate on Feb. 3. To make matters worse for the Red, sophomore Doug Krantz, who had yet to miss a game all season, sat out both of the Red’s games this past weekend.
These injuries have forced the Red to lean on the veteran leadership of senior assistant captain Jon Gleed on the defensive end, as he, along with Seminoff, have been called upon to provide more ice time for the team.
“They’re the ones it’s taken a toll on,” Schafer said. “Those guys have logged a lot of minutes, and they haven’t been healthy themselves.”
The injuries have also forced Schafer to use players listed as forwards back on defense, namely senior Daniel Pegoraro, who has also been used as a defender on the penalty kill – a sacrifice which has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“We’ve played quite a few games now shorthanded in the defensive end,” Gleed said. “But, Dan Pegoraro stepped up and played a few shifts on defense, which helped out to get the guys their wind back.”
Another problem for the Red is that the three injured players are the top-3 scoring defenders for the team, leaving Cornell with a lack of scoring threats from the point and an inability to create transition opportunities for the forwards.
These issues have been a contributing factor in the team’s goals per game average, which was just 2.16 over the past six games, as compared to its 2.93 average for the season.
“I think where our offense gets hurt is the fact that you don’t have defensemen that can get up ice all night long, that can keep the puck in [the opponents’ zone, and] that can really force the issue defensively and make them turn the puck over quickly,” Schafer said. “People think [that when] you lose your defensemen, you lose just the ability to defend, but they’re the ones that initiate the attack.”
Schafer also believes that the offense misses the shooting abilities of the injured players, which allows opposing teams’ defenses to focus on other areas.
“It’s a two-fold problem when those guys aren’t healthy back there,” Schafer said. “It makes a big difference when guys like Ryan O’Bryne and Sasha Pokulok and Doug Krantz all can really tee it up and shoot it.