November 3, 2006

M. Icers to Open League Play

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Sometimes, a road trip is just what you need to get everyone bonding and working together. That’s why, for the men’s hockey team, going on the road to play its first league games of the season against Brown and Yale on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, isn’t such a chore.

“Any time you go on the road, especially the first road trip, it’s really about team bonding,” said senior forward Mark McCutcheon. “It’s fun to go in there. The crowd’s against you, although we get a pretty good following so we could have a good group down there. But, it’s about you guys, it’s about your team when you’re on the road. You don’t have thousands of screaming fans there to get you going; you have to get yourselves going. So hopefully, we’ll come together and you just have got to go in there and get the two wins.”

The Red (2-0-0) is one of only four teams in Division I-A left with a 100 percent record heading into the weekend. Unfortunately for Cornell, Yale (2-0-0) is one of those other teams, though Brown (0-0-1) has struggled thus far.

[img_assist|nid=19559|title=m hockey|desc=Forward Mark McCutcheon (10) divides and conquers the RIT defense during the Red’s 5-3 win over the Tigers last Saturday night inside Lynah Rink.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=62]
“It’s so early in the year, we’ve really got to focus in on ourselves and concentrate,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We didn’t get off to a great start against RIT, but we learned and got composed, and got ourselves going in that game and then played pretty well.”

Junior assistant captain Topher Scott echoed that sentiment.

“I think we’ve been on the same game plan from Day 1, and that’s just to improve as a team, get strong in our systems and building team chemistry,” Scott said. “We’re going to prepare every game as if it’s just the next game we’re going to go out there and try and win. … Especially now that league games are starting. We need everybody in there working hard and contributing their best.”

The Red may look to capitalize on its advantage with its balanced scoring attack and special teams. Unlike Brown and Yale, 14 different players have tallied at least a point for the Red in only two games, led by rookie defenseman Brendon Nash’s four points. In fact, of the Red’s top-4 scorers, three are defensemen.

“I think it’s just the defense recognizing when it’s right to jump up into the play,” said rookie Tony Romano. “I know [junior] Doug Krantz is really good at jumping up into play and going to the net strong. And he’s scored [a goal] doing that this season so far, so it’s just them recognizing when it’s the right time.”

Cornell currently ranks sixth in the nation in both goals against average and goals per game. Cornell also boasts the best penalty kill in Division I-A (14-of-15), and scored three power-play goals in its last game against RIT. Brown has struggled on the penalty kill however (4-of-7), and Yale has had a hard time using the power play to its benefit (1-of-11).

“[Brown head coach Roger] Grillo has been in the league a long time. His teams work extremely hard. They’re good defensively,” Schafer said.

As for Yale, the Bulldogs have shown they can come back for a victory, having beaten Holy Cross, 4-3, last weekend after being down 3-2 with just over three minutes remaining.

Nonetheless, the Red is choosing to focus on its own play rather than preparing for specific teams, in part because the squad is younger than some of the teams of the past. Cornell has 17 underclassmen and only nine upperclassmen on the roster, but those underclassmen have made a significant impact and logged valuable ice time. Coaches and veterans alike have stressed the positive play by the younger players, and indeed, 12 of Cornell’s 18 assists and nearly half of its goals on the season have come from underclassmen.

But even they know that improvement is critical at this point in the season.

“We’re working on line changes, being stronger along the boards, breaking out of the zone, being more assertive with our passes,” Romano said. “The first two games were really good, but now we’re into league play, and this is where it really counts and where you make your mark.”