November 3, 2006

Youth Dominates Defensive Lineup for Red

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When opposing teams come into Lynah, they can always expect a raucous crowd and a physical, hard-hitting defense.

Cornell has built a reputation as one of the premier defensive teams in the nation, allowing opponents to score just 1.70 goals per game over the past four seasons. This year’s crop of blue-liners knows that the onus is on them to keep the tradition going strong.

“I think it’s something we pride ourselves on, being one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and there is a lot of talk about losing [Ryan] O’Byrne [’07] and [Sasha] Pokulok [’08] on the back end, but that’s why we were so good every year, because even when we lose those key players we have guys who step in,” said junior Doug Krantz.

With the loss of O’Byrne and Pokulok, its top defensive pair last season, the Red defense has some big shoes to fill. Further exacerbating the Red’s losses is the injury to senior Dan Glover. Glover, expected to be a key leader on the defensive end, is out until January after undergoing hip surgery last week.

“That’s just part of our sport. Guys get hurt all the time, and part of having depth is that we expect every kid to play,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “You know you’re going to have injuries, and when that happens guys have to step up, and that’s how you overcome it. We keep a small roster, but we always feel like any one of those guys can step in and contribute.”

Indeed, the Red’s defense will be in good hands. Senior Evan Salmela will provide the Red with leadership on the back end. Salmela has proven to be a physical and strong player, and Schafer expects him to keep on improving after seeing action in a career-high 17 games in 2005-06.

Krantz is the only other upperclassmen expected to see significant playing time, and he has been impressive to this point in the season. He has been a skillful playmaker, and has shown a good ability to join the rush and move the puck in transition. Schafer has liked what he has seen from his leaders on the blue line.

“They both lead by how they play, and there is a lot of leadership coming from both those guys,” Schafer said.

A pair of sophomores, Taylor Davenport and Jared Seminoff, who both saw playing time last year, will be counted on to step up and play bigger roles. Davenport was limited to 10 games last year because of injuries, but Seminoff played in all 35 games and finished the season with one goal, six assists. He also played a significant role in the Red’s power play and penalty kill units.

Talented freshmen Brendan Nash and Justin Krueger bring valuable size to the Red, and they have both shown that they can step in and make immediate contributions. They are both listed at 6-3 and 205 pounds, and resemble the prototypical Cornell defenseman.

Nash, who recorded two assists in the 4-1 win over Robert Morris, has shown good offensive ability, while the pair has thus far shown a propensity to throw their weight around, scoring several big hits early in the season.

“They’ve done a tremendous job. Krueger has kept things pretty simple for the most part, and Nash shows a lot of poise and moves the puck well,” Schafer said.

Schafer has yet to decide on any set defensive pairings and plans to take a wait-and-see approach.