February 15, 2008

M. Hockey Battles for First-Round Bye

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As Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik will successfully recover from the freak accident last weekend in which he was slashed by a teammate’s skate, the men’s hockey team also hopes to rebound from last weekend’s bizarre, winless road trip as the team hosts Union tonight and RPI tomorrow night at Lynah Rink.
Dwelling on the past isn’t an option for the Red. This weekend’s matchup has the added of significance of featuring the two teams fighting it out for fourth place in the ECAC — the last spot which guarantees a first-round bye for playoffs. Unanimously picked to finish last in the league this year, Union is now in fifth place. Cornell (11-9-3, 9-6-1 ECAC Hockey) has a one-point lead over the Dutchmen.
[img_assist|nid=27820|title=Two to tango|desc=Senior co-captain Topher Scott (26) makes a break for it against Clarkson last Friday. The Red looks to keep its first-round playoff bye with home wins this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We definitely want to be in the top-4. That’s for sure,” said senior co-captain Raymond Sawada. “Getting the first-week bye … and then having home rink advantage is a huge advantage going into the second week of playoffs, so it’s definitely something that we’re shooting for.”
The Red will have to go through the Dutchmen first, however. Cornell last saw the two teams in January. After tying league-leading Clarkson in the Florida College Classic, the Red swept Niagara and defeated RPI, 2-1. It was Union that snapped the winning streak with a 2-1 victory in Schenectady, N.Y.
“I noticed that they’ve been playing very well and playing very well defensively,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “When we played up there, I thought they did a good job.”
The Dutchmen are led by a group of up-and-coming underclassmen. Freshman Adam Presizniuk has six goals and 16 assists, while sophomore Mario Valery-Trabucco leads in scoring with nine goals. Freshman goaltender Corey Milan was also just named ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week after recording his first collegiate shutout last Friday against Dartmouth. He has posted a .912 save percentage on the season.
Though Union’s last win was Feb. 1 at home, the win came against No. 2 Princeton, ranked No. 17 in the nation. Both Union (12-10-5, 7-5-4) and RPI (9-17-4, 4-9-3) skated to overtime ties with last place Dartmouth last weekend, 0-0 and 4-4, respectively.
Last weekend was just as, if not more, frustrating for the Red as it was for the Dutchmen and the Engineers. Going without a win at Clarkson on Friday and St. Lawrence on Saturday, a series of spectacles distracted from Cornell’s fundamental problem.
“One underlying fact [of the weekend was that] we didn’t score goals,” Schafer said. “Lots of chances, didn’t score, and if you don’t you’re not going to win many hockey games.”
“Just scoring [was missing]. We were making the plays and creating the opportunities, so it was just we weren’t able to put it in the top corners and we just kept hitting that goalie around the chest and obviously making him look really good,” Sawada said.
On the defensive end, the Red’s penalty kill has struggled of late. Cornell was shorthanded for four of the eight goals that the Red allowed last weekend.
“We’re trying to refine different parts of our game, and I think that we want to keep on the same track that we did as far as creating scoring chances like we did at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Honestly, I think that on the penalty kill we need to straighten some things out a little bit. We were going really, really well for a long period of time, and now we’ve given up some power play goals.”
“Aside from [scoring, this weekend we’ve got to] make sure we come mentally prepared and focus more on our systems and make sure we’re in the right place at the right time,” Sawada said.
The Red has experience with keeping focus after last weekend’s road trip.
“Hockey’s a funny game,” Schafer said. “I thought we played extremely well Friday night against Clarkson and it’s kind of a series of unfortunate events in the sense that the [first] goal they scored was a goal that went off the guy’s foot. The second goal was [when] our [defenseman senior alternate captain Doug Krantz] hands the stick to [sophomore goaltender] Ben [Scrivens] and the rebound goes right to where Doug was standing. … You’ve got to judge things, and one thing is to keep level-headed as the season goes on.”
The St. Lawrence game on Saturday, however, was when the Red’s bad luck really began. A hit by freshman forward Joe Devin 1:21 into the second period sent Saints forward Jared Ross off the ice for good in Canton, N.Y., on Saturday.
ECAC Hockey announced on Wednesday that Devin would be suspended for another game in addition to the original game disqualification, keeping him off the ice for the entirety of this weekend’s homestand. The team did not appeal the ruling.
“It happens a lot in hockey,” Schafer said. “In this case, Joe’s a big kid, and as he followed through [with his check] he didn’t [get his hand out of the way] and down the kid went. You could see that play happening … maybe not to that extent, with that kind of hit, but it happens an awful lot in hockey. Joe feels bad about it, but at the same time he had no intention of hurting the kid. … It’s a big suspension. He’s had one game disqualification and one extra game, so we won’t appeal it, and we’ll move on.”