March 14, 2008

M. Icers Travel for Quarterfinals

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The men’s hockey team is not used to playing in the first round of the playoffs — not used to being the underdog in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals — but that’s exactly what it is going into this weekend’s playoff series against Union.
“We know that Union’s a very tough team,” said sophomore co-alternate captain Colin Greening. “They’re a team that does anything to win.”
Fifth-seeded Cornell has experienced this firsthand this season this season — having been swept by Union, the No. 4 seed, for the first time in 10 years — but this weekend’s matchups beginning tonight in Schenectady, N.Y., will determine the true victor. A trip to the scenic N.Y. state capital for the semifinals next weekend is on the line.
[img_assist|nid=28845|title=On thin ice|desc=Junior Evan Barlow (right) and the Red beat Dartmouth in the first round of playoffs but face Union today.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“[Union has] worked hard all year to get that home ice bye, and I know that there’s a lot of pressure on them now to win and advance to Albany,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It’s the first time in a long time that our guys have been in that scenario [playing a team with a bye and not having a bye itself], but they know from other teams coming in here and being the underdog [that] it’s a lot more pressure to play being the favorite, being the team that has that bye, than it is as the team that’s coming in. And I think that’ll work to our advantage this weekend.”
While the Dutchmen must overcome this pressure, the Red will have a psychological hurdle of its own this weekend — the results of Cornell’s most recent encounters with its in-state rival, a 2-1 loss in Schenectady on Jan. 12, and a 3-2 heartbreaker at home on Feb. 15.
The last meeting between the two teams was frustrating for the Red, to say the least, as Cornell blew a two-goal lead to lose, 3-2.
“The biggest lesson we learned [from that game] was that we need to play a full 60 minutes,” Greening said. “Because the last time we played them we played about 30 minutes, and then we just let up for 30 and they came back. … That was a hard lesson, one of the hardest lessons we had to learn all year.”
Freshman sensation Corey Milan has seen a majority of the time in net for the Dutchmen, but senior Justin Mrazek was the successful starter in both of this year’s regular season contests between Union and Cornell.
“It’s a tough decision for their coach,” Schafer said. “They’ve been playing the other goaltender throughout the course of the year, and they’ve been playing Mrazek against us. Mrazek played well this year against us, but at home last year we scored six on him.”
The area that the Red does have some say in is its defensive strategy. Union forward Matt Cook has done the most damage against Cornell this season, scoring once Jan. 12 and twice Feb. 15.
“We’re sort of going to key up on [Cook and a few other key Union players],” said junior defenseman Jared Seminoff. “They did a good job against us last time, so we’ll have a gameplan for that. We’ll send out probably [junior Tyler] Mugford, [sophomore Joe] Scali and [senior Chris Fontas], because they did a great job against the top line here last time.”
Though Dartmouth pushed the first-round series at Lynah last weekend to three games, Cornell made a statement with Sunday’s 6-0 rout of the last-place Green.
“Our guys are obviously in great shape [to have played against Dartmouth with] the energy that we had and to be able to play as physical as we played,” Schafer said. “What played in our favor for us here on Sunday is the intensity with which we were able to get around the ice surface.”
The Red believes that the first round series with the Green was great preparation for the quarterfinals, in terms of both strategy and momentum.
“In reality, Dartmouth and Union are very similar,” Greening said. “Union will collapse a lot more. But defensively, they’ll cheat off their checks like Dartmouth. They’ll hold and they’ll grab like Dartmouth did.”
What might have been a negative, losing the final first-round bye spot to Union, has become a positive in the eyes of the Red. Schafer believes that the team has improved with each week, and the home series last weekend gave Cornell momentum going into tonight’s contest.
“I know from the fact of being off [in past first rounds], there’s no question there’s a rust factor going into it,” Schafer said. “I know when teams come in here that have played us in the past, you may have the fresh legs for them, but the other team [without a bye] is already battle-tested and ready to play.”
Both Cornell coach and players, however, are expecting closer competition this weekend.
“It’s going to be a low-scoring weekend,” Schafer said. “It’ll be a 2-1, 3-2, 1-0, it seems like that kind of games [are common] if you look at their schedule and their record.”
“Everybody loves a competition,” Seminoff said. “That’s part of the reason why we play this game. But I’d still like to see a couple games that are maybe 3-0 or something for us. [It’s] less intense, less stressful on the parents at least.”