December 5, 2008

North Country Comes to Lynah Rink

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Listening to head coach Mike Schafer ’86 speak about the Clarkson Golden Knights, you cannot tell whether he is referring to last year’s team, which finished atop the ECAC Hockey standings, or this year’s club, which currently shares a spot in the conference basement with three other squads. Nevertheless, for its final two home games of 2008, the Red will host Clarkson tonight and St. Lawrence tomorrow evening. Both games are slated for a 7 p.m. faceoff at Lynah Rink.
“[Clarkson has] a good program, good team and good coaching staff, so we’re not going to pay attention to their record or reports about how beat up they are,” Schafer said. “… Our kids are well aware that on any given night, it doesn’t make a difference what the records are. It’s always a huge battle to win hockey games, and we have to focus on ourselves.”[img_assist|nid=34043|title=Fearless|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Selected fourth in both the preseason coaches and media polls, the injury-riddled Golden Knights (2-7-3, 1-5-0 ECAC) have struggled in the early portion of the schedule and are mired in a seven-game winless streak. Sophomore forward Brandon DeFazio, second on the team in scoring, is the latest Clarkson player to be hampered by an injury and was scratched from tonight’s lineup.
As a result of this rash of injuries, underclassmen have received the bulk of playing time for the Golden Knights as the sophomore class has accounted for 58 percent of the team’s scoring.
The Clarkson attack is led by a pair of sophomores, forward Scott Freeman and center Lauri Tuohimaa. Freeman, tied with Dartmouth’s Adam Estoclet as the second-leading scorer in the ECAC, paces the team with 13 points, including a team-high 11 assists, and has recorded at least one point in each of the last four games. Tuohimaa has registered a team-high seven goals to go along with three assists.
“You don’t know who’s been hurt, who’s coming back,” Schafer said. “We talk to our kids all of the time [about how] every opponent is going to be a tough opponent regardless of record. … There’s not an easy college game, and I think our guys realize that. Our guys are extremely excited. It’s the last two games before exams and winter break.
Usually, these two games are games that we play with an intense amount of energy because we have nothing to save it for over the next weekend. It’s usually a weekend in which we play very, very well and very physical. We go back and focus on ourselves rather than where these two teams are in the standings.”
Although Cornell (5-1-2, 4-0-2) ranks No. 13 in both the USA Today and polls, Schafer’s healthy respect for the opposition is shared by his players, as well. Junior co-captain Colin Greening, the Red’s leading scorer with four goals and three assists, has enjoyed some success against Clarkson throughout his collegiate career, tallying three goals and three assists in five head-to-head match ups.
“Looking at the scores, I don’t think is indicative of [Clarkson’s] play,” Greening said. “They’ve lost some close games and that happens some times.”
“I don’t make any special arrangements,” Greening said, referring to his accomplishments against the Golden Knights. “I don’t circle teams on my calendar. I take it as one game at a time. I have been pretty fortunate to have some success in the past against Clarkson, but like I said that’s all in the past. This is a new year, but I’m looking forward to playing Clarkson because we always have really tough battles with them and they have a great reputation. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”
St. Lawrence (5-7-1, 1-4-1) has not fared much better, dropping five of its last six contests. The Saints have surrendered the second most goals (16) in conference play, surpassed only by Clarkson, which has allowed a league-high 21 goals. The St. Lawrence offense is paced by senior forward Brock McBride and junior forward Mike McKenzie, who are tied for fifth in the conference in scoring with 11 points each.
Cornell boasts the conference’s best defense, allowing only five goals in six games. Junior goaltender Ben Scrivens leads the nation with a .950 save percentage and ranks fourth with a 1.39 goals-against average.
Although it is still early in the season, the Red is in a three-way tie for second place in the ECAC with Dartmouth and Harvard. However, Cornell has the early edge with wins against both teams as well as a season-opening victory over the first-place Princeton Tigers.
“I don’t feel like our team really looks ahead too far,” said senior co-alternate captain Jared Seminoff. “I feel like we kind of just stay in the present. Nobody really talks about that, we just go out there every game and play our system. We feel like that’s all we need to do to win. If we just stick together, it’s going to work.”
“Clarkson and St. Lawrence, they play similar in certain ways, but obviously they have their differences,” Greening said. “I think both teams are very, very strong. They have great reputations, so nothing changes with how we prepare for those games. Obviously, those are two crucial games for us before Christmas. To get two wins at home before Christmas would be really huge for us.”
After Saturday night, it will be another 21 days until the Red’s schedule resumes after final exams. Cornell is certainly capable of feasting upon two of the weaker members of the ECAC as the Red strives to extend its undefeated conference record to eight games. How appropriate, indeed, if the jolly man in the red suit were to deliver two victories to the Red this early in the holiday season.