February 6, 2009

M. Hockey Looks to Rebound Against Quinnipiac, Princeton

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With a pair of top ECAC Hockey foes coming to Ithaca this weekend, Lynah Rink will host either a dramatic turnaround for the home team, or another troubling episode in a once-spotless season. The men’s hockey team has to overcome a string of bad fortune against Quinnipiac, which played Cornell to a tie back in November, when it takes the ice at Lynah tonight — with nationally-ranked defending ECAC champion Princeton coming tomorrow night.
“Every game is meaningful right now, with eight games to go,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Both Quinnipiac and Princeton are right there in the top-5 [in ECAC Hockey]. Every game is critical and our guys know that, but what’s even more critical is how we’re playing. We’ve got to take care of business. It doesn’t matter who we play if we don’t change some of the habits we’ve had recently.”
Having slipped to No. 5 in the nation, the Red (14-3-4, 9-2-3 ECAC Hockey) has struggled as of late, going 1-2-1 over the past two weekends, including only the fourth scoreless tie in Cornell history, at Clarkson last Saturday –– one day after an 8-1 loss for the record books at St. Lawrence.[img_assist|nid=34814|title=Ice ice baby|desc=The men’s hockey team hopes to return to its winning ways this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
It’s easy for an experience like the Red’s North Country road trip to crush a team’s competitive spirit, but the squad has a revitalized attitude, according to junior co-captain Colin Greening.
“We now realize that, every team we play, this is going to be their game,” he said. “They are going to have us circled on their calendars for the game. With us having done so well in the past, they are going to want to beat us just because of our reputation.”
“That’s one of the signs of a bad team,” Greening added, “if you let the stress [get you down] and you let people get down in the dressing room. I think that’s really what can deteriorate a team, and that’s just not going to happen to us. We have a lot of pride, and we have a lot of confidence in our team and that has never changed.”
Princeton, however, has had some trouble of its own, going 3-4-0 since Jan. 1 and just cracking the nation’s top-10 in the latest polls. Both Princeton (15-6-0, 9-5-0) and Quinnipiac (14-10-2, 7-5-2) beat Brown last weekend, but lost to Yale — which is currently tied with Cornell atop the conference standings, with the Tigers just three points behind.
“[Princeton is] nipping on our heels in the standings, so they’re going to need [this] game if they want a chance at the league title,” said Cornell’s junior netminder Ben Scrivens. “We’re going to have to win that one if we want to keep our hold there, so it’s going to be a tight game.”
The Tigers may be the defending ECAC champs, but the Red got the better of them at their own rink in the 2008-09 ECAC opener last semester — a 1-0 win Nov. 7. As the home team this time around, Cornell is well aware that Princeton will be looking to exact some vengeance at Lynah Rink, led by senior forwards Brett Wilson and Lee Jubinville.
“We know that [Princeton is] a good team, there’s a reason that they won the ECACs last year,” said Scrivens, who is coming off a 34-save performance at Clarkson, his sixth shutout of the season. “They’re a great defensive team. They put a lot of pucks on net.”
“We’re certainly well aware of Princeton’s standing and how well they’re doing in the national standings and the ECAC,” Greening added. “Would I say we’re circling [any particular games on our calendar]? No, but we’re certainly preparing for a game against a really highly-touted team.”
Quinnipiac, though, will by no means be just a warmup for the Princeton rematch. The Bobcats took the Red to overtime in their last meeting Nov. 8, but neither team managed to find the net in the entire game for a 0-0 result. For the past four weekends, Quinnipiac has won or tied its Friday game but lost the next day, further revealing a pattern of unpredictability.
“They’re a team that thrives on transition,” Greening said. “It’s very hard to predict what they’re going to do. They’re good at what they do, and what they do is basically they play a lot of cat and mouse with you. I find the hardest thing about their team is that you never know who you’re going to play on any given night. You never know what they’re going to do.”
A few things, however, are completely predictable about the Bobcats — they boast the nation’s No. 1 scorer in senior forward Bryan Leitch, with 44 points on nine goals and 35 assists, as well as premier special teams. Quinnipiac’s power play unit (31-for-151) leads the league, and ECAC Hockey’s third-ranked penalty kill is not too shabby either, holding off opponents 87.4 percent of the time.
Though its penalty kill remains consistent (96-for-109), the Red’s power play has struggled by contrast, scoring 16 times on 108 opportunities and settling near the bottom of the conference rankings — one of the fundamental skills which Cornell has been revisiting recently.
“We’ve hit a little lull as far as our play is concerned,” Schafer said. “We’re getting back to basics this week as far as effort and our intensity, playing with more of an edge in practice. I think the last couple of weekends have been a wake-up call for us, and now it’s time to get back to those attributes of a good hockey team, which is tenacity and physical play.”