March 13, 2009

M. Icers Ready For Playoff Opener

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For the first time since the ECAC Hockey playoffs expanded to a 12-team format in 2003, the two lowest-seeded teams, No. 11 Rensselaer and No. 12 Brown, have advanced to the quarterfinals. As a result, second-seeded Cornell will host Rensselaer in a best-of-three series getting underway tonight at 7 p.m. The Red is anxious to return to the ice after a two-week hiatus in which many players utilized their bye week to recuperate.
“At this time of year, it’s really about fine tuning, not over-practicing or over-thinking the game as we go in, but using a season’s worth of lessons to know how we have to play,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I think the most important thing is for guys to be fresh. The bye week gives you that. It gives you a chance to step away from the rink and not come here. We did that. Don’t even allow guys on the ice. Don’t even allow them in the rink.”
“It was nice to get some time off, get some guys healthy and refuel,” said senior co-captain Michael Kennedy. “It was a tough grind down the stretch. It’s always nice to get a week’s rest and iron out minor details.”
The Red (18-7-4, 13-6-3 ECAC Hockey) has won five straight contests against the Engineers (9-25-2, 6-15-1 ECAC Hockey), including a 3-0 victory at RPI and 4-1 victory at Lynah Rink this season. Rensselaer plays a physical brand of hockey and finished second in the league with an average of 19.36 penalty minutes per game.
“For us, we need to remain disciplined in the course of our game,” Schafer said. “They’re a team that [finished second in] our league in penalty minutes throughout the regular season and we need to play hard and get them in situations where they will take penalties. By going hard to the net and drawing calls, putting ourselves in traffic areas, staying strong on our feet and not taking penalties, [we will] win that special teams war.”[img_assist|nid=36049|title=Gametime|desc=After a getting some rest during the bye week, the Red is ready to take on RPI in the semifinals of the ECAC Hockey tournament.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Rensselaer’s inexperience has yet to show itself so far in the playoffs. Six of the team’s top seven point producers this season were either freshmen or sophomores. Sophomore forward Chase Polacek led the team with 11 goals and 20 assists during the regular season. Last weekend against Dartmouth, freshmen accounted for four of the six goals recorded in Rensselaer’s two-game sweep of the Green.
Although the Engineers enter tonight with momentum, the Red is confident in its ability to dictate the tempo and outcome of the game. Cornell boasts its own core of potent scorers and lockdown defenders. Last week, junior co-captain Colin Greening and junior defenseman Brendon Nash were both selected first-team All-Ivy League. Greening led the Red with 12 goals this season. In addition to Greening and Nash, junior forward Blake Gallagher, sophomore forward Riley Nash and junior net minder Ben Scrivens all received All-Ivy accolades in voting conducted by the six Ancient Eight coaches.
Junior netminder Ben Scrivens, the No. 2 goalie in the nation with a .937 save percentage, yielded only one goal in two contests against RPI this year. Expect the Engineers to test Scrivens early as they have lost 21 of 23 games in which they failed to score first. However, Rensselaer’s luck seems to have changed in the postseason as it bounced back to win for just the second time in 21 games when trailing after two periods.
“[The Engineers] absolutely have momentum right now,” Kennedy said. “It’s a dangerous time of year. Teams seem to find their way in the playoffs and get hot. You see that in all levels of hockey, so we have to be on our game. We have to play really strong for 60 minutes and be ready because they’re going to be coming with physical play, offensive creativity and they’re going to be a different team than what we’ve faced in the regular season.”
While the bye week allowed most Cornell players time to heal, sophomore forward Joe Devin will most likely miss the entire series and senior forward Evan Barlow will be a game time decision. Devin has not returned to the ice since an errant elbow during the Red’s last meeting against RPI on February 20.
“Evan Barlow has been skating with us and we hope to have him back by [tonight], but the rest of the guys have all gotten rid of their aches and pains,” Schafer said. “It’s playoff hockey and I’m sure that there will be a lot of aches and pains right after the first game [tonight]. Right now we have real good jump in our legs [because] we gave [the players] some time off. You can just see it in their body language and their intensity in practice.”
Although the last two weeks constituted a much-welcomed break after playing 29 games during the regular season, Cornell is ready to lace up the skates for a meaningful game once again.
“Not too often do we get a full week off of games, so you do get a little more hungrier than you would and that’s definitely an advantage,” said sophomore defenseman Mike Devin. “It’s tough to kind of just float through two weeks of practice and then get into a real intense series, so we were beating each other up pretty good in practice and getting ready as much as we can for the series.”