March 27, 2009

In Michigan, Northeastern Awaits M. Hockey

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Tomorrow, the men’s hockey team will play in a NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2006. The Red qualified for the 16-team tournament by receiving an at-large bid after finishing second in both the ECAC Hockey regular season and the ECAC Hockey playoffs. Cornell is the No. 3 seed in the Midwest regional and will be facing off against the No. 2 seed Northeastern Huskies (25-11-4) tomorrow at 4 pm in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“It feels outstanding and I am really excited for this opportunity,” said Cornell junior goaltender Ben Scrivens. “It’s been a little bit of a wait here for the Cornell community. This is my first kick at it and we really want to go deep in the tournament. There were a lot of great runs in the past few years before I came in here and we just want to try to add to that tradition.”
The winner of tomorrow’s afternoon game will face off on Sunday against the victor of the matchup between No. 1 seed Notre Dame and No. 4 Bemidji St. to determine who will emerge from the Midwest Regional to the 2009 Frozen Four in Wash­ington, D.C.
However, the Red is first focusing on tomorrow’s tilt against Northeastern, a team that finished second in the Hockey East regular season. The Huskies are ranked No.6 in the country in the most recent USA Today Poll, and are led by one of this year’s 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists, junior netminder Brad Thiessen. This year, Thiessen has been touted as one of the top goaltenders in the country. The Cornell players are very aware of Thiessen’s success, but junior co-captain Colin Greening explains that the Red has plenty of experience going up against great goalies.[img_assist|nid=36319|title=You and the goal|desc=The Red has experience against solid goaltending.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We have played against [Princeton’s] Zane Kalemba who is a great goalie and we play against Scrivens all the time [in practice]. Our mentality doesn’t change. One thing we always stress is getting traffic in front of the goalie. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you can’t see the puck, then it makes it difficult. [Thiessen] is obviously a great goalie and we realize that, but it’s not inconceivable that we can put a puck by him.”
Other than Thiessen’s stellar goaltending, the Red does not know exactly what to expect from the Huskies, as the two teams have not met since a 2005 Florida tournament game. Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 believes that in the NCAAs, it becomes even more important to focus on your own style of play.
“I don’t know a whole lot about [Northeastern],” Schafer said. “But I do know that they are a hardworking hockey team. They are a team that likes to get up and down the ice… But you are not going to know a team at this time of year in-depth like you would know a team in your own league. It puts a point of emphasis to concentrate on the things you do really well and to play to your strengths.”
Offensively, Northeastern’s attack is spearheaded by a pair of forwards: sophomore Wade MacLeod, with 14 goals and 21 assists, and senior Ryan Ginand, with a team-leading 20 goals in addition to 12 assists.
“They have some forwards that can put the puck in the net,” Scrivens said. “We are going to have to come up with a big game defensively and really play Cornell hockey. We just want to play within our identity because we know we can be successful doing that. … We’re going to try and put guys in front of [Thiessen] and make his life difficult and there’s no doubt that they are going to try and do the same to us.”
The Red’s scouting report on Northeastern — hard-working, defensive-minded and great goaltending — sounds very similar to the way many teams describe Cornell’s own playing style.
“We are very similar teams in terms of how we find success,” Scrivens explained. “We are both defensively sound and then we try and capitalize on our opportunities on offense when we get the chance. I think it’s going to be a phenomenal game and we will see how the chips fall.”
With the Red’s last NCAA Tournament appearance coming in 2006, tomorrow’s game will be the first NCAA Tournament play for most of the Red’s players. As such, Schafer knows that it will be all the more important to have his players prepared and energized for tomorrow’s game.
“My experience going into it is that it is really important to pull back on your preparation for the other team,” Schafer said. “Even more so, and it sounds cliché, you have to focus on yourself and play to your strengths. I think the biggest thing, in my experience, is that the crowds are usually empty. There is no atmosphere. … For our situation, Northeastern and Cornell, there will be nobody in the stands. You have to be prepared for that and create your own excitement.”
“It’s new to me, but it will be fun,” Greening said. “I don’t know what to expect because I’ve never been there before. Only 16 teams get to play for the national championships so it is pretty special. I’ve waited three years for it so I’m going to try and make the most of it.”