February 2, 2011

For Men’s Hockey, Gameday Is Just Half the Battle

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For most of the Lynah Faithful, the words “good evening hockey fans” echoed over the rink’s public address system signal the beginning of the week in hockey. For the members of the Cornell men’s hockey team the starting whistle usually comes in the form of a cup of coffee from Trillium at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.

With a busy class schedule, mandatory twice-weekly weight lifting and yoga sessions, daily afternoon practices and games against the best teams in college hockey, it’s no surprise that head coach Mike Schafer ’86 is simply in awe of his players.

“I don’t think people have a true understanding of the time commitment that goes with [being a student-athlete],” Schafer said. “We leave on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. and we get back on Saturday at 4 a.m. [from a road trip], and that’s a huge chunk of time to be off campus. … These guys are already used to [managing] a hectic schedule … and have [achieved] excellence in both fields.”

The Red’s rigorous weekly schedule has helped teach younger players, like freshman defenseman Mathieu Brisson, the importance of dedication and time management.

“You’ve just got to keep working hard every day,” Brisson said. “You can’t take a day off or take it easy for a week or so — it just comes right back in your face. The biggest challenge … for everyone is just to keep working every day. You’ve just got to keep going.”

Brisson, a native of Longueuil, Quebec, has had plenty of time to get used to the jam-packed schedule from his days in junior hockey throughout high school to last year’s stint with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL’s Western Division.

According to Schafer, most student-athletes — like Brisson — enter NCAA hockey already accustomed to the hectic lifestyle of playing the sport, turning what might seem impossible to many into a daily routine.

“A lot of these guys have been doing it for their whole lives,” he said. “They’ve been trained to do it through high school … where we’re recruiting a kid and look at their transcripts and they’ve missed 40 days of class because they’re bussing … to five or six other states or across a province.”

With the academic qualifications required to attend an Ivy League institution it stands to reason that there should be some additional benefits to having an intelligent group of hockey players on the ice. During the men’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament run last season the subject was a constant source of chatter for the national media when the Red took the court against the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16. Despite all the discussion, senior defenseman Mike Devin is not buying the notion that his team holds any advantage based on the academic rigors of Cornell.

“We’re no different from any other school,” Devin said, when asked about whether the Red’s book smarts could translate to intelligence on the ice. “I feel like you could have a really smart kid who’s not that good of a hockey player and vice-versa. I don’t think academics has a correlation to athletic performance.”

However, Devin quickly pointed out how the Red — and its other Ivy opponents — has to compete against the scholarships handed out by every other team vying for a spot in the Frozen Four.

“It’s difficult to get hockey players accepted here for … the unbelievable [academics], and I think that’s a credit to coach Schafer. It’s really a tip of the cap to coach Schafer that we do so well every year,” Devin added.

One of the many players who has benefited from playing under Schafer is former captain and forward Colin Greening ’10, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday night for the Ottawa Senators. In his senior season at Cornell, Greening was awarded the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, an honor bestowed upon the most outstanding student-athlete in NCAA Division I men’s hockey. For Schafer, Greening’s arrival in the NHL validated all the hard work that the former captain had put into being a student-athlete over his four years on East Hill.

“It’s a great reward for him. He worked so hard and I’ve always said … that he would leave no stone unturned in order to get into the NHL,” Schafer said. “There would never be any regrets if he never played a game [in the NHL] because he does everything the right way. He’s fully committed, he works extremely hard … so it’s just awesome for him and his family that he gets an opportunity to go out and prove himself.”

The current members of the men’s hockey team will have the opportunity to go out and prove themselves this weekend against conference foes Clarkson and St. Lawrence at Lynah Rink with a chance to improve the Red’s standing in the ECAC on the line.

Original Author: Evan Rich