In advance of Cornell’s (12-10-3, 10-6-2 ECAC Hockey) showdown with rival Harvard (5-18-1, 3-13-1), the University has once again instituted a “zero-tolerance policy … regarding bringing fish into Lynah Rink.” But fans should not expect the strongly worded release or the Crimson’s 2010-11 struggles to get in the way of college hockey’s premier rivalry.
The Red returns to East Hill after taking hold of the No. 4 spot in the ECAC with last weekend’s road win over RPI, putting the Cornell team in position to earn a first-round bye in the conference playoffs. Despite all the hype that surrounds this weekend’s matchups — punctuated by the celebration of the senior class — the squad understands that it must maintain composure and avoid letting distractions get in the way of sound, fundamental hockey.
“Our team is very disciplined,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I think if you’re a team that’s undisciplined … then you have to worry about something [like the Harvard game]. We’ve been in very big emotional games already this year … and we’ve maintained our discipline.”
The Red has had plenty of practice with maintaining composure lately, after last weekend’s matchup with Union. Senior forward Dan Nicholls was assessed a disqualification after a fight en route to what Schafer called an “embarrassing” loss, 4-0. Instead of relying on the officials to police questionable rough play, the head coach argues that it is the players’ responsibility to know when they have crossed the line.
“Our guys are held accountable for penalties that they take,” Schafer said. “Dan Nicholls took a penalty here against St. Lawrence and he didn’t get kicked out of the game — I sat him out for the rest of the game. I want our guys to play with an edge, but … I don’t want chippy play, I don’t want trash talking. I want guys to play hard and be under control.”
In addition to the rivalry surrounding tonight’s matchup with the Crimson, the Red will also be celebrating the final home weekend for its senior class. Senior co-captains Joe Devin and Patrick Kennedy will be joined by classmates Mike Devin, Nicholls and Jordan Kary for one final lap around the Lynah Rink ice.
“It’s somewhat exciting, but it’s somewhat emotional too,” Kennedy said. “It could be your last two games here at Lynah for the rest of your life, so it’s something that you kind of have to take in stride, take advantage of the moment and you always want to go out with your best game.”
Entering tonight’s game controlling its own playoff destiny was something that most thought would be impossible considering the Red’s 0-3 start to the season. Sophomore defenseman Nick D’Agostino points to the leadership of the senior class when asked to explain the team’s remarkable turnaround.
“[The seniors] have done a tremendous job all year,” D’Agostino said. “We’re a much different team this year after losing [last year’s] senior class … and you can’t replace those guys, but [this year’s seniors] have done a great job. They’ve really picked up their games here over the stretch. They’ve done a terrific job.”
The Crimson will enter Lynah Rink tonight after losing in three of its last five games, including a home defeat at the hands of the Red last month, 2-1. Despite its struggles in the ECAC, Harvard was able to defeat No. 15 Boston University in the 59th annual Beanpot this past Monday, 5-4. Offensively, junior forward Alex Killorn (21 points), sophomore defenseman Danny Biega (19 points) and senior forward Michael Biega (16 points) lead the Crimson. Senior goaltender Kyle Richter has averaged 2.77 goals-against, while splitting time with fellow senior Ryan Carroll (3.43 goals-against average).
“Harvard’s a pretty hard-working team,” said junior forward Sean Collins. “They’ve got a lot of skill up front. They always bring their best effort against us. It’s obviously a big rivalry, so we’ll expect a real strong performance out of them.”
While the Harvard game may draw the most attention of the Red’s two games this weekend, in actuality tomorrow night’s 7 p.m. faceoff with Dartmouth (15-7-3, 11-5-2) will represent Cornell’s opportunity to leapfrog the Green for third place in the ECAC. The Red enters tonight’s game trailing Dartmouth by two points for that No. 3 spot in the conference.
“[Dartmouth is] obviously one of the top teams in the league. They’ve got a lot of offensive firepower, really strong on the back end too. Obviously we’re neck and neck with them in the standings right now, so it’s a huge [game] for us,” Collins said.
The Green is led by reigning ECAC Goalie of the Week, James Mello, who has compiled a .936 save-percentage and 2.00 goals-against average this season. It is expected that he will matchup against Cornell freshman net minder Andy Iles, who was the recipient of last week’s ECAC Rookie of the Week award.
On offense, senior forward Scott Fleming has led the Green with 24 points, while freshman standout Matt Lindblad has notched 10 goals and 11 assists — making him Dartmouth’s second leading scorer.
Considering all the ups and downs of this season, it seems only fitting that the Red enters its final home weekend against its biggest rival with a chance to secure a bye that once seemed completely out of reach. There is no question that with so much on the line this weekend that emotion will be a factor for all involved.
“I definitely try to embrace [the emotions],” Kennedy said. “The Harvard weekend is always kind of an easy weekend to get jacked up for with them being a main rivalry for us — and those games are always fun with the fish and the fans. So it’s kind of the game of the year that everyone always circles on their calendar. On top of that you have senior night too … and there’s going to be a lot of emotions this weekend for sure and you just really have to embrace it.”
Original Author: Evan Rich