February 24, 2011

Men’s Hockey Hits Road With Eye On First-Round Bye

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When the men’s hockey team takes the ice against Brown tonight, it is unlikely that anyone will mistake these two squads for the ones that faced-off on Nov. 20 at Lynah Rink. That contest, which ended in a Brown victory, 3-2, saw a struggling Cornell team continue its early season struggles with a third consecutive ECAC loss. Fast-forward three months and enter Meehan Auditorium in Providence, R.I., where the Red (13-11-3, 11-7-2 ECAC Hockey) takes on Brown (8-13-5, 6-11-2) at 7 p.m. for the final time this season with a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs on the line. While there is certainly plenty riding on tonight’s game, the marquee event of the weekend will take place in New Haven, Conn. for a 7 p.m. puck drop against No. 3 Yale (22-5-0, 16-4-0). “We know going on the road that we have to continue to win in order to get into the Top-4 [against] both Brown and Yale … on their senior weekends, and there’s a lot at stake for everyone right now,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. Returning to the ice after its own senior weekend, the Red is very familiar with the emotions that go along with the final sendoff for the graduating class. According to Schafer, in the Cornell’s matchups with rivals Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend, the Red had difficulty finding a balance between the excitement of senior weekend the businesslike approach that came along with vying for a first-round bye in the conference tournament.  “Friday [against Harvard] was a great lesson,” Schafer said. “We were excited to play, but we did not think throughout the course of the game and we had all kinds of energy. Obviously on Saturday we didn’t have as much energy, enthusiasm and excitement, but we thought [through] the game and didn’t give up a whole lot defensively. We were disciplined — we didn’t play with the passion and flat out energy that we had on Friday night — but it goes to show you … that when you focus on what you’re doing, you’re going to have success.” The Red currently sits in a third place tie with Dartmouth in the ECAC standings, with Rensselaer just one point behind the chase for a tournament bye entering tonight’s action. “I think it’s pretty important for us to get that weekend off, to get some guys rested,” said sophomore forward Greg Miller. “Mentally it will be good to take the weekend off and refocus before the last push for the playoffs. Of course if it doesn’t happen, we’ve got to put that behind us and just get ready for the [first round].”“We’re looking at it as vital,” said junior defenseman Keir Ross of the opportunity to clinch the bye this weekend. “It’s huge getting a bye … it’s just all the better odds to win a championship.”Securing that bye will not be an easy task against a Brown team that has a powerful offensive duo of junior forward Jack Maclellan and senior forward Harry Zolnierczyk, who have compiled 31 and 27 points, respectively. Defensively the Bears have struggled mightily, allowing a league-worst 3.50 goals per game. On offense the Bears have slightly outpaced the Red, ranking one spot higher in the ECAC and nationally in scoring offense.“We’ve been working on … breaking out against Brown’s forecheck. Brown is a really hard-working team … so we’re going to need to come in playing our best and we recognize that,” Ross said.  Despite impressive play from freshman goaltender Andy Iles, who has not lost since the Nov. 20 home defeat to Brown, the Red is expected to maintain its goalie rotation of starting junior Mike Garman on Friday nights and Iles on Saturdays.When the Red suits up for tomorrow night’s game against No. 3 Yale with Iles in net, it will likely have its hands full on defense from the outset against the nation’s best offense. The Bulldogs enter the weekend with an unprecedented 4.41 goals per game average, and have been equally impressive on the defensive end compiling a 2.22 goals-against average. Yale also possesses the conference’s fourth-leading scorer, junior forward Brian O’Neill and one of the top goaltenders in the league — senior Ryan Rondeau, who has allowed a paltry 2.10 goals per game. “[Yale] plays really well as a team,” Ross said. “Really good transition team. Once they’re forechecking, even if you get it out of the zone, they’re coming right back at you and making really good plays.”While both Brown and Yale are vastly improved since playing the front end of the season series at Lynah Rink in November, the same can be said of the Cornell team that has come back from the cellar of the ECAC to compete for a top spot in the conference. Senior forward and co-captain Joe Devin has tallied points in seven of his last nine games, currently sitting in a tie with Miller for the title of team point-leader. According to Schafer, the senior class — led by Devin and fellow co-captain Patrick Kennedy — has been a focal point in the team’s dramatic turnaround since its November struggles. As a result the coach expects his veterans to use their knowledge of post-season play in prior years to help the team maintain its success.“The seniors have been involved in every aspect of getting to the championship game,” Schafer said. “They’ve hosted and went to Union and won, they’ve hosted the quarterfinals against RPI, lost the first game and had to win the next two and they’ve hosted and swept and gone to the finals. … Regardless of the outcome the goal is still the same: to get to Atlantic City and get to [the championship].”

Original Author: Evan Rich