March 10, 2011

Men’s Hockey Hosts Quinnipiac in ECAC Playoffs After Bye Week

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A week off may have been just what the men’s hockey team needed after backing into a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs two weeks prior to tonight’s matchup with Quinnipiac. The Red (13-13-3, 11-9-2 ECAC Hockey) lost three of its last four contests down the stretch — punctuated by losses to Ivy rivals Brown and Yale on the last weekend of the regular season — but will still be hosting the Bobcats (15-13-8, 6-9-7) at Lynah Rink tonight at 7 p.m. to kick-off a best-of-three series. “I compared our [loss against] Yale to our Dartmouth game that we had last year on our drive to the ECAC championship,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “[The Yale game] was a game of reckoning for us as a coaching staff to look at some things that we needed to look at and maybe make some adjustments. The way we played is just not going to lead to any kind of success … and hopefully it was a real wakeup call.” If practice is any indication, the disappointing end to the regular season may have been the call to action that the head coach had hoped it would be.“I [noticed] how much better we’ve been getting over the last five or six days. You can see it in the guys and you can see it in their performance in practice. You can see the improvement because they want to get better, and that’s always a good sign at this time of year.”  While the practice results are certainly positive signs — as are the parallels Schafer drew to last year’s ECAC champs — the opening round series with Quinnipiac is expected to be a highly contested battle. Despite two regular season victories over the Bobcats, the team recognizes that with hockey’s second season comes a necessity to rise to the occasion of a win or go home style of play. “Everyone’s upping their game [come playoff time],” said junior defenseman Keir Ross. “[The gameplay is] kind of just on a whole other level. Another level of intensity — guys are more focused, so … better decision making.”With playoff beards already in full force, Cornell’s longest-tenured players are fully prepared to impart whatever wisdom they have accumulated over the team’s most recent postseason run onto the Red’s younger members.“The older guys have been through it, and you’ve just got to lead by example,” Ross explained. “[Playoffs are] exciting. It’s what you’re preparing for all year and once it comes around, it really gets you jacked up.”The Bobcats enter tonight’s matchup at Lynah as one of two teams to sweep its first round opponent in the ECAC playoffs, after blanking Brown, 4-0, on consecutive nights. Quinnipiac matches up very closely with the Red on special teams where both squads have struggled on the power play, but have been fairly successful on the penalty kill, finishing in the Top-40 in the nation in efficiency when down a man.“[Quinnipiac] definitely has some skilled guys,” Ross said. “Their first power play … is pretty good. They’re a dangerous team — any team in our league is a dangerous team as you can see from the first-round [upsets] — so we’re preparing for them … and I think it will be a good series.”Like the Red, the Bobcats are led on offense by a well-balanced attack that does not feature any forwards with more than 25 points on the season. The team’s point-leaders, junior forward Scott Zurevinski and freshman forward Connor Jones, each enter tonight’s action with 23 points apiece. The duo combined for three points in the opening round against Brown; however, the true stars of the ECAC’s first weekend of playoff action were Bobcats goaltenders junior Dan Clarke and sophomore Eric Hartzell, who collectively stopped all 48 shots the team faced in the two-game set.Similarly, the Red have also featured an impressive duo in net, with junior Mike Garman and freshman Andy Iles splitting time between the pipes over the regular season. While Schafer did switch up the rotation in the final weekend against Brown and Yale — starting Iles on Friday night and Garman on Saturday — the head coach was unwilling to discuss who would be starting the series opener, preferring instead to let the Bobcats wait until 7 p.m. puck drop.“Every 15th weekend I switch it up,” he quipped jokingly. “I said all along until one of those guys steps forward and just absolutely takes the job, they’ll probably split it. I know who I’m going to start, but from that standpoint we’ll wait until [puck drop] for everyone else to find out. In my mind I know it, but I just don’t want the opponent to know it.”When the Red secured a No. 4 seed and a first-round bye, it also achieved the obvious advantage of playing this best-of-three series in front of what is arguably the fiercest home crowd in the conference. “It’s big. We’ve got the best fans in college hockey,” Schafer said. “Anytime you’re playing at home, you’re familiar with the surroundings, with the balance, with everything. You work all year long to get home ice advantage. That’s the biggest thing you can achieve [in the regular season].”

Original Author: Evan Rich