March 17, 2011

Men’s Hockey Plays Dartmouth in ECAC Semis With NCAA Hopes on Line

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In 2010 the men’s hockey team entered the final weekend of the ECAC playoffs knowing that an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament was still a possibility if it was unable to win the conference title. Friday night, when the Red travels to Atlantic City, N.J. for a semifinal matchup with Dartmouth at 7:30 p.m., it recognizes that two wins over the weekend is likely the only path to earning a bid on Selection Sunday. Interestingly, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 feels that his team has no pressure this weekend since it has been questioned as a contender all season long.

“One advantage we have going into this tournament is that from our standpoint no one expected us to be here,” he said. “There will be a lot of pressure on Dartmouth to win … There’s absolutely no pressure [on us] and I’ve had teams go into the [ECAC] tournament with no pressure on them and we’ve played awesome. They’re big games, but there’s not that burden that you have to win the game.”

The Red entered the season with relatively low expectations after the departure of captain Colin Greening ’10, his assistants, Blake Gallagher ’10 and Riley Nash, and goaltender Ben Scrivens ’10; however, the clutch goals of senior right wing and co-captain Joe Devin paired with the emergence of sophomore center Greg Miller and strong forecheck of senior left-winger Tyler Roeslzer has led Cornell to another final weekend of the ECAC playoffs. The trio that forms the Red’s top line accounted for four of the team’s five goals in the best-of-three series against Quinnipiac.

“We have our goaltending sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday [in practice], and Joe, Tyler Roeszler and [senior defenseman Mike Devin] since they’ve been freshmen have been in that goaltending session,” Schafer explained. “They do a great job with the goaltender, but they work on scoring … The more you’re on the ice early and practicing and the more that you work on a certain skill, the better that skill becomes. [Joe Devin] has earned that ability to score goals because he works on it so much.”

One player who has been conspicuously absent from the scoring sheet this season is senior forward and co-captain Patrick Kennedy, who netted his second goal of the season in the opening minutes of the Red’s decisive game three victory on Sunday night against Quinnipiac, 3-2. Throughout the regular season Schafer stressed the importance of Kennedy’s play on the forecheck and remained confident that his ability to do the little things on the ice would eventually lead to putting the puck in the back of the net.

“[The goal] was definitely a monkey off my back and I was just happy it kind of got the team going and … it’s always nice to score a goal and it was nice to score it on my last night at Lynah, too,” Kennedy said. “It’s been a tough year and coach [Schafer] just always preaches to kind of focus on the process and not the end result, so he’s helped me out in making sure that I always focus on those little details throughout the game and that will ultimately lead to my success.”

With much of the Cornell offense coming from the team’s top line, secondary scoring will likely be even more crucial as the Red looks to apply pressure on the Dartmouth defense tonight, according to Kennedy.

“It’s huge,” Kennedy said of creating scoring opportunities outside the first line. “I think last year you saw at the ECAC championships, we had a lot of secondary scoring. We had [sophomore forward John Esposito] and [junior defenseman Sean Whitney] both with big goals down there, so I think secondary scoring … is probably a pretty key factor in the success of a team, especially in a tournament like the one coming up.”

Schafer experimented with a line featuring Esposito, junior center Sean Collins, and freshman right wing Armand de Swardt in the Quinnipiac series and is likely to stick with that trio after the group experienced some success over the weekend. While the line did not account for any points against the Bobcats, Collins was impressed with how he and his linemates connected early on.

“Obviously [de Swardt] is a big body, so he’s a physical guy — he brings that to the line,” Collins said. “Armand and I play a pretty similar game in that respect — big bodies, try to protect the puck well. John Esposito is kind of a smaller guy, but he really skates well, handles the puck well, got a lot of offensive talent. I think he adds that element to our line that we need to be successful.”

On the bench across the ice tonight at Boardwalk Hall will be a Dartmouth team that the Red has already seen twice this season. In the first matchup in Hanover, N.H., the two squads tied, 2-2, while the Red was able to scratch out an overtime victory on a Roeszler game-winner, 3-2 at Lynah Rink. This time in a neutral setting in the playoffs, Kennedy feels that the early season matchups will have a limited impact on tonight’s contest.

“I don’t know if it matters in the postseason; playoffs are just so much different from the regular season, you know many people call it the second season of the year,” Kennedy said. “We know each other pretty well from the regular season obviously, but the playoffs bring a whole different attitude — a whole different mindset — so you kind of never expect the expected.”

The Green features an offense led by senior forward Scott Fleming, who has 30 points on the season, and junior forward Doug Jones, who sits in second on the team’s points leaderboard with 29 tallies. Dartmouth has a strong team defense, led by All-ECAC selection and Montreal Canadiens draft choice senior Joe Stejskal and junior goaltender James Mello. Mello sports a 2.19 goals-against average in 21 games this season, en route to making the All-ECAC squad.

When the Red suits up against the Green tonight for a chance to play the winner of a Colgate-Yale matchup in the conference finals, the team will also be playing to stay in the hunt for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Like his head coach, Collins feels that the team enters its bout with Dartmouth with nothing to lose.

“I don’t think there’s any added pressure, any time you get a chance to go to the championship tournament the expectation is always to win,” Collins said. “We know we have to win the championship … to get to the NCAA tournament, but that’s the expectation for any year at Cornell, so it’s not out of the norm at all.”

Original Author: Evan Rich