December 1, 2011

M. HOCKEY | After B.U. Loss, Focus Shifts to St. Lawrence, Clarkson

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Just three days removed from a dramatic overtime loss to Boston University, it would not be surprising to hear that the men’s hockey team still has its mind on the 2-1 defeat at Madison Square Garden. But for a Cornell squad that has overcome questions of youth to lead its conference through the first month of league play, it was simply business as usual at Lynah Rink during Tuesday’s practice.

“At Monday’s practice it was a little bit like that, as far as guys coming in and wanting to watch video on the weekend and see what transpired,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “[Tuesday] we had a tremendous practice. It was high tempo, guys worked extremely hard and I think we’ve always tried to pride ourselves on looking back at the games and evaluating … how [we] played and then moving forward.”

The Red (6-3-0, 5-1-0 ECAC Hockey) will face its first test since the Nov. 26 loss to the Terriers when it starts a two-game homestand against St. Lawrence (5-7-0, 4-2-0) on Friday at 7 p.m., with fellow North Country foe Clarkson (8-5-3, 2-3-1) set to take the Lynah Rink ice on Saturday at the same start time.

This weekend’s action closes the book on a memorable November for Cornell, which earned two of the three ECAC monthly awards. Freshman forward Brian Ferlin was named the conference’s Rookie of the Month, recording five goals and six assists in eight contests, while sophomore Andy Iles received ECAC Goalie of the Month honors after earning three consecutive shutouts and limiting opponents to a 1.69 goals-against average. For Schafer, Iles’ steady presence in net and continued development throughout the season has been a crucial factor in the Red’s success.

“He has a lot of confidence,” Schafer said of Iles. “Any time a goaltender gains that confidence it gets him in that mindset that he’s going to stop everything … [Iles] is starting to grow, he’s starting to mature as a goaltender and understands what he needs to do to get better. He’s a diligent worker, he’s extremely committed to excellence, so it doesn’t surprise me that he has worked his way in to having those kinds of games, and he’ll continue to do that.”

Though the Terriers ended Iles’ shutout streak at 213:35, the sophomore net minder stopped 25 of 27 shots in front of 18,200 fans at The World’s Most Famous Arena. As the Red returns home to one of the most feared rinks in college hockey, the focus shifts to finishing the first half of the season with a two-game conference sweep.

“We want to win both of them. Going 7-1 in our league if we win both of them going into [Winter Break] would be really good,” Ferlin said. “I think that would put us if not first place in our league than right near the top.”

Completing the first half of that task will depend on which version of the St. Lawrence Saints arrives at Lynah Rink on Friday night. The mercurial squad started the season winless in its first five contests, but has since bounced back to win 5-of-7. Led by six goals from junior forward Kyle Flanagan, the Saints offense has mustered only 1.83 goals per game in conference play — the second-worst mark among ECAC squads. Sophomore forwards Greg Carey and Kyle Essery sit second and third, respectively, behind Flanagan on the team’s scoring leaderboard.

St. Lawrence also ranks toward the bottom of the conference in special teams play, and has allowed 3.33 goals per game in its 12 games. Sophomore Matt Weninger, who has earned starts in net for the Saints’ in all but one contest this season, owns a 5-6 record and allows 2.80 goals per game alongside a .904 save percentage.

“They’re hardworking teams — St. Lawrence and Clarkson — they’ve been off to pretty good starts so far, so it’s just like any other game, said junior winger John Esposito. “We have to come out prepared, focused regardless of who we’re playing.”

The Golden Knights have also played the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the first two months of the season. Clarkson cooled down after a fiery start (6-1-2), winning only two of its last seven contests, both of which resulted from shut-out performances by senior goalie Paul Karpowich. The net minder has limited opponents to 1.80 goals-against, while posting a .942 save percentage in 16 starts.

Senior forwards Nick Tremblay and Louke Oakley lead a Clarkson offense that ranks No. 9 among ECAC teams; however, the Golden Knights defense has equaled Cornell’s stingy thus far, posting an identical 1.83 goals per game in conference matchups. The two squads enter the weekend tied for fourth place in conference defense, though the Red has played seven fewer games than the Golden Knights due to Ivy League restrictions.

With this weekend representing the Red’s final game action until the Dec. 29 trip to the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., the team is ready to put the emotions of the B.U. loss behind it and finish strong heading into the three-week hiatus, according to Esposito.

“Not at all,” he said when asked whether there would be any lasting effects of the team’s most recent defeat. “We’ve moved forward right away, and we’re focused on these next two games before break.”

The Red starts 2012 on the road with a two-game series at No. 8 Colorado College, before returning to conference play against Quinnipiac and Princeton. Cornell’s first home weekend of the new year is set for Jan. 20-21, when rivals Dartmouth and Harvard make the trip to Lynah Rink.

Original Author: Evan Rich