February 9, 2012

M. HOCKEY | Team Plays for Ivy Title this Weekend

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The Red returns home with an important weekend ahead at Lynah Rink. On Friday, Cornell (11-6-6, 8-3-5 ECAC Hockey) faces Brown (8-12-3, 5-9-2) at 7 p.m. and then Saturday takes on Yale (10-12-2, 7-8-1) at the same time.

A lot is at stake for the Red this weekend, as the team is looking to clinch an Ivy title for the first time in seven years. If Cornell beats Brown on Friday, it will secure at least a share of the title. If the team defeats Yale, Cornell would win the title outright.

Although head coach Mike Schafer ’86 strongly emphasizes that his team refrain from worrying about the standings, he admits that it would mean a lot to the athletic department for the Red to secure its first Ivy League title since the 2004-05 season.

“I think we take great pride in being in the Ivy League and having success as an athletic department in the Ivy League, so to get an opportunity to do that and to have success is big for our athletic department,” he said.

The team is still taking it one game at a time and staying focused on just “sticking to the process,” something Schafer ingrains in his players.

“It’s about all the guys in here and what we can do as a team to grow and become better and get wins,” said junior forward Greg Miller. ‘That’s what it is at this point — to get wins. You can’t focus on where you are in the standings … we’re focusing on day in day out working hard, making each other better and coming to the game, coming to the weekend focusing on our opponent Friday night; then moving on [and] learning what we can learn from last night’s performance and picking up on Saturday.”

However, the standings are definitely an important factor going into this weekend. Right now, Cornell sits in second place in the ECAC. The Red could move up in the standings this weekend, and as the season progresses, this becomes more crucial, as it could secure the Red a position as one of the top four teams in the league. If the Red finishes in the top half of the league, it would earn a bye to the second round of the playoffs.

Cornell’s first opponent, Brown, is coming off a four-game losing streak — a season worst. Although the Bears are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, the Red is not resting easy in anticipation of the match up. On Nov. 5, Brown defeated Cornell in Providence, R.I. The Bears have since proved to be the league’s most mysterious team, wining games against their toughest opponents, and falling to some of their easiest, according to Schafer.

“We’ll get their best effort,” Schafer said. “You don’t expect Brown to play the way they’ve played against opponents, you expect them to play the way they played against us down there. We know that coming in — that they’ll work extremely hard.”

Yale is the three-time defending Ivy League champion, and even though the Bulldogs are not playing as well as anticipated by the media pre-season polls, they still prove a viable threat.

Some players to watch for are senior right winger Brian O’Neill and junior center Andrew Miller, both of whom are ECAC hockey first-team forwards.

“It doesn’t matter where Yale is in the standings,” Miller said. “Yale has always been a top team a top contender, and we can’t take that lightly. I mean, look at RPI, they tied us … Every game is a battle, especially from here on out so we have to be ready.”

Cornell is 3-2-5 since ringing in the New Year. The team has matched the program record for most ties in a season with six. This is likely a reflection of some solid defensive play, as Cornell has surrended only 53 goals so far this season, tying with Union for the lowest total in the nation.

Lately, Miller has been on fire, scoring a goal in each of the Red’s last three games and leading the league in scoring.

“I think that he’s got a great shot but he’s [also] learning that you can score goals in this league a lot of different ways,” Schafer said. “I think beating his guy back to the net, being physical and finishing your check and coming back to the net, being uncontested — those are the kind of things he has been very competitive [in] and has raised that level very well over the last three weeks. He’s been playing great.”

Miller credits some of his success to help from teammates.

“When you work hard, good things come and I think my line mates have been playing well,” he said.

Original Author: Dani Abada