A team cannot exist without its defense, and the Cornell hockey program is definitely aware of that fact.
“One of the main reasons I came to Cornell was to learn how to play great defense,” said senior tri-captain Nick D’Agostino.
D’Agostino and tri-captain Braden Birch are the two seniors that lead the Red’s defense. Juniors Kirill Gotovets and Craig Esposito join them behind the blue line. Last year, the Red recruited now sophomores Joakim Ryan and Jacob MacDonald to join the defensive squad. This year, Cornell has added two more strong recruits in the form of freshmen Reece Wilcox and Gavin Stoick.
Coming in as a freshman is not always easy, as there is a lot to learn when adjusting to the Red’s defensive style.
“There are so many different ways to play team defense … when you come to a team like Cornell who really relies on one-on-one defensive play in the zone it’s almost a little bit of a shock because if you get beat in your assignment, usually that ends up in a scoring chance so it’s a lot of responsibly obviously, but once you get used to it I think you actually enjoy the challenge,” D’Agostino said. “Every assignment you have, every player you’re playing against is a one-on-one, you versus him thing. I enjoy it alot, I think it’s fun.”
So far, D’Agostino seems satisfied with the freshmen’s ability to adjust and learn the systems.
“We’ve gotten two really big, good defensemen who are going to be good defensively in this league … They’ve been doing great in practice … it’s only going to get better from here.”
Ryan added that coming back as a sophomore, getting ready for the season has been much easier. And his statistics reflect that, as he has already racked up six points on the season.
“This is my second year here and I feel more comfortable with all of our systems, our penalty kill [and] stuff like that — our forecheck, neutral zone,” he said.
The Red currently has eight players that have been drafted to the NHL — five of them defensemen — a reflection of the amount of emphasis on defensive play.
“From a team standpoint, we make defense our focal point day in and day out,” D’Agostino said. “Every single year, we have new freshmen coming in, [and in] countless practices in the beginning, early on in the year we work on neutral zone defense and defensive zone coverage because at Cornell we like to win our games 1-0 and 2-1. Without being sound technically on the ice with our defensive systems, that’s not going to happen.”
D’Agostino has already posted a goal and two assists this season. Even the two newest additions to the team, Wilcox and Stoick, have each earned themselves a point so far.
“[There is] an awful lot of pressure on our defense to defend all the time and be mentally tough,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Because playing defense is really where character comes out. When it really comes down to working [the] defensive part of your game, it takes character and it takes someone who is committed to a team game.”
Original Author: Dani Abada