After sweeping Princeton in the opening round of the ECAC Hockey Championship tournament, the Red is now preparing for a meeting with the nation’s top ranked team. Facing possible elimination, ninth-seed Cornell (14-14-3, 8-11-3 ECAC) will travel to Hamden, CT this week to take on top-seeded Quinnipiac (24-5-5, 17-2-3) in a best-of-three quarterfinal series. Game one will begin Friday at 7:00p.m., game two Saturday at 7:00p.m. and game three Sunday at the same time, if necessary.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the room right now,” senior defenseman Nick D’Agostino said. “[W]e knew on Sunday it was going to be either ‘Qpac’ or RPI and even though [Quinnipiac’s] the number one team in the nation, I think a couple guys wanted to get the chance again to play against them. It’s going to be a lot of fun to go down there … It’s going to be a [really] hostile environment, we’re going to be big underdogs, but we’re fine with that. We’ve been playing well and we’re excited to get down there.”
In the two previous meetings this season, the Bobcats have upended the Red 4-1 in November and February, respectively. Despite the Quinnipiac’s superior regular season play — the Red’s seven-game losing streak came simultaneous with a 21-game unbeaten streak for the Bobcats — head coach Mike Schafer ’86 is proud of the way his team has been playing as of late and is looking to this weekend’s series as a shot at redemption.
“[Quinnipiac’s] a great opponent,” Schafer acknowledged. “They’re the number one team in the country and they’ve earned that rank. They’ve been extremely consistent throughout the course of the year. They’ve done it as a team … They’ve done it as a collective group … It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to go down there, [have a chance to] beat the number one team in the country, go to [the semifinals in] Atlantic City, [and] maybe gain a little bit more self-respect back in the sense that we thought we’d be that kind of team ourselves — near the top of the league.
Senior leadership, sound fundamentals and strong teamwork have characterized Quinnipiac this season. The result has been a team noted for its defense, leading college hockey with a 91.7 penalty kill percentage and relinquishing the fewest goals — a meager 1.59 per game — of any team in the nation.
“They just play real good team defense,” D’Agostino said. “They play a very similar system to us. Their D [plays] man-on-man and they’ve got a lot of experience on the back end and some good defensive forwards who are seniors now, who’ve been around here, and they’ve all bought into the system. They play real tight in the neutral zone … We’re going to have to … get pucks in behind their feet and go to work. But we’re with fine playing a low-scoring defensive game … That’s what we’re used to playing here at Cornell and those are the games that we like to be in.”
A big key to the Red’s success this weekend will be putting pressure on one of Quinnipiac’s seasoned veterans, senior goaltender Eric Hartzell.
“They have a big goalie,” said sophomore forward John McCarron, who has scored seven goals since the end of December. “We’ve just got to get to the net hard and he’s usually going to stop the first shot — he’s big, he’s covering up most of the net — but we’ve got to get the shots there first. They do block a lot of shots, but I’ve played against the goalie in juniors. We were successful against him there, so I’ve been telling these guys where to shoot it, where to go to the net — to get it upstairs on him because he drops down because he’s big … ”
The team has noted that strong goaltending will be a major asset in making a playoff run. In this regard, the Red has been in good hands with the recent play of junior goaltender Andy Iles, who delivered 26 saves en route to a shutout performance, his second of the season, in the Red’s playoff opener at Princeton.
“Andy was pretty awesome for us this [past weekend at Princeton],” D’Agostino said. “When he’s on his game, there’s a lot of confidence within our team, and we feel like he’s playing his best hockey right now. And just as a defenseman, it makes the game that much more comfortable knowing you don’t have to do anything spectacular out there — just keep [the opponents] to the outside and he’s going to make those saves for us … [W]e expect nothing short of the best from him this weekend.”
Should the Red defeat Quinnipiac, the team will travel to the ECAC Hockey Championship semifinals in Atlantic City, N.J. Semifinal games will be held on Friday, March 22, and the conference championship game on Saturday, March 23.
“We are do-or-die, and we’re playing with our season on the line,” McCarron stressed. “[Quinnipiac] doesn’t have that aspect, because even if they do lose they’ve still going to end up going to the [NCAA] Tournament. So I think we can use that to our advantage and just show up ready to go.”
Original Author: Chris Mills