By EMILY BERMAN
After scorching York in its exhibition game last weekend, the men’s ice hockey team is set to kick off the regular season with a pair of away games against non-conference opponent Nebraska-Omaha. The contests mark the Red’s (0-0, 0-0 ECAC) first meeting with the Mavericks (2-2, 0-0 NCHC) in program history.
The story of last weekend’s game was junior forward and assistant captain Cole Bardreau, who netted two goals and an assist in his first game back after a neck fracture sidelined him for the final half of last season. Bardreau notched the opening tally of the game to start a Red spree of three goals in eight minutes.
“It was just preseason, but even coming down the tunnel there and hearing the crowd again and the band was an awesome experience and something I needed,” he said. “I feel back to normal.”
The exhibition match against York was the only competition the Red has seen yet this season, compared to the Mavericks’ four regular season games and one exhibition game. Nebraska-Omaha split a series against Northern Michigan last weekend and similarly split the pair of games against Bentley University the weekend before.
“It goes to their advantage playing so many games — they’ve got their systems more down and they’ve kind of figured out the roles that everyone’s going to play, and that’s something we’re still trying to do,” Bardreau said. “At the same time, I think we can use that excitement — we haven’t played a lot of games — to kind of try to get an early jump on them with our energy and go from there.”
The Mavericks return their top two scorers from last season: senior Ryan Walters, a 2013 Hobey Baker finalist, and junior Josh Archibald, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Walters has two goals on the season, while Archibald leads the team with three. Despite this threat from the Mavericks’ top line, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said that the Red should focus on keeping their own play clean instead of concentrating only on Walters and Archibald.
“You’re going to face teams all year long and they’re going to have great players,” he said. “I think it’s just the team mentality of being aware when they’re on the ice — don’t give them transitional chances, don’t give them odd man rushes, [don’t] worry about them in the sense of being so preoccupied that you get off your game.”
The Red also returns four of their five leading scorers, as well as goalie Andy Iles, who has started 70 consecutive games. Last year’s team faced a troubling midseason stretch, however, losing seven in a row before shaping up in time for playoffs. After the tough 2012-2013 season, Schafer said he wants to restore the Red’s sense of teamwork and “gritty” hockey.
“The biggest thing that we’re looking for is to return to the Cornell culture of gritty hockey and to play together as a team,” he said. “Sometimes we get too many guys who are NHL draft picks and highly talented kids — you start to drift away from what really makes you good as a program, and that’ playing together as a team and understanding you’re the underdog and understanding that you’re not as talented and not as good as you think you are. We’re only going to have success if we play well together.”
The Red added multiple new faces in the offseason to make up for graduated players. Junior Madison Dias said that the team is working on integrating the new players into the team both on the ice, where many of the new players are adjusting from Juniors style of play to collegiate style of play, and off the ice.
“We have a great group of guys in that room and the camaraderie has really grown,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of team activities, team building early in the preseason and it has been off on the ice.”
Following the games against the Mavericks, the Red returns home for a pair of games next weekend before embarking on two straight weekends away from Lynah. Schafer said that having three of the Red’s first four weekends on the road will help the team develop the skills to handle these high-pressure situations later in the year.
“It’s easy to play in front of Lynah fans — you get too fired up sometimes when you play in front of your own crowd, so it’s about having a tight locker room camaraderie because things will always go wrong on the road,” he said. “You’re going to face all kinds of adversity; however, with the first trip you’re going to get an opportunity to see how [the players are] going to handle that adversity and how [they are] going to handle the situation that they’re going to face all year.”