By TROY BRIDSON
Freshman left wing Mitch Vanderlaan is not the biggest guy in the world, standing at 5-foot-7. In fact, he’s the smallest player on the Cornell men’s hockey team. But for Vanderlaan, height is but a number.
Hockey, after all, is not basketball, where height is commonly associated as a strength. Vanderlaan’s “low center of gravity” as head coach Mike Schafer ’86 calls it, strongly emphasizes the strength of the freshman forward’s game on the ice.
“He’s not big in stature, but he’s got a great hockey sense and knows where to go and where to be,” Schafer said. “He uses that to his advantage and he comes out with pucks with his size and does a tremendous job.”
Vanderlaan got things going early in the first period for Cornell against Niagara on Saturday night. Vanderlaan scored a goal after one-timing a rebounding puck from an Anthony Angello shot. The goal resulted from a perfectly executed set play by the two freshmen.
“It was something that we planned for [Angelo] to go through to the net and obviously he made a really good play there, all I had to do was tap it in,” said Vanderlaan.
Later in the first period, Vanderlaan made a great pass to junior center Jeff Kubiak that set up a Kubiak goal. Vanderlaan got an assist on the goal, giving Cornell a two-goal lead that they would never look back on. Coach Schafer credited a lot of Vanderlaan’s success to his ability to gain body position on taller players.
“Mitch has got that knack as a smaller player,” Schafer said. “he uses his body and gets in there and cuts people hands off and gets body position and comes out with pucks.”
Vanderlaan, like many of the other freshman on the Cornell hockey team, feels a sense of camaraderie with the team. The older players have done a great job of welcoming the talented freshman class to the team, according to Vanderlaan.
“We have a lot of guys that are helping and supporting the freshman class,” Vanderlaan said. “Going right through the lineup everybody has been coming together as one big team and it made for a really easy transition for me and a lot of the freshman.”
Cornell’s freshman class has catalyzed the Big Red offense. The combination of Vanderlaan and Angello has helped Cornell achieve more fluidity in their offensive play and both players have an ability to create chances.
The execution on Cornell’s first goal was a great example of both players knowing what to do and where to be at the right time. When asked about his role on the team, Vanderlaan said he just tries to focus on what the coaches are telling every player. Vanderlaan noted the importance of every player finding a way to contribute.
“Well I think at the end of the day everybody contributes in different ways and we’re deep through all four lines,” Vanderlaan said. “For me it’s doing the same things that they preach for everybody.”
Cornell will need Vanderlaan to continue his solid play if the team wants to keep having success offensively.
“Hockey is a game of anticipation. There are concepts. Everybody understands what they should do, but it’s the guys that think the game the fastest that are the better players,” Schafer said. “[Vanderlaan] thinks it. He learns real quick. Quick learner.”