Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

Junior goalie Mitch Gillam hopes to continue his lights-out netminding in two big games this weekend against Brown and Yale.

February 10, 2016

Cornell Men’s Hockey to Face Brown, Yale in ECAC Clashes

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Last week, associate head coach Ben Syer — who served as acting head coach while Mike Schafer ’86 recovered from taking a puck to the head during practice — mentioned that even though Cornell was in the midst of a rough patch, little things here and there were the difference between walking away with a win or loss in most of those games.

Now, with a 1-0-1, streak-snapping weekend in the rear view mirror, Syer said he is happy with how “the group was very resilient and there was no panic at any point.”

Sometimes all it takes is a little momentum, a spark of energy and hope, to get a team going. Even though last Friday’s game against No. 1 Quinnipiac was a tie, the men walked away with their heads held high, knowing they scraped away a point against the current paragon of college hockey.

“We were down too, so it was nice to get a comeback on them and give them a little taste of their own medicine,” junior goalie Mitch Gillam said. “Each point is huge and squeaking that one point out of Quinnipiac was huge.”

Cornell fed off the momentum after freshman forward Mitch Vanderlaan scored the late equalizer against the Bobcats. The squad left Saturday’s game against Princeton with a win in the record book, the Red’s first in the last eight attempts.

“The win is really big for us,” Vanderlaan said. “We were still pretty confident as a group after that [losing] stretch, so it’s nice get back in the win column and hopefully continue that this weekend.”

However, what is imperative for this team is to not let the momentum be short-lived. That task does not come easily with Brown (4-16-4, 2-12-3 ECAC) — who gave the Red (12-7-4, 7-6-3) serious trouble at their last meeting — and the ever-tough Yale (14-5-4, 9-4-3) on the docket.

“Brown is a real hard-working team, so we will have to have a really strong performance on Friday night,” Syer added. “Yale is going to be an extremely good defensive team, so it will be hard to generate [shots].”

While Brown currently sits at the bottom of the ECAC, the standings and stat sheets go out the window once the puck is dropped. Last meeting, the Bears held the Red to 16 shots, while racking up 27 of its own. Luckily, the Red were able to escape with the 1-0 victory.

“Their top two lines are as good as any lines in the league,” Syer said. “They are not a team that is indicative by their record. They are going to be an extremely tough opponent. They battle and always play hard.”

Gillam — who was just named ECAC Goaltender of the Week for the third time this season — was, once again, the main reason Cornell was able to escape Providence with a win earlier. His 70 saves on 72 shots this past weekend are indicative of how dominant he has been of late.

Opposing Gillam the second game this weekend against Yale will most likely be junior phenom Alex Lyon. He is sporting a 1.51 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Lyon, an extremely decorated netminder, has been selected to the American roster for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. He was also First-Team All-ECAC and was awarded the Ken Dryden Award for top ECAC goalie. The fans who pack Lynah Rink Saturday night are in store for a brilliant goalie battle.

“I love playing against Lyon, he’s a great goalie,” Gillam said. “He brings out the best in me and I try to elevate my game up to our standards of being elite goalies in the league. It’s going to be a battle between him and me.”

Yet, while the last meeting with the Bulldogs was a defensive battle to the end, resulting in a 0-0 tie, Yale will be without Boston Bruins’ draft pick Rob O’Gara, who will be serving a suspension after a game misconduct in last weekend’s game against Harvard.

According to USA Hockey’s Rule 404, a player who receives a game misconduct “shall also be suspended for his team’s next game (the game already appearing on the schedule of that team at the time of the infraction),” but in the case of O’Gara, the ECAC decided to add an additional game to the one-game mandatory suspension.

Last year, O’Gara was named an All-American and the ECAC’s Best Defensive Defenseman. His absence will, without a doubt, be appreciated by Cornell’s offense.

“We have to take advantage of the opportunities,” Syer said. “They are very stingy to play against, so when you get an opportunity, you have to make good on that opportunity because they don’t come often.”

Contrary to last week’s report, Schafer did not travel with the team to Quinnipiac and Princeton, but he remained in contact with the team over the weekend, according to Syer.

“He was involved and in constant communication with [the team], even though he didn’t make the trip with us,” Syer said.

The players noted how there was a clear absence on the trip without Schafer, but his assistants handled the task smoothly.

“It’s different not having him out there,” Vanderlaan said. “[Syer] and [assistant coach Topher Scott ’08] did a great job taking care of us and getting us ready for the game, but it’s good to see [Schafer] back on the ice.”

Luckily for the Red, however, Syer has proved to be more than capable when called upon. In his time as acting head coach, Syer has produced an impressive 5-0-1 record.

Schafer was back on the ice Monday at practice and should be fine for the homestand this coming weekend.