Cameron Pollack | Senior Sun Photographer

Senior defender Reece Willcox is one of four seniors leading the team this season.

February 24, 2016

Cornell Men’s Hockey to Finish Up-and-Down Season With Games Against Union and RPI

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Cornell men’s hockey (13-8-6, 8-7-5 ECAC) finishes up the regular season at home this weekend against Union College (12-11-9, 5-9-6 ECAC) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (16-12-6, 8-6-6 ECAC). The Red are looking to build some momentum with the ECAC tournament approaching.

“I think we have a bit of a swagger back in the sense of having confidence in the way we are playing,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’89.

Cornell is coming off an impressive road stint with a tie against Harvard (11-5-4, 15-8-4 ECAC) and a win over Dartmouth (14-12-1, 11-9-0 ECAC).

“You look at our record over the last six games, we’re 2-1-3 in a tough league,” Schafer said. “That’s putting up some points.”

Two wins this weekend and some losses from teams ahead in the ECAC standings would give the Red a chance to secure a first-round tournament bye this weekend. Cornell currently sits in seventh place in the ECAC, but with the exception of Quinnipiac (23-2-7, 14-1-5 ECAC), most teams are separated by only one or two losses.

Still, the Red aren’t too concerned with where they will end up in the tournament seeding.

“There are distinct advantages of having the bye and there are distinct disadvantages of having [it],” Schafer said.

Schafer noted some teams have won the ECAC tournament entirely on the road while others have won while playing at home.

“Really it’s about getting on a roll in the post-season and having all aspects of your game working,” Schafer said.

Schafer also noted that there is some luck involved, whether it be avoiding injuries or friendly puck bounces on the ice.

“What we talk about all the time is eliminating the mistakes we can control and then letting everything else fall in place,” Schafer said.

Before the tournament begins, however, Cornell’s senior class of Christian Hilbrich, John Knisley, Teemu Tiitinen and Reece Willcox will play in their last regular season home games on Saturday’s senior night game against RPI.

“It’s hard to believe right now,” Willcox said. “It will be a pretty emotional night with my family there.”

Schafer credited the seniors for their positivity, work ethic and leadership, noting that they have served as the backbone of the team. He also noted their tight-knit bond.

“This group went down on a mission trip to the Dominican with myself and some others,” Schafer said of the seniors. “The Priest down there told us he’s never had a more sincere, engaged group of guys and I think that would be a good reflection of who they’ve been since they stepped on campus.”

Hilbrich has scored four goals and added four assists for the Red this season. Knisley has scored three goals and two assists. The two senior forwards have provided experience and poise up front.

Willcox has been dominant in defense at times this season and has two goals to go along with an impressive ten assists.

Meanwhile, Tiitinen has helped to solidify the center position, scoring two goals and two assists. Coach Schafer pointed out Tiitinen as a leader in the locker room.

“[Teemu] brings a determination and effort that represents our hockey team,” Schafer said.

“I’ve gotten a lot my work ethic from my family and wherever I go I want to leave a lasting impression,” Tiitinen said.

Indeed, Cornell’s senior class has left a lasting impression both on and off the ice. They will undoubtedly lead the Red into the playoffs with pride and confidence.