As far as adages in the sporting world go, there is one that holds true to a team’s league success: “Split on the road, and win all your games at home, and you’ll have a great year.” This is the sentiment Cornell men’s hockey head coach Mike Schafer ’86 relayed ahead of the team’s first home matchups of the season against Quinnipiac and Princeton on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“[I hope] we can win every game at home and I think we can split every game on the road,” he said. “If that follows through for the rest of the year I think we’ll be in great shape.”
The Red (2-2-1, 2-1-1 ECAC) has done well in splitting on the road, as evident in a .500 record. As the last Division I team to play a home game in all of college hockey, Schafer hopes a victory against defending league champion Quinnipiac (7-3-1, 3-1) can help to establish Lynah Rink as a fortress with a statement victory.
In Quinnipiac, the Red faces a familiar foe, with the team from Connecticut emerging victorious in the ECAC quarterfinals last year to end the Red’s 2015-16 season. A victory would see the Red leapfrog a consistently strong ECAC team, who currently sits one point ahead of Cornell in the league standings with six points in four league games.
Despite the fact that last season’s defeat remains in the minds of the team’s returning players, sophomore winger and forward Mitch Vanderlaan indicated that the team will approach this game just like any other.
“Last year is last year,” Vanderlaan said. “It’s a clean slate and we will play them as hard as we play anyone else.”
Schafer noted that strong performances against Harvard and Brown were followed by a less dominant performance at Yale, where the team was able to win by making the most of its fewer scoring opportunities. Against Brown, the team held back an early onslaught from the Bears, and was able to grow into the contest and secure the two points. Schafer is looking for the players to regain the same chip on the shoulder — the inner willpower and desire to improve at each practice — ahead of Friday’s match.
“In business or sports, those wake up the next day not satisfied with what happened the day before; they tend to be the more successful people and they are constantly always pushing forward,” Schafer said. “That’s what our guys are trying to learn right now.”
While the Red will no longer have to nullify the attacking threat of Sam Anas, who swapped collegiate hockey for a professional contract within the Minnesota Wild organization, Schafer noted that much of the game plan remains the same from last year.
“Their strength is their numbers [and] they travel in packs on the ice,” Schafer said. “They compete very hard and they block shots very well.”
Sophomore defenseman Alec McCrea indicated that matching Quinnipiac’s speed and intensity will be essential if the Red is to emerge victorious.
“We know they will come with a lot of speed and intensity like they always do and we have to match that and exceed it,” McCrea said. “We are going to bring them the game, play with more speed than them and shut them down.”
Princeton, on the other hand, presents a different challenge for the men in red. Whereas Quinnipiac has been a flourishing powerhouse, the Tigers have struggled to keep their head above water in the league standings.
A winless team would seem to be a welcome sign to any challenger, but Schafer is not so quick to undermine Princeton’s 0-3-1 ECAC record.
“We were one of those teams just a week ago this time,” he said. “They have some really talented forwards on the team. They’ve been on the road and have had some really tough competition.”
With Quinnipiac and Princeton, scoring has often been incredibly important. In five matchups against the Bobcats last year — including the ECAC playoff series — only one game saw less than seven total goals, a 2-2 tie in Hamden. Though the second game against the Tigers last season ended in a 1-0 win for Cornell, the first game saw seven total goals. None was bigger than now-injured senior alternate captain forward Jeff Kubiak’s game-winner with less than a minute remaining.
This year, McCrea and other defensemen have been chipping into the attack, working to fill the void left by the injured Kubiak, who led the Red in scoring with 27 points as the centerpiece of an attack flanked by Vanderlaan and fellow sophomore Anthony Angello.
While Vanderlaan has continued to impress, earning honors as the ECAC player of the week following his performances against Brown and Yale, Schafer said he is enthusiastic about the variety of scorers on this year’s roster.
“Last year we were far too dependent on Jeff, Mitch and [sophomore forward] Anthony [Angello] as far as five-on-five scoring,” Schafer said. “We’ve already seen a lot of five-on-five scoring from all our guys this year.”
Regardless of the results, the team is excited to finally get back to a packed rink in front of the Lynah Faithful.
“This year it has kind of been a grind with the three weekends on the road,” McCrea said. “We are going to bring the momentum back home.”