It’s crunch time for Cornell men’s hockey.
After a two-win weekend against both Princeton and Quinnipiac — where the Red limited the high-powered Bobcat offense to just 20 shots on goal — No. 14/15 Cornell (11-4-1, 6-4-1 ECAC) is set to embark on a pivotal four-game stretch, against three opponents ahead in the ECAC standings.
This weekend, Clarkson (11-9-3, 6-4-1) and No. 16 St. Lawrence (12-6-6, 8-1-3) will provide the first test, though Cornell will have an unfamiliar advantage: home ice. With just four games played at home to date — the fewest in the country — nine of the next 13 will be played before the Lynah Faithful.
“It’s been a long haul with all the hotels and bus travel,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “People always cheer against you, so it’ll be nice to have someone cheer for you for a change.”
Senior defenseman Patrick McCarron also cannot wait to get back on home ice, but knows the advantage is not the be-all end-all.
“Obviously we love our home ice advantage, and we think we have the best fans in college hockey, he said, “but you can’t really change your mindset. Just because you’re playing at home doesn’t mean the game’s going to be any easier.”
Both Clarkson and St. Lawrence present a formidable challenge for a Cornell team looking for a boost in the league rankings. A majority of Clarkson’s scoring comes from the line of Sam Vigneault, Jordan Boucher and Troy Josephs. The three have combined for 57 points on the season.
Goaltender for the Golden Knights comes in the form of Jake Kielly. The freshman has assumed the starting role in just his first year of collegiate hockey, managing a .917 save percentage and a 2.60 goals against average. He led Clarkson to a 3-1 win over first-place Union back in November with a 36-save performance. So far, it is Union’s only conference loss on the year.
St. Lawrence goaltender Kyle Hayton has been a star in his own right in net for the Saints, posting a .932 save percentage and a 2.14 goals against average. He has also faced the most shots of any netminder in the country, including the most saves on those 690 shots with 643.
St. Lawrence’s Gavin Bayreuther and Mike Marnell lead the Saints in points and goals with 23 and 11, respectively, though both missed last weekend’s games due to injury, and their status is uncertain for Saturday night’s contest.
“They have good hockey teams. They are pretty simple, they play hard. Nothing quirky,” Schafer added. “[They are] just well coached and have really good talent.”
Cornell enters this weekend playing some of its best hockey of the season. Shot blocking is part of what has made Cornell so successful to date. More times than not, the Red outblocks its opponent by the game’s end, contributing to the first place ranking in shots allowed on goal.
“Our team has really bought into blocking shots,” Schafer said. “You have to want to buy in for your teammates. You have to want to win, and those are the little things that successful teams do — they block shots and they block them consistently.”
McCarron — who is third on the team in blocked shots — also said he realizes the importance of making those kinds of sacrifices for his teammates.
“I think everyone has really been committed to blocking shots, whether it’s on the penalty kill or five on five,” he said. “We’ve been playing solid team defense.”
With successful road stints now in the rearview, the team can focus on translating the play to home ice.
Said Schafer after the road win at Quinnipiac: “There is an old saying in hockey where if you win all your games at home and split on the road, you’ve had a good season. Obviously that never happens, but that’s kind of a good formula to follow.”
“I told the guys just because we are going home doesn’t make one bit a difference. It gives us one advantage, and that’s last change. And our fans, which I can’t wait to see. Unfortunately our students are out and still gone for a bit, but it’ll be fun to have someone cheer for us for the first time in what feels like a year.”
The weekend starts against Clarkson 7 p.m. Friday at Lynah.
“We know that we have to get ready to get after it,” Schafer said.