This story previously appeared in our 2016-17 winter sports supplement. To view the supplement, click here.
Around the Cornell men’s hockey locker room, there are two words that summarize the team’s message — focus and consistency. There have been a wide range of obstacles facing the team up to this point, but the team believes in its abilities and hopes that these two words guide it to an Ivy League championship, an ECAC championship and ultimately, a national championship.
This message resonates especially after two tough home losses against Ivy League rivals Harvard and Dartmouth at the end of January, a blip in the road following a strong streak by the Red.
After winning only two of the first six games of the season, the Red went on to win 10 of the next 12 games, with only one loss in that span before dropping the two home games to Dartmouth and Harvard. The team now sits at 15-6-2 and sits in fourth place in the ECAC, most recently ranked No. 14 in the nation.
Despite the streaks of wins and losses, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said the team has to focus on keeping its emotions “even-keel.”
“It’s all about how you react after wins and how you react after losses,” Schafer said. “That’s the game of sports — not to get satisfied and overreact and think you’re better than you are when you win games and not to think you’re not good when you lose games.”
Staying steady is a message that the team focuses on during games as well, not just in regard to season trends. In the recent games against Harvard and Dartmouth. the Red played a strong 40 minutes, scoring first and holding a lead going into the third period in both games. However, the team gave up a combined 7-0 goals in the final frames across the two games, letting two crucial league games slip away.
On the other hand, there are games where the Red have gotten off to a slow opening 20 minutes, but picked it up later in the game. There have been 10 games where the Red allowed the first goal, but is still 5-4-1 in such games.
“We’ve been a team that’s played some games where it’s been a good 40, and then bits and parts of a period where we aren’t playing very strong,” said senior forward Jake Weidner. “I think that’s one big thing we need to get better on, being able to put a full 60 together and taking the weak parts out of our game. We just got to be able to put teams away.”
The team has had its share of difficulties this season. A unique challenge the Red has faced all season, especially early on, is the amount of traveling. The first five games of the season were all played on the road, making it the longest road trip for the Red in program history. Of the 23 games played so far, the Red has only played eight at Lynah.
Going against the norm, the Red has a slightly better away record than home record. The team is 6-2-1 on the road, but 5-3-1 in the friendly confines of Lynah, including a 2-1 record on neutral ice.
Schafer said the team’s road record exceeds expectations, and the record is crucial for a strong season.
“There’s an old saying in hockey that if you win all your games at home and split on the road then you’ve had a great season,” he said. “Obviously it never happens, but it’s a good formula to follow to do a good job on the road.”
During the season, the Red has had a strong dynamic between the young and the old guys, as players of all classes have contributed to the team. This has led to a next-man-up mentality for the team that Schafer takes into account during every game.
“Every given night you never know who’s ready to play with that little extra in their tank,” Schafer said. “We’ve talked with our team that we’re not going to stay status quo as far as our lines are concerned.
“Ultimately, we’ll make adjustments based on who’s playing really well and who might be having an off night,” he added. “These guys want to win and they want to play hard. It’s not typically that they don’t show up, it’s just a matter of if they’re feeling it that night.”
Looking ahead, the team is making sure to keep the overall goals in mind, but working towards the objectives in manageable steps.
“As a team we’ve grown tremendously. We’re just gonna work on and prepare for each game as it comes,” said senior goaltender Mitch Gillam. “We are looking forward to going to the ECAC championships and winning this year, but we want to take it one step at a time and go into every game as if it’s our last and come out on top.”