With a tough end to a successful 2016-17 season still fresh in the minds of Cornell men’s hockey, the team finally gets the opportunity to hit the ice after six long months of waiting this weekend against Alabama-Huntsville.
Dominant down the stretch, including a 6-0-3 run to close the regular season, the Red finished runner-up in a tough ECAC tournament last season, eventually seeing a quick first-round exit in the NCAA tournament. Those results leave Cornell hungry for even more this upcoming campaign.
“We’re ready to get after it, especially since our dream of winning a national championship ended a couple weeks short last year,” said junior defenseman Alec McCrea. “We’re ready to get back to work starting with Alabama-Huntsville.”
Having gotten so far last year, “it makes you really want to get back there. The only way to do that is to take it game by game, practice by practice,” McCrea added.
Alabama-Huntsville, four games into its season, comes to Ithaca fresh off a split series at No. 15 Michigan Tech. Standing at 1-3, with losses against the Huskies and No. 8 Notre Dame, Alabama-Huntsville already has a good amount of game experience under its belt, while the Red skates out excited to “catch up to the rest of the country,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
Senior forward and alternate captain Jared Fiegl, about to embark on his final season-opener at Lynah, knows, perhaps more than anyone, how essential it is to get out to a strong start.
“It’s my fourth time starting the season here, and I know the importance of getting off on the right foot and how you’ve got to be prepared for that no matter what team’s coming in,” he said.
Though not a big-name opponent, Alabama-Huntsville is a team Schafer knows has strong abilities and is looking to continue to prove itself on the national stage.
“They compete really, really hard, they’re well-coached, they’ve gone on the road into three tough places to play already this year, so this will be a big challenge for us,” Schafer said. “We need to be ready for them, ready for the physicality [and] ready to make plays quickly.”
Forwards Josh Kestner and Tyler Poulsen have paced the Chargers’ offensive attack, each with three goals so far this season.
Through four games, the team from the South has amassed 17 power play opportunities and netted five goals with the man advantage. The Chargers also, however, have been penalized 26 times through four games.
“[We’re preparing] for a team that on special teams will have a little bit more savvy than we do,” Schafer said.
Though an unusual opponent, the Red has taken on the Chargers four times at Lynah before, posting a 3-0-1 record, with the last matchup coming in 2010.
This time around, Cornell will need “back-to-back efforts on both nights,” according to Schafer, to pick up wins this weekend.
“If we play well on Friday, we leave it. If we play poorly on Friday, we leave it, and we get ready to go back the next day and play extremely hard and for 120 minutes all weekend,” Schafer said.
Preparing for his final season opener, Fiegl will still be amazed by “how loud it is, the energy, especially when you start to get momentum going, you hear the fans behind you. Four years down the road that’s still something special.”