Off to its best start in over 10 years, No. 12/14 Cornell men’s hockey returns home to play a pair of tough Ivy League matchups against archrival No. 5 Harvard and Dartmouth. On top of the historic rivalry, the Red has yet to defeat either of these teams in multiple seasons, making this weekend all the more exciting.
In the standings, a win against No. 5 Harvard (2-1, 2-1 ECAC) will count the same as a win against any other conference opponent. But to these players, a win against Harvard is no ordinary feat.
“It’s only two points, but it feels like 100 when you win,” said senior Trevor Yates.
However, the majority of this team does not know that feeling. The last time the Red defeated the Crimson was back during the 2014-15 season, when the current seniors were freshmen, and Eric Freschi ’17 scored a game-winner with 41 seconds remaining.
“That was … the loudest I’ve ever heard a building,” said senior captain Alex Rauter. “It was crazy.”
But while the magic of winning the fabled rivalry has disappeared from Lynah Rink in recent years, this Cornell team is poised to come out on top against Harvard in a rematch of the 2017 ECAC Finals.
After a road sweep of No. 16 Quinnipiac and Princeton in its opening weekend of ECAC play, Cornell is in a fine spot, sporting its best start since the 2006-07 season. Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 believes all of that goes out the window for this matchup
“The aura [of the rivalry] is more around Harvard and Cornell and the game because it doesn’t matter what our records are, it doesn’t matter who’s playing in it,” Schafer said. “The aura of that game is two rivals playing. They are usually great hockey games.”
This will be the Crimson’s first road trip of the season following a weekend split featuring a 5-2 upset loss to Yale (2-2, 2-2). And while Harvard graduated key players from its ECAC Championship squad, the team still features All-ECAC Preseason Team selections in forward Ryan Donato, defenseman Adam Fox and goaltender Merrick Madsen.
Nevertheless, Cornell needs to continue what it has been doing, and that is playing solid all-around hockey, and specifically on defense, where the team faltered a bit against Princeton.
“It doesn’t matter who you play,” Schafer said. “Our guys … have got to be consistent, and they’ve got to block shots, and they’ve got to work. That’s all they’ve got to do. But it’s not different for Harvard. We will face this all year.”
Cornell would enjoy nothing more than to bring the magic back to Lynah with a win against the Crimson. But first, the Red will have to play Dartmouth (2-2, 2-1) on Friday evening, a game that can be easy to neglect with Harvard looming the next night.
“One of the hardest things is to not overlook Dartmouth because they’re a good team and … we just have to forget about Harvard for now and focus on ourselves this week getting better and what we do,” Yates said.
Following a weekend sweep of Yale and Brown (1-3, 1-3), forwards Kevan Kilistoff and Daniel Warpecha are leading Dartmouth in scoring with three goals apiece so far in 2017-18. Playing together on the same line, the offensive pair will be a formidable challenge for the Cornell defense.
The Green has defeated the Red in seven straight matchups, including the last four on East Hill. History shows that this will not be an easy weekend for the home team in both games.
Yet in the few games it has played, the Red has shown it can handle quality teams and fight back when the going gets tough. After falling behind by two goals to Princeton, Cornell managed to quell a rolling Tiger squad for the remaining two-thirds of the contest and come back to win.
“It was definitely a good test of our character,” Rauter said. “It was huge to get everything going and get the ball rolling especially going into this weekend.”
From what Schafer has seen from his players so far, he is confident they can continue their winning ways against Dartmouth and Harvard.
“I was pretty happy with the way they responded [against Princeton],” Schafer said. “But don’t kid yourself, Princeton’s got just as good forwards as Harvard. I don’t know if [Princeton has] the depth, but their top end guys are just as good as the Harvard guys.”
“It’s definitely a more intense weekend than a regular weekend during the season,” Yates added. “It almost has a playoff feel as it matters a little bit more to us.”
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Friday against Dartmouth and 7:30 Saturday against Harvard.