Three days before Cornell men’s hockey captain Alex Rauter was born in 1994, the New York Rangers came away with a 3-2 Game 7 victory over the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup, breaking the club’s 54-year streak without a championship.
Rauter’s father, a “crazy” die-hard Rangers fan living about 20 miles from New York City in New Jersey at the time, decided with his wife to name their son Alex after Alexei Kovalev, a young star for the Rangers at the time.
And almost a year to the day after his shootout goal against New Hampshire on the ice once graced by his namesake, Rauter will suit up at the famed Madison Square Garden for the final time in his college career as he leads his No. 7 Cornell squad (8-1, 5-1 ECAC) against No. 19 Boston University (6-7-1, 4-4-1) for the sixth chapter of Red Hot Hockey.
“For me, being from New Jersey, it’s just really fun,” he said. “Lots of emotions, lots of family there, alumni and fans, and we’re playing in the world’s most famous arena, so it’s an incredible experience.”
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 echoed Rauter’s sentiments about the excitement surrounding the game. But for a Cornell team that will be dressing and playing a handful of freshmen on Saturday night — indcluding forward Morgan Barron, a draft pick of the New York Rangers — Schafer knows that the team will have to keep those emotions in check.
“The concern is obviously we’ve got a lot of young guys going into the game,” he said. “They’ll be very excited, but it’s about controlling your emotions, it’s about focusing on the game, enjoying the environment.”
The Red has already gotten off to a historically strong start this season but will look to do something it has not done yet on Saturday: defeat BU at Madison Square Garden. In the past five meetings in Manhattan, the Terriers have not lost, holding a 3-0-2 series lead at the world’s most famous arena. While Cornell holds a 23-19-3 overall lead in the historic rivalry, BU has gone 7-3-2 in the past 12 meetings.
“There’s a big history and proud tradition of Cornell doing well against BU, [but] lately in the Garden we haven’t been doing so well against them,” Rauter said. “Playing BU has really put the premium on being focused, we want to go have fun and stuff but we’ve got to be prepared.”
The pride of this Cornell team so far has been its defense and special teams, but the Red has seen a slight hiccup in both aspects of their game recently.
Heading into last Saturday’s matchup against Clarkson, the Red has only given up nine goals in seven games and led the nation with 1.29 goals against per game.
However, the Red has given up eight goals in its past two games, four in both the loss to Clarkson and comeback victory over Niagara. Cornell still ranks second in the nation in team defense with 1.89 goals per game, though, trailing only Clarkson at 1.50.
Cornell has also seen a slight decline in its penalty kill rate, which went from 94.3 percent before the Clarkson game now down to 88.4 percent to drop the team down from No. 1 in the nation to No. 6. However, the decline came at hands of some of the top special teams units in the nation, Clarkson and Niagara, who now rank No. 1 and 8, respectively, with a man-advantage.
The recent struggles, Schafer said, are a reflection of a team that’s still solidifying its identity, especially after having to respond to only one defeat so far this season.
“How you come off a loss, I think we’re still trying to figure that out, probably because we’ve had so much success, which is not a bad thing,” he said. “But at the same time I think this team has shown the ability to come back from games [and] its ability to play well in big games. We’re still developing that identity but I like what I’ve seen so far.”
This Saturday will be the ninth ranked matchup that this young, talented BU team will be playing in this year. The Terriers, who have 12 NHL draft picks on their roster, dropped a 4-3 decision to No. 1 Denver back in late October, but came away with victories against then-No. 6 Providence and then-No. 9/8 New Hampshire earlier this month, among other ranked matchups.
BU enters the weekend fresh off a 7-0 thrashing over Maine to split the weekend series with the Bears. The Terriers have now recorded shutout victories in three of their past six games.
Cornell and its fans will certainly have a memorable time at Madison Square Garden, but the team will need to find the right balance of pleasure and solemness to come away with its first victory over the Terriers in Manhattan.
“For a lot of these guys it’s going to be the biggest crowd they’ll ever play in front of,” Schafer said. “You want them to definitely enjoy the moment, but enjoy the moment by playing well and playing well as a team.”