Clinging to second place in the ECAC, Cornell will face its share of tests in the coming weekends, with five of its next seven contests coming against top-five teams in the conference standings.
And the Red (14-2-1, 8-1-1 ECAC) is set to kick off its long stretch of games with this weekend’s home-and-home against nationally-ranked Colgate (10-8-4, 6-3-1). The Raiders, despite cooling down from a hot start to the season, are just three points out of the top four.
Despite the challenging upcoming schedule, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and his veteran players preach sticking to the process, no matter the opponent.
“I don’t think many teams make a whole lot of adjustments this time of year,” Schafer said.
The Red is 3-0-1 since returning from its winter hiatus and has not lost in its last six contests. But to extend that streak, it will have to twice get past a young Colgate team which has turned some heads. The Raiders have already far surpassed pre-season expectations after being picked to finish eleventh and twelfth in the ECAC coaches and media polls, respectively.
Leading Colgate’s improbable success is Raiders goaltender Colton Point, who ranks third nationally in save percentage and fourth in goals against average. In 19 games, the sophomore Dallas Stars prospect has made 571 saves, most in the ECAC.
With all but one team chasing Cornell in the ECAC, Point’s squad and the rest of the conference need wins against top teams to climb up the standings. The Red knows it has a target on its back, and expects its opponents’ best.
“We can anticipate that when we play … teams [that know] we’ve had a successful year to this point, [they] are going to want to beat us,” said junior captain Mitch Vanderlaan. “They’re going to expect that we’re going to come at them hard and they’re going to be ready for that.”
Unlike with typical two game homestands and road trips, Schafer stressed that home-and-home is like a playoff series in that winning the first game makes the second an even more difficult test.
“I think the hardest thing for both teams is just on Friday night if you win a game … the other team comes back,” Schafer said. “It’s just human nature [to come] back probably more determined the next night to change their fortunes.”
In the midst of 16 straight ECAC matchups to close the season and with 12 remaining, racking up points becomes crucial as teams jockey for playoff position.
“Every game especially down the stretch here for the rest of the year is going to be tough,” Vanderlaan said. “Every team is going to bring their best regardless of what their record is or where they are ranked. As you get later in the year, teams are more structured, they’re more in-depth with their systems, they’re adding stuff to their game [and] it becomes a more intense game.”
The Red will play the Raiders at Lynah at 7 p.m. on Friday before traveling to Colgate to play the other end end of its home-and-home at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.