Just days after one of the worst teams in the ECAC toppled No. 3/4 Cornell men’s hockey at home, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 decided to give his team the day off.
The shocking loss — a 2-1 defeat that knocked the Red (19-3-1, 13-2-1 ECAC) from its perch atop the national rankings — caused a wide range of emotions for the men of the hockey team. Disappointment. Anger. Regret.
And so, to help the team reset and return to its winning ways, Schafer did not schedule practice on Monday to allow his team to ready itself for a pair of away games this weekend. After some days of reflection, the players have been critical of their own performance yet are confident the defeat will be a learning moment.
“We didn’t come ready to work. We got out-competed,” said junior forward Anthony Angello of Saturday’s loss. “We absolutely wanted to win but we weren’t willing to do the little things to help us win.”
“Obviously, the loss is disappointing but our mentality going into this week is that it’s not going to happen again,” added senior forward Jared Fiegl. “We’re going to learn from that. That’s our focus going into this week: get back on track and get back after things.”
Now, with a chance to avenge one of its three losses this season, the Red travels North to battle No. 7 Clarkson (19-6-3, 11-3-2) and St. Lawrence (6-20-2, 2-13-1) to try to secure a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs.
Notching just one win this weekend would allow Cornell to clinch a top-four seed in the conference postseason, but with a depleted roster due to injuries, nothing is set in stone. Among those sidelined for Friday and Saturday is junior forward Mitch Vanderlaan, who is out for the remainder of the regular season with an injury after blocking a shot Saturday.
Back in November, Clarkson issued the Red its first loss of the season, a 4-0 defeat at Lynah Rink. The win was part of the Golden Knights’ fiery 14-game win streak that catapulted them to second in the nation in the USCHO poll.
“They’ve got some great players and they’re well coached,” Schafer said. “We knew that going in last time. I just didn’t think we competed as hard as they competed.”
Since then, the Golden Knights have won once in their past six games and have slipped in the rankings. A pair of losses this past weekend dropped Clarkson from third to seventh in the USCHO poll.
With the Golden Knights in a tailspin, it could be easy to look past them, but that underestimating is exactly what derailed the team in its loss to RPI on Saturday. In that loss, Schafer said his players, fueled by their status at the top of the rankings, thought they were better than they were. The players have the best chance of winning by focusing on themselves and not on the records or rankings, according to Schafer.
The head coach pointed to Fiegl, who tallied his first two goals since 2016 this past weekend, as a great example of the mentality the entire team should employ come Friday.
“Guttiest effort I’ve seen out of a Cornell uniform in a while,” Schafer said of the senior who had previously missed four games due to illness. “He was zeroed in on exactly what he needed to do to get through that game and it was a good lesson.”
Staying in the moment will similarly be a focus against St. Lawrence, a team that, like RPI, is near the bottom of the conference standings with just two ECAC wins. In Cornell’s previous matchup with St. Lawrence, the Red torched the Saints, 6-1. But, due to injuries, the teams in those games are very different than the squads that will collide on Saturday. According to Schafer, in November, Cornell was nearly completely healthy, while St. Lawrence was fighting through injuries. Now, the “tables have turned,” said the head coach.
With six games left, all of them against teams Cornell has played before, the Red can stake its claim as the best team in ECAC and position itself well for postseason play. The loss against RPI may have been disappointing, but it could provide the fuel the team needs to finish out the regular season and begin the playoffs, according to Angello.
“This little adversity is going to help us,” Angello said. “It’s going to make us come together even more, make us stronger down the road.”
The Red takes the road to play Clarkson Friday and St. Lawrence Saturday, both at 7 p.m.