When they’re honored at their final regular season home game against Yale Saturday, the Cornell men’s hockey team’s five seniors will hope their “real senior night” is many weeks away — after a long playoff run.
“For a Cornell hockey player the senior night really is playoffs,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “That’s your senior night. And you want to go out of here as a senior in the playoffs as a winner.”
With a chance to earn its first unbeaten slate of Ivy League games since 1996 — Schafer’s first year as head coach — the No. 4 Red (20-3-2, 14-2-2 ECAC) hosts Brown (6-15-4, 5-12-1) Friday and Yale (13-11-1, 8-9-1) Saturday as it looks to maintain its position atop the ECAC standings. Cornell has a four-point lead over Clarkson with four games remaining.
On Saturday against the Bulldogs, Cornell can avenge its lone Ivy tie of the season. The Red rallied from a two-goal deficit to take a late 3-2 lead at Yale Jan. 12, only for the hosts to tie the game with a fluky extra-attacker goal in the final minute.
“They basically stole that tie from us,” said senior forward and captain Alex Rauter. “We were up for a lot of that game, we were dominating that game … We all were maybe a little too calm [and] that extra attacker goal caught a lot of people by surprise, so we’ll be out for revenge on Saturday.”
Yale enters the game in the midst of a four-game winning streak and is led offensively by junior forward Joe Snively, whose 15 goals are fifth-most in the ECAC.
The Bulldogs, currently in a three-way tie for sixth in the conference, are four points away from the top four.
Brown, meanwhile, is 10th in the conference and has struggled offensively. The Bears have scored just 34 goals in 18 ECAC games, fewest in the conference.
In taking on Ivy foes, Cornell hopes to reverse a recent goal-scoring drought. After a 2-1 upset loss to RPI Feb. 3, the Red scored just one total goal against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. But Schafer said the lack of scoring doesn’t merit panic.
“If you’re not producing offensive chances then you start to get really worried,” Schafer said. “When it’s a situation where you’re getting chances and you’re not capitalizing, it’s about just continuing to follow the process of creating those offensive chances. Some nights they’re going to go in, some nights they’re not.”
Thanks to Cornell’s best-in-the-nation defense, the Red picked up three points on the road last weekend, and will look to continue the defensive domination at home.
“If you’re going to win, you’ve got to play great defense, because defense is something that doesn’t take a break,” Schafer said. “It’s something that you can bring every night and you know that you can control a lot of your own destiny.”
“[Defense has] always been a pride of our team. I think the offense had a lot of chances this weekend [but] couldn’t really find the net,” said senior forward Dwyer Tschantz. “I think that will come. We’ve scored a lot of goals this year. I don’t see us thinking it’s a problem right now.”
The fourth line of Tschantz, senior Jared Fiegl and junior Beau Starrett has been a welcome offensive resurgence for the Red. Fiegl, recovering from the flu, has three goals in four games. Tschantz has found himself in the lineup regularly as injuries have plagued the team.
“We’ve just been moving our feet down low and getting to the net,” Tschantz said. “[Fiegl’s] a bull down low and I kind of like to play the same way: jam the net front and get pucks to the net.”
Thanks largely to the play of freshman goaltender Matt Galajda, named the NCAA First Star of the Week after the North Country trip, the Red earned a 0-0 tie with Clarkson and a 1-0 win at St. Lawrence.
“Throughout the course of a season you’re definitely going to go through ebbs and flows as far as your offense is concerned,” Schafer said of his team’s scoring drought. “Scoring is confidence. We talked a lot about continuing to have the same kind of offensive habits that produce goals.”
Although they hope the real senior night is many weeks away, the significance of a final regular season game at Lynah isn’t lost on the five Cornell seniors.
“The real senior night’s after the first round of playoffs, but the celebration is really nice to be recognized,” Rauter said. “All the hard work and everything we’ve done, it’s nice to be with the team and celebrate that way.”
Cornell takes on Brown at 7 p.m. Friday and Yale at 7 p.m. Saturday.