In 2016, top-seeded Quinnipiac downed an on-the-rise Cornell team in three hard-fought games in the ECAC quarterfinals after dominating conference play all season. This weekend, the roles will be reversed in a matchup between the conference foes.
No. 2 Cornell (23-4-2, 17-3-2 ECAC), the top seed in the ECAC, will host ninth-seeded Quinnipiac (16-16-4, 9-11-2) in a best-of-three conference quarterfinal series at Lynah Rink this weekend, with the winner advancing to the conference semifinals at Lake Placid.
“They were on a roll,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 of the 2015-16 Bobcats, who advanced all the way to the national championship game. “They had a great team, we got it going late in the year there. There are a lot of similarities right now and we need to be ready … things are flip-flopped.”
The Bobcats are a familiar playoff foe for the Red. After this weekend, the two squads will have squared off in the quarterfinals four times in the last eight years. Each of the last three series between the teams has gone to game three.
“It seems like almost every year it’s either Union or Quinnipiac,” said senior forward and captain Alex Rauter. “They’re one of our big rivals and the biggest thing is they’re a tough team to play against, just like us. It’s chippy, it’s physical, so we need to bring that mentality and play bigger and play smarter.”
In 2016, the eighth-seeded Red, who had posted a ho-hum 8-8-6 conference record, downed Union before falling to Quinnipiac in three games.
Despite Quinnipiac’s ninth-place finish in the ECAC this season, Cornell isn’t taking the Bobcats lightly. Picked to finish second in the conference in preseason polls, Quinnipiac is getting hot at the right time and is fresh off a series win at Yale in which it dispatched the Bulldogs, 5-1 and 4-1.
“You don’t think of them as a ninth seed,” Schafer said. “They had some issues throughout the course of the year, but watching them on video they seem to have cleared up a lot of those issues over the last month.”
The Red swept the regular season series with Quinnipiac, earning a 2-1 victory on the road in November — when the Red was No. 18 in the country and Quinnipiac No. 11 — and a 1-0 win at Lynah Rink in early January. The shutout victory was the Red’s first win over Quinnipiac at Lynah since 2011.
The 1-0 win was a crucial turning point in the Cornell crease. Senior Hayden Stewart, who made three straight starts and seemed to have taken over the starting job, sat out with an injury. Galajda found out a couple hours before gametime he’d be the starter, made 28 saves in a shutout and ended the job battle for good — Stewart didn’t see the ice again until the season finale at Union.
“It’s going to be an exciting series,” Galajda said. “We’ve played them twice this year already and they’ve been two tight games.”
The Bobcats, who have four double-digit goal scorers, have also found recent success between the pipes. Their newly-minted starting goaltender freshman Keith Petruzzelli had a 1.72 goals against average in February and posted a 4-1 record. He held the Bulldogs to one goal in each of his team’s two wins in New Haven.
Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie has eight power-play goals this season, with three in his last four games. Freshman Odeen Tufto leads the team with 32 assists. Both have contributed to a strong man-advantage attack.
“They like the one-timer and they have Priskie out there with Tufto,” Galajda said of the Quinnipiac power play unit. “Those are two great players, but I don’t think we really change anything, we just kill the way we kill every game.”
Even as things got tougher late in the regular season, the hallmark of this year’s Cornell team has been its ability to find ways to win.
“We only lost four games this year, so I wouldn’t say we’re cold,” Schafer said. “[Is Quinnipiac] playing well? They’re playing well, they’re a good hockey team. It doesn’t matter what opponent came in here … it really makes no difference.”
Quinnipiac is on a roll, and Schafer said it will be quickly evident whether or not the Red is also playing its best hockey at the right time.
“We’ll find out on Friday night,” Schafer said. “I thought going down the stretch drive it was a grind. It was a grind with all the injuries, it was a grind to sustain to go to first place and capture that No. 1 seeding.”
While Quinnipiac was busy dominating Yale, a bye week gave the Red some much needed rest and healing. Schafer said Tuesday he’s hopeful that junior forward and co-captain Mitch Vanderlaan, who missed the last month of the regular season, will suit up this weekend.
“[Vanderlaan is] a really great player for the whole sheet of ice, all 200 feet,” Rauter said of his co-captain. “So especially with him back I think we’ll be extra lethal.”
Junior defensemen Brendan Smith and Alec McCrea are also healthy, as is freshman forward Cam Donaldson.
Game one Friday and game two Saturday are set for 7 p.m. If necessary, game three will face off at 4 p.m. Sunday.