No. 2 Cornell men’s hockey is back at Lake Placid, looking to finish the job it came oh-so-close to finishing last season. To get back to the championship game, it has to take care of the tournament’s most surprising team — seventh-seeded Princeton.
Here are three keys to taking down the up-and-coming Tigers:
Stay out of the box
Princeton’s 29 percent power play unit is the nation’s best, and allowing the Tigers a lot of time on the man-advantage is a recipe for falling behind in the contest. In game two against Quinnipiac, Cornell’s penalty kill made the difference, squashing two five-minute Bobcat power plays.
While the Cornell penalty kill unit is on a roll, the Tigers’ attack is a different beast than the strong Quinnipiac unit The Red handled last weekend. Ryan Kuffner and David Hallisey have eight power play goals apiece.
“They have some great players,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “You make a mistake or you give them time and space, they’re going to make you pay.”
Princeton’s top goal scorers are dangerous at even strength — giving them a man-advantage is lethal. If the Red does find itself on the penalty kill, it will need to see success like it saw against Quinnipiac.
“They’re a very skilled team so we got to take away their time and space, play the body on them and … play our game, transition well, play offensively and make them play in their defensive zone,” said freshman defenseman Cody Haiskanen.
While Cornell’s penalty kill is likely to play a crucial role, staying disciplined and avoiding taking penalties is the surest way to keep the country’s best power play on the bench.
Shut down the top line
Princeton’s top line is dangerous — it sports a couple of the nation’s best scorers. Schafer said he’s confident he can match up all four of his lines against Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner’s combined 103 points. He’ll need to be proved correct if the Red wants to win a low-scoring affair.
“I have full confidence to put Beau Starrett’s line, Brendan Locke’s line, Kyle Betts’ [line], Trevor Yates’ [line],” Schafer said. “I’ll play any of those lines against those guys, because our guys are accountable defensively all the time.”
Princeton’s top line is plus-57 this season, whereas its other forwards are a combined minus-43. And while freshman Kyle Betts’ line has matched up against tough top lines all season, he said the Tigers’ attack will require a full-team effort.
“It takes four lines to matchup, because you never know when you’re going to get an icing,” Betts said. “All four lines have to be responsible defensively if we’re going to shut those guys down.”
The Red should know where Veronneau and Kuffner are at all times and force the Tigers’ other three lines to beat them.
“We have the last change and regardless, somebody will be out there aware [that] Veronneau and Kuffner [are] on the ice,” Schafer said.
If the contest is Princeton’s second, third and fourth lines against Cornell’s best-in-the-nation defense, the Red will cruise to the championship game.
The best way to shut down Veronneau and Kuffner’s line will be forcing the star forwards to play in their defensive zone. Offensive zone time, puck movement and shots on goal while Princeton’s most skilled players are on the ice will wear them down and take away their scoring threat.
“That’s [how] we hope to combat with them, is make them play defense,” Schafer said. “Make them play in their own zone, make them defend their area.”
Since a disappointing loss at Union on the regular season’s final weekend, shot-blocking has been a primary talking point Schafer — and it will be an important factor against the Tigers.
“We have practiced it every day since we lost to Union,” Schafer said. “And we lost to Union because we missed two shot blocks that cost us two power play goals against.”
Defenseman Josh Teves has 25 assists for the Tigers, and disrupting his shooting lanes will prevent him from adding to that total. Blocking shots will also prevent Princeton’s offensive weapons from doing damage with the puck close to the net.
“It’s sticking to what we do best and that’s having great sticks and guys buying into blocking shots,” said junior defenseman Alec McCrea.
The Red hopes its season-long focus on blocking shots will pay off as the details of the game become vital in postseason play.
“[In the] playoffs, if you can block shots and keep pucks from getting to the net and the paint, your defense is going to be much better,” Schafer said.
The Red’s fourth line of Jeff Malott, Jared Fiegl and Beau Starrett took on a more prominent role offensively against Quinnipiac, but Schafer repeatedly praised Fiegl and Starrett’s willingness to sacrifice the body to get in shooting lanes. Gritty play by the fourth line and the entire lineup will help the Red keep Princeton’s goal-scorers far from freshman goaltender Matt Galajda’s crease and can also give the Red odd-man rushes offensively.