Can you feel it? Hockey is in the air on East Hill. Cornell men’s hockey is back in action on Friday and Saturday night against Michigan State, pitting an Ivy League school with a Big Ten heart against a school with Big Ten athletics. It’ll be an exciting atmosphere for the first games of the season as Lynah is sure to be sold out.
Cornell and Michigan State have met just six times in the two programs’ history, and the Spartans hold a 4-2-1 edge in the series. The two teams last met from Oct. 28-29 for a split series at Lynah in 2005.
Cornell last time out:
Saturday will be Cornell’s first action since last season’s first-round exit in NCAAs at the hands of Boston University. It was a deflating end to a fantastic season for the Red, which saw a regular season ECAC title thanks to a 23-4-2 regular-season record.
Michigan State last time out:
The Spartans (1-1) are coming off a split against Northern Michigan — a team the Red will see on the road in November — two weeks ago. Michigan State took the first game, 4-2, before the Wildcats bounced back for a 4-3 win the next night.
Scouting the Spartans:
Michigan State boasts one of the most lethal top lines in the country, according to Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86. Despite a preseason team ranking of last in the Big Ten, the Spartans top line of Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko and Mitch Lewandowski all landed on the preseason watch list. Hirose was a unanimous selection. In just two games so far, the trio has already combined for eight points, and Hirose leads the team with a pair of goals.
“Just like any top line we face, we just got to be prepared for it, know when those guys are on the ice,” said Cornell senior defenseman and alternate captain Matt Nuttle. “We’ll have our matchups ready up front and on the back end.”
The Spartan power play has scored on three of its nine opportunities while the penalty kill has given up goals on two of 10 chances. Albeit in a small sample, the Spartans are averaging 37 shots per game and holding opponents to 25.
Two goalies have already seen action for the Spartans, as junior John Lethemon took the win in game one against NMU and freshman Drew DeRidder took the loss in game two.
Cornell beats Michigan State if: …
it quickly sheds off any rust and shuts down the Spartans’ top line. Michigan State already has two games under its belt against formidable opponents and will most likely want to come out firing and hitting to silence the raucous Lynah crowd. Cornell, meanwhile, will need to do all it can to give Lynah something to cheer for. The team showed it was capable of this by sweeping Alabama-Huntsville in last year’s season opening series in Ithaca.
Stopping the top Michigan State forward line will also be imperative. The Cornell defense showed it was capable of doing this against Princeton’s arguably better top line twice last year, and each member of the Cornell defense returns to the team this season.
What they’re saying in Ithaca:
Schafer on last season’s shortcomings: “Last year didn’t leave a good taste in our mouth,” Schafer said. “Statistically, how we played against Princeton and B.U. were probably two of our better games the whole season. But we lost both games. There’s no ribbon for that.”
Junior defenseman Yanni Kaldis on playing at home: “I’m sure the crowd’s going to be into this one. It helps so much to play in front of the Lynah Faithful … it really gets you going right from the start. I know, speaking with friends on other teams, they love to play in this building, and they say it’s one of the hardest places to play because the crowd’s always on them.”
Senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan on scoring: “Guys are going to have to step up [and] find a way to contribute a little more offensively. But we’re pretty deep so I don’t think that’s something we’re too concerned with.”
What they’re saying in East Lansing:
Head coach Danton Cole on the loss to NMU: “I thought we played a little bit too much one-on-one hockey for two periods and tried to do a little too much and that slowed down our second guy. That affected our forecheck, and that affected our offensive zone time.”
Sophomore defenseman Cody Haiskanen did not practice on Monday nor Tuesday after leaving the Red’s final exhibition game in the second period. Schafer said at media availability on Tuesday that Haiskanen’s status for this weekend is up in the air.
With senior Ryan Bliss deciding to transfer from Cornell, this leaves sophomore Matt Cairns as the likeliest of candidates to take the sixth defensive spot on the roster should Haiskanen be forced to sit. Depending on how Cornell decides to use the newly-allotted 19th skater, freshman defenseman Joe Leahy or another forward could end up taking the final spot on the opening night roster.
Bliss sustained the injury after his sophomore year and has seen a long road to recovery. By transferring in December he will recuperate 1.5 years of eligibility.
“It’s really disappointing and frustrating for him. … Everybody wishes him nothing but the best,” Schafer said.
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) October 23, 2018
Schafer’s first game as the bench boss with his alma mater came against the Spartans in East Lansing. It would not go as planned for the now-23-year head coach, however, as Michigan State rolled over the Red, 6-2, on Nov. 3, 1995.
Fun fact about the Spartans:
Like Cornell, Michigan State is one of a handful of land-grant universities across the country.