Cornell men’s hockey’s first road series of the season isn’t a trip down the street to Hamilton or a few hours east to Cambridge. It’s a two-game set 800 miles away in Marquette, Michigan.
On Friday night, the Red will face off against Northern Michigan in the state’s Upper Peninsula — no matter what lengths the team may need to go to in order to get there.
“It’s planes, trains and automobiles to get there for us,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
After a drive to Rochester, a two-leg flight to Green Bay, Wisconsin, a night in Green Bay and a bus ride to Marquette, Cornell was scheduled to arrive in time for a Thursday afternoon practice.
In preparation for the road trip, Schafer is making sure his players are well-rested and ready to go, giving players who were key to this past weekend’s victories a break from practice on Monday.
“Last week was a heavy, heavy work week; we grinded all week,” Schafer said. “You just have to continue to do that — now that [this week] was a lighter week of practice — you need to carry that mentality into the game because you just can’t practice that way all year.”
With such a long road trip ahead, fatigue is certainly a concern among members of the team. But like everything else, the extensive journey brings its fair share of pros and cons.
“It’s gonna be lack of sleep,” said senior defenseman Brendan Smith. “But I think if anything, it kind of is good … these kinds of trips really do build camaraderie.”
With eight freshmen on the team, building bonds now is crucial — even with a short road trip roster. Chemistry is a vital component of the team, making this trip in the third weekend of the season ideal.
“[Long road trips] usually help teams,” Smith said. “Especially at the beginning of the year — if this were the second half, it might be a little different; guys might get worn down a little faster.”
While Cornell men’s hockey does not have any road trip traditions — or at least none to which outsiders are privy — Smith did describe a common tradition among junior league teams.
“It’s so weird,” Smith said. “But you have to put a piece of food on their shoe, and if you get them without their noticing, they have to stand on their chair and sing. You gotta pick a song out and memorize it and sing it in front of the restaurant.”
Even though this rarely happens with the Cornell men’s team, it paints a picture of the types of activities players take part in to pass the time on these long journeys.
“We didn’t have that many long road trips during the year last year,” said sophomore forward Cam Donaldson. “I used to live in Dallas, and we had to drive or fly a long ways for road trips like this and it’s a good way to bond with the teammates.”.
Clearly, though the players might not have traveled too much with Cornell, they are all accustomed to the trials of travel from their past years of competition on different teams.
Northern Michigan has a losing record, but they split a series against Michigan State in Lansing, while the Red lost two in a row to the Spartans at Lynah Rink.
“Their 3-5 record is kind of deceiving in terms of who they’ve played,” Schafer said.
The Red last saw Northern Michigan in 2016 at the Florida College Hockey Classic, where Cornell won the semifinal match over the Wildcats by a score of 5-2.
As for the team’s state of mind when comparing their attitudes going into this weekend versus last weekend, nothing has changed. This weekend, however, Cornell is coming off of two wins against Ivy rivals Yale and Brown.
“I don’t think our confidence is any different than when we came off the two losses,” Schafer said. “I think our guys knew we had some things we had to correct and get better at.”
Beyond just the distance they’re traveling, however, the team must prepare for something new in the U.P. — an Olympic-sized rink.
“Olympic sheet ice surface poses an issue,” Schafer said. “It’s just a different game being on Olympic ice surface. It’s 15 feet wider; that makes a huge difference in all your systems — you know, power play, penalty kills.”
Of course, Cornell is somewhat familiar with the international-seized ice sheet. The ice at Lake Placid where the ECAC Championships are held is famously of Olympic specifications. Still, it poses an added challenge.
“They’re on Olympic ice, so that’s a lot of skating,” Smith said. “You got to treat that differently as a defenseman; different angles and stuff like that.”
Perhaps getting experience playing on Olympic ice now will benefit the Red down the road, come time for the ECAC championship. As long as the journey to Northern Michigan might be, it’s an even longer season.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Cornell’s travel itinerary. The team spent Wednesday night in Green Bay before arriving in Marquette on Thursday.