Under the bright lights of the Big Apple and against its bitter rival Harvard, No. 16 Cornell men’s hockey fell flat over Thanksgiving weekend. But lucky for the Red, the team had to wait just seven days to get another shot at the Crimson.
A “lifeless” effort sent the Red (5-4, 3-1 ECAC) to its fourth loss of the season last Saturday, highlighting the team’s injury-plagued tough start to the 2018-19 season after starting last season 7-0. But Cornell returns to league play against Dartmouth (3-3, 3-2) and Harvard (3-3-2, 1-2-2) this weekend in its first road ECAC games of the season, and the Red is excited that after its 4-1 Frozen Apple loss it gets another shot against the Crimson
“After a game like [Saturday’s] it’s easy to let that linger in the back of your head,” said sophomore forward Kyle Betts of his team’s chance to prove that it’s better than what it showed in New York. “But the nice thing is we’re prepping for [Harvard] again this week, so it’s right back at it and chance to redeem ourselves.”
Despite a shaky first month of the season, Cornell has just one conference loss (the Frozen Apple technical counts as a non-league game) and could position itself well in the ECAC with road wins over the Green and Crimson.
“Every game’s difficult,” said associate head coach Ben Syer, who filled in at Tuesday media day since head coach Mike Schafer ’86 had a family commitment. “You’ve got to be ready every night and every shift, and every time you roll over the boards you got to be ready to compete.”
The Red is confident that it’s not overlooking Friday’s matchup with Dartmouth in favor of Saturday’s rematch with the Crimson at “Lynah East,” Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center.
“I’d be shocked if anybody’s overlooking that game on Friday night,” Syer said. “It’s all about getting an opportunity to get out and play again and compete; our guys are chomping at the bit.”
In order to capitalize on its chance to down rival Harvard a week after failing to show up in New York, Cornell — still missing two of its top four defensemen, sophomore Alex Green and senior Brendan Smith, due to injury — will need to make improvements on the blueline. Schafer said after the MSG game that the team lacked physicality.
“When we talk about physicality it’s not just big hits,” said senior defenseman and alternate captain Matt Nuttle. “It’s also finishing every check and what that’ll do is frustrate the [opposing] defense, it’ll force them into turnovers and create scoring chances for us.”
Cornell hardly faced any adversity in a 2017-18 season that saw it ascend to No. 1 in the country and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Cornell steered relatively clear of injury woes, missing just 10 man-games from top-six defensemen, and didn’t suffer back-to-back losses until the playoffs, when it fell to Princeton in the ECAC semifinals and B.U. in the NCAA Tournament.
This year, though, difficulties have come early, and the Red has a chance to respond.
“As a freshman class this is the first adversity we’ve really faced,” Betts said. “I think it’s actually beneficial for the team to face it now. It’s better to be facing it now than figuring things out the last week of the season.”
Cornell faces off at Dartmouth at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at Harvard at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We all know about the disappointment this weekend but the fact that we get another crack at [Harvard] is nice, so hopefully — definitely — we’ll be ready to go,” Nuttle said.