It’s not every year that Cornell men’s hockey gets to face its biggest rival three times in the regular season. Normally, a third matchup against Harvard would have to wait until the ECAC playoffs come March.
Indeed, the last time the Red and Crimson met this many times in a season was in the 2016-17 season, when Harvard spoiled Cornell’s bid for a conference title in the ECAC Championship Game at Lake Placid— the Red’s third loss of that season to its archrival.
Now, having faced each other once on America’s biggest hockey stage and once at Bright-Landry Hockey Center in Cambridge, a rubber match is set to take place this Friday at Lynah Rink.
“I don’t think theres any secret, when you play a team for the third time, you’ve kind of got the gist of their players, the kind of systems they run, how they want to play,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
Cornell (9-5-1, 5-2-1 ECAC) fell flat at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 24, while the Crimson 7-5-3, 4-4-2) was unable to defend its home ice against the Red on Dec. 1. But only the latter matchup took place with conference points on the line, and this weekend’s showdown of ECAC heavyweights will represent another crucial opportunity to gain ground in the conference standings.
Also on the docket this weekend for Cornell is Dartmouth, who, despite the overall hype surrounding the Harvard Game, sits ahead of the Crimson in the standings and tied with the Red in third place.
With the sweep of Arizona State now in the rearview, this weekend starts a string of 14 consecutive ECAC games to end the regular season for Cornell — all of which will have a large impact on the Red’s playoff seeding.
“With Harvard coming into our building Friday, that game has the same result as Dartmouth and any other ECAC weekend that we have here,” said senior forward Beau Starrett. “So we can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s four total points on the line this weekend.”
The last time that Cornell faced Harvard at Lynah, as many fans will so fondly remember, then-junior forward Alec McCrea potted the game-winning goal with just a couple of seconds remaining. But that game remains but a distant memory now, as Cornell and its fans prepare to meet the Crimson on East Hill again more than a year later.
“You remember the excitement of it, I don’t think you remember the game,” Schafer said. “You remember what makes this rivalry special. The games are really really competitive, they’re really exciting and the crowd is really into it.”
Of course for the Cornell seniors, this could prove to be the final time they face Harvard in their careers, barring a postseason meeting.
“I think it finally hit me this Monday,” said Starrett, whose older brother, Pete, played hockey at Harvard. “Obviously, with what’s happened in the history of us since my freshman year — going back and forth — it’s been a pretty heated rivalry obviously in my four years here with some crazy games.”
Harvard boasts the nation’s best power play at 35.7 percent and one of the best players in the country in defenseman Adam Fox — a tall order for the Cornell defense. Fox is third in the country in points per game at 1.53.
“[Harvard is] very very dangerous on the power play,” Schafer said. “It’s about being disciplined and knowing what they want to do. … Fox is arguably one of the best power play defenseman in the country.”
Sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda made his first start after an injury stint that dated back to the first game against Harvard at MSG. Galajda missed a total of five games, including Cornell’s win at Bright-Landry. In his stead, classmate Austin McGrath performed well, opening the potential of a goaltender competition as the season enters its most crucial stretch.
“[Galajda’s] mindset right now is he’s in a competition,” Schafer said. “McGrath came in and played great, and our team has a ton of confidence in front of him.”
“It’s been great, Austin’s one of my best friends on the team,” Galajda added. “Definitely there is always friendly competition in practice, always trying to outdo each other for sure.”
Schafer would not commit to either goalie for now, adding that he will decide who to start on Friday later this week.
Cornell’s two injured starters — sophomore defenseman Alex Green and junior forward Jeff Malott — have a chance to play this weekend but will be game-time decisions, Schafer said.
Puck drops 7 p.m. Friday against Harvard and the start time for Saturday’s clash with Dartmouth has been changed to 3 p.m. due to an impending winter storm.