This weekend, Cornell men’s hockey will venture to New York’s Capital District to take on ECAC foes Union and Rensselaer. With only five weeks left in the regular season until the conference playoffs, the Red can’t afford to ease up on its intensity for any of its upcoming matches.
Despite Union’s shoddy ECAC record (5-6-1), the Dutchmen have reemerged as a threat given their success in non-league play on the season (7-1-4). Projected to be a powerhouse at the season’s onset, Union has had difficulty finding consistency in its play, but its 7-2 win over current No. 1 St. Cloud State earlier in the month is indicative of the Dutchmen’s potential.
Rensselaer (7-17-1, 4-9 ECAC), meanwhile, has found itself struggling both within and outside of conference play. RPI and Union played the non-league Mayor’s Cup game on Tuesday, in which the teams tied, 0-0.
Cornell is confident it can match up with any team in its conference — be it a strong team like Union or a team near the bottom of the standings like RPI.
“When we come to play, I don’t think there are too many teams in the league that can get in our way,” junior forward Jeff Malott said.
Even so, Cornell should know not to take a win over either Union or RPI for granted. Cornell fans might remember that — almost a year ago to the day — the Red was taken down by an unranked RPI in what seemed to be the beginning of the end of a once-promising season. At that point, Cornell was ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Red went on to be eliminated in the first round of NCAA tournament play.
Especially following Saturday night’s painful overtime loss to Colgate, Cornell’s skaters need to keep their heads in every game.
“Last week, we didn’t string together a great practice week leading up to the weekend, and it showed,” Malott said. “So I think we’ve got some guys chomping at the bit for this weekend.”
Both players and head coach Mike Schafer ’86 agree that Cornell put forward a better effort in Saturday’s 3-2 loss than in Friday’s 3-2 win. The Red’s attention to detail Saturday demonstrated improvement over the night before. But the lack of focus in practice throughout the prior week came back to haunt the Red in that overtime loss.
“The guys are back and competing … When you lose, it brings things to a head,” Schafer said on Tuesday. “We’ve addressed those [issues], talked about them, practiced hard today.”
Renewed intensity will be vital to the team going forward, as question marks continue to pervade the lineup as a result of injuries. Multiple players’ statuses remain unknown as the weekend approaches. Even Schafer is afraid to speculate on who will be available for this weekend’s series.
“I don’t want to jinx them,” he said.
What is known, however, is that freshman forward Max Andreev is out for the majority of the remainder of the season with a cracked collarbone.
Another persisting unknown is who will start in goal going forward — sophomore Matt Galajda started in goal Friday and classmate Austin McGrath started Saturday, only to be pulled following a Colgate goal early in the second period. Even so, Schafer is undecided on who will become the regular backstop.
“You want to see them battle when things break down and make that big save when the team needs it,” Schafer said.
Going into the season, few would have thought that starting goaltender would be a contested position. But McGrath’s strong showings following Galajda’s injury in November mean that Schafer has been presented with a difficult choice.
Both games this weekend — in Schenectady on Friday and in Troy on Saturday — are scheduled for 7 p.m.