LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Cornell men’s hockey head coach Mike Schafer ’86 had plenty of grievances to air after his team’s heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to Clarkson in Saturday night’s ECAC championship game.
But the bench boss made sure to start his postgame press conference with praise for his friend and former assistant who has been his ECAC rival for almost a decade now. Casey Jones ’90, who Schafer coached as an assistant in the late 1980s and who later worked under Schafer in Ithaca, led the Golden Knights to their first ECAC title since 2007 on Saturday.
“He’s gone up to Clarkson and he’s done a tremendous job with that program, he’s turned it around, he leads it with class, their teams play hard, they play the right way, he recruits the right way, he’s ethical, Brent’s loyal,” Schafer said of Jones and his assistant Brent Brekke, who is also a former Cornell assistant. “The problem with a lot of college hockey coaches right now is that they don’t possess those kinds of skills. I just couldn’t be prouder of Casey and Brent and Clarkson.”
After graduating from Cornell in 1990 having served as the Red’s captain his senior year, Jones spent two years as one of Schafer’s assistants. He worked at Cornell as an assistant again from 2008-11 before taking the head coaching job at Clarkson.
And at a critical — and infuriating — point in the game at Herb Brooks Arena, Schafer saw a Clarkson brand of sportsmanship manifested by Jones, Brekke and the whole coaching staff on display in the season’s most fierce battle.
With sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda stuck underneath his net, which had fallen on top of him, and the officials failing to blow the play dead — Galajda left the game with a knee injury soon after — Clarkson co-captain Devin Brosseau tried to help get the net off of his opponent’s back.
“[It was] great sportsmanship. Like our guys started helping, the Clarkson kids [were] trying to help him,” Schafer said. “The only ones that weren’t trying to help him were the officials.”
In celebrating victory, Jones appreciated the chance to once again compete against his former colleague and current friend and league rival — especially in the postseason. Of Cornell’s last 24 playoff games, seven have come against the Golden Knights.
“In the business, he’s my best friend,” Jones said of Schafer. “He’s a guy I lean on the most. It goes back; he coached me for four years at Cornell and I’ve had a long-time relationship with him.
“If I was gonna lose, I’d pick him, but I was the winner tonight,” Jones added with a smile. “I just have the utmost respect for him.”
The nature of matchups between Cornell and Clarkson — two of the ECAC’s best defensive teams whose coaches know the opposition well — tends to be hard-fought, low scoring and hotly contested. The teams each allowed fewer than two goals per game in the regular season and both squads’ starting goaltenders earned All-ECAC honors. Not to mention, they both inhabited the top five national defensive rankings entering Saturday.
“We played them [our last] game of the season, so they know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, we know what exactly what they’re trying to accomplish,” Jones said on Friday night after his team’s semifinal win over Harvard. “It’s gonna be mano-el-mano, every inch of the ice is gonna be contested.”
And it was, taking 74:36 to find a winner for the Whitelaw Cup.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of Casey and Brent and Clarkson,” Schafer said. “Well done for their program tonight. It’s a big win for them.”