With two wins under its belt, Cornell men’s hockey will face off in its first round of ECAC contests on Friday and Saturday. Following dominant outings at Michigan State in its opening weekend, the Red returns home looking for repeat performances against Brown and Yale.
Both opponents will enter the weekend at 1-1 after playing a home-and-home last weekend, when each team won on its own ice. In the second game, the Bears trounced Yale, 5-1.
“Yale will try and get some redemption,” junior forward Brenden Locke said. “They’ll be firing.”
Yale’s greatest asset last season was forward Joe Snively, who forced opposing teams to dedicate significant resources to guarding him. He finished his career at No. 7 on the Bulldogs’ all-time assists list and at No. 9 for points. But following his graduation in May, Yale is looking like a less imposing opponent than in seasons past.
“I think it’s going to be nice to not have Snively out there,” Locke said.
In the second game of the weekend, Yale’s weak penalty kill was exposed as it allowed the Bears four power-play goals.
Brown strengthened in the latter part of last season, earning a first-round bye in the ECAC Tournament. The Bears went on to down Princeton and Quinnipiac before falling to Cornell at Lake Placid in the semifinals.
Brown is looking like a more legitimate threat than history would recall, with its improvement down the stretch last year and its two contests against Yale last weekend. In Cornell’s last regular-season matchup against the Bears, the teams tied, 3-3.
But Cornell has already shown this season that it intends to exorcise old demons by sweeping Michigan State on its home ice after the Spartans did the same to the Red last season. A potent Cornell offensive effort carried the team, which showed improvements even from the first game to the second.
“I think we came in there a little bit hungry after last year’s results,” freshman forward Matt Stienburg said.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 has some difficult decisions to make in the not-so-distant future, with key players soon to return from injury. Juniors forward Cam Donaldson and defenseman Cody Haiskanen, who both regularly receive significant playing time, are looking like they’ll be cleared within the next few weeks — or maybe even this weekend.
“I’m hoping that we get [Donaldson] back,” Schafer said. “It gives us one of the more dynamic offensive players in the ECAC back in our lineup. You can just see him in practice today like, man, when he gets loose, he’s dangerous. He just brings another element to our hockey team.”
“I think [sophomore defenseman] Joe [Leahy] and Cody [Haiskanen] might be [cleared to play] a little further down the line,” Schafer added.
But only so many skaters can be in the lineup, leading to the question of who will be scratched when the veterans get healthy. Nobody on the team will be guaranteed playing time — they’ll have to prove with their play that they deserve to be put on the ice.
“I think that without [internal] competition, I think you can get really complacent,” Schafer said. “And I saw that a little bit with last year’s team because we had so many injuries, you know — guys know they’re going to play and so there was [complacency].”
“I think it’s human nature — when you have someone that’s pushing you and competing against you, you tend to rise to the challenge,” he continued.
Added depth will add to the Red’s competitive edge, in practice as well as in games.
“I think no spot is safe,” Locke said. “The old guys should be scared to lose their spot — but it’s just that added, like, okay, I gotta bear down here because there’s a couple guys on my back trying to get in the lineup … You’re there for your teammates, but at the same time, you’re trying to compete, and that makes them better and that makes you better at the same time.”
Cornell will go for another four-point weekend at 7 p.m. against Brown on Friday and Yale on Saturday.