An ECAC championship game rematch with No. 7 Clarkson is coming Friday for Cornell men’s hockey in its first conference road trip of the season. When the teams last faced off, the Golden Knights took home the Whitelaw Cup in overtime at historic Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid.
This weekend, the stakes won’t be quite as high as in that March tilt. But the chance for the No. 3 Red to down the first ranked opponent that it will see all year will present an early-season challenge.
“It’s gonna be a big game — we definitely need to get some revenge against Clarkson,” said junior defenseman Alex Green. “Guys are getting ready mentally this week in practice, and it should make for a fun game.”
In the title game, two Red skaters suffered season-ending injuries when now-senior forward Jeff Malott tore his ACL and now-junior goaltender Matt Galajda injured his knee. But both players are back, and the Cornell team looks on-track to enter this weekend at almost full health, barring only junior defenseman Cody Haiskanen, whose status remains uncertain. Junior defenseman Matt Cairns missed Saturday’s game with an illness but should be ready for Friday.
With the surplus of quality healthy players, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 has to decide who plays and who gets scratched each night from the lineup.
“It’s a matter of taking a look at a guy and what they did in practice and what they did over the weekend, making some decisions [particularly] back there on the blue line because there’s a lot of competition,” Schafer said.
Saturday’s contest will be against St. Lawrence. The Saints, at 3-6-1, came back Saturday against Union for an overtime win. St. Lawrence’s goaltending situation is the team’s biggest question mark, with its regular starter injured and the two backups each getting a start last weekend.
Clarkson and St. Lawrence — not being in the Ivy League — have already played 10 games as opposed to Cornell’s four. In the Red’s opening weekend against Michigan State, it had no problems matching up with a team that had already been on the ice, though — and after last weekend’s decisive victories over Brown and Yale, Cornell seems to have shed its offseason rust completely.
“All weekend, our special teams were much better, you know, power play and penalty kill, and that’s always key,” Schafer said. “I thought we were pretty disciplined throughout the course of the weekend … [Now, we’ll] put that in the rearview mirror and get ready to take on Clarkson and St. Lawrence.”
Clarkson, with a four-game winning streak of its own, boasts a 95.5% penalty kill (third in the nation), while Cornell’s power play success rate currently sits at 40% (second in the nation). If Cornell goes on the man-advantage Friday night, the clash between those special teams will be a point of interest.
Other than geographic location, Clarkson and St. Lawrence have something in common — both of their coaches worked for the Cornell team under Schafer. Clarkson’s Casey Jones ’90 served as associate head coach from 2008-11 and St. Lawrence’s Brent Brekke was an assistant coach from 1998-2008. What’s more, Brekke’s last job was as an assistant coach at Clarkson last season with Jones.
“Both guys, at both Clarkson and St. Lawrence, I know their families well, know their kids well,” Schafer said. “It’s one of those things where when you’ve been in the business long enough, you start to get guys that worked for you to come back and coach … They recruit the right way, they coach the right way.”
But familiarity among the coaches does not figure to breed friendly competition on the ice.
“You play a team in the finals, it’s always gonna be pretty heated next time you face off,” said freshman forward Zach Tupker.
Cornell will go for its first weekend sweep over Clarkson and St. Lawrence in the North Country since 2005 at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“We definitely owe Clarkson after last year’s ECAC Finals,” Green said.