Men’s hockey, fresh off a win in front of a crowd of 15,000, will hit the road again as it looks to keep its record perfect against a pair of Ivy rivals.
On Friday, the No. 2 Red will take the ice against No. 12 Harvard at Bright-Landry Hockey Center — or, as some call it, Lynah East, so named for its strong Cornell presence.
“That’s one of the more fun games of the year,” senior defenseman and captain Yanni Kaldis said. “Most of the fans there are Cornell fans, a lot of alumni. So it gets pretty rowdy in there.”
Cornell and Harvard’s storied rivalry, which draws scores of Cornellians to even the away games, dates back to 1910 when the teams first met. But recent chapters of the rivalry have proven just as dramatic as matchups of the more distant past.
Last season, the Red fell to Harvard at Madison Square Garden, 4-1 — but the following weekend bounced back at Bright-Landry. Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 referred to the victory as “one of the grittiest wins [he’d] been a part of in [his] time as head coach” at the time.
“Last year, we were very desperate, obviously … that was the game that really pivoted our season,” junior forward Kyle Betts said. “And this is a game that can be a big pivot point for us, too. Every game is so important, the standings have been so tight.”
Going into that 2018 game, Cornell was in a wildly different position than this year, plagued by injury and playing with a .500 record. The Red is entering this weekend at full health and at 9-0.
“The rivalry always brings out the best in teams and it did that for us last year,” Schafer said.
Entering last weekend, Harvard and Cornell were the only remaining teams in the nation that had won every game they played. But Harvard’s undefeated run ended with a loss to Boston College the day after Thanksgiving. The Crimson’s losing streak is now at two with a 5-2 loss at Boston University — which Cornell downed last Saturday — on Tuesday night.
Indeed, Saturday night’s game also marked a return to form for Cornell at Madison Square Garden, where the Red’s 2018 loss to Harvard was its first at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” since 2013.
Against the Crimson, Cornell will square off against a strong Harvard offense with a lot of depth, not unlike its fellow Beanpot team that Cornell saw last weekend.
“They have a top line that’s very similar to [B.U.’s] top line,” Schafer said. “They can zip it around and they can move pucks and they can beat you one on one.”
Harvard leads the nation in scoring offense with 4.63 goals per game. Crimson forward Casey Dornbach was named the Men’s ECAC Player of the Month for November on Wednesday afternoon.
“If we can shut down their top players and just play our game, it could lead to success,” Kaldis said.
Looking ahead to Dartmouth the next night, Cornell will be meeting one of its less-experienced opponents of the season. By Saturday night, the Green will have played in seven games as opposed to Cornell’s 10. Neither of Dartmouth’s two losses thus far came against a team that Cornell has seen yet.
Last year’s match at Dartmouth marked Cornell’s final loss before going on an eight-game unbeaten streak that the Red rode from November through January 25.
“[We don’t want to be] playing from behind on the road, so I think it’s going to be vital to get that first goal,” Betts said. “To set the momentum, really.”
Dartmouth received votes in the latest USCHO.com poll, but a top-20 ranking continues to elude the Green.
While Cornell won’t be satisfied with a loss against either of this weekend’s competitors, the Red does accept the inevitability of a loss coming eventually.
“Whether we win or lose, obviously it’s important, but we’re going to lose at some point,” Kaldis said. “So as long as we’re just getting better as a team and we peak at the right moment at the end of the year, I think that’s what’s most important.”
This road trip is the Red’s last set of games for 2019. The team won’t return to action until Jan. 3, when Cornell faces off against Ohio State at the Fortress Invitational in Las Vegas.
Cornell will take the ice Friday at Harvard at 7 p.m. and Saturday at Dartmouth at the same time to go for yet another four-point weekend.