After a nearly month-long break, No. 2 Cornell men’s hockey is finally back in action.
The Red will travel to Las Vegas to compete in the first edition of the Fortress Invitational. Cornell will first square off against Ohio State on Friday before facing either Army or Providence the next day, depending on the outcomes in the first round.
The road trip offers Cornell its first shot at redemption after its last game, in which it suffered its first loss of the season, a 2-1 defeat to Dartmouth on the road, on Dec. 7.
“This game is a silver lining for us throughout the course of the year that we don’t go into Christmas break thinking we’re undefeated and all that stuff,” Schafer said after the loss to Dartmouth.
“Now, guys are going to have to reevaluate how they played and where we’re going forward,” Schafer continued. “Some of those things on special teams, we have to make some adjustments — we haven’t scored a power-play goal in five games.”
Prior to that slip-up, the Red had firmly established itself as one of the top teams in the nation, rattling off 10 straights wins including marquee victories over ranked foes such as Clarkson and Harvard.
Still, Cornell has not been perfect.
Some of the Red’s flaws — namely special teams — have been exposed in the early going. As Schafer mentioned, Cornell has failed to tally a power-play goal in its last five games, going 0-for-18 on the man advantage.
This recent trend comes after the Red got off to a blistering start on the power play, converting over 40% of its opportunities through the first couple weeks of the season. Because of that early-season statistic, even with Cornell’s recent shortcomings on the man advantage, the team still ranks third in the nation with a 25% conversation rate.
“We have tons of chances, but we’re not scoring, so we got to figure out what we’re doing in that area,” Schafer said.
The Red’s Friday opponent, No. 6 Ohio State, poses a stiff challenge. Already boasting 12 wins, the Buckeyes (12-4-2) are currently riding a seven-game unbeaten streak following a sweep against Colgate last weekend.
Fueling Ohio State’s success is senior goaltender Tommy Nappier. The reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year has anchored a defense that has only allowed 1.78 goals per game, good for fourth in the nation.
But the Buckeyes’ offense has not put up the same gaudy numbers. Averaging 2.78 goals per game, Ohio States currently ranks 30th in the country in scoring offense. Forwards Tanner Laczyinski, Quinn Preston and Gustaf Westlund anchor a top line that has combined for 22 goals.
If junior goaltender Matt Galajda carries his stellar play over into 2020, then the Buckeyes will struggle to score. The big question in this matchup lies in whether the Red can snap out of its funk on the power play in order to generate sufficient output on offense.
In the consolation or championship game the next day, Cornell will take on either Providence or Army — both teams are also currently slotted in the top 20 nationally.
The Red is familiar with the Friars, who ended Cornell’s season in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament last March. Despite losing stud goaltender Hayden Hawkey to graduation, No. 14 Providence (10-5-4) has still notched 10 wins thus far in the competitive Hockey East.
No. 20 Army is no slouch, either. Following a disappointing season in which they tallied only 13 wins and finished seven games below .500, the Black Knights (13-5-1) have already matched their win total from last season heading into 2020.
The Fortress Invitational will provide the Red the opportunity to earn victories against some of the top teams in the nation. Cornell will get its first crack as it faces Ohio State at 8:30 p.m. PST on Friday at T-Mobile Arena.