After notching a victory over Dartmouth and a draw against Harvard last weekend, No. 1 Cornell men’s hockey heads back on the road to take on a pair of ECAC foes in Quinnipiac and Princeton.
Though the Red earned three total points against its conference rivals, it did not play up to high expectations.
“I think we’ve gotten away from the identity of playing faster,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I just think that with all that’s going on for our team, we got to get back to some of the habits we had when were playing a little bit faster, quicker, stronger.”
According to Schafer, Cornell (14-1-4, 9-1-2 ECAC) has not been putting the same pressure on its opponents that it had done through the first half of the season. During the Dartmouth matchup, the Red struggled to complete its scoring chances, and against Harvard, it only mustered a few scoring chances.
“Our special, as a team, is going north quick and putting on a lot of pressure,” Schafer said. “Putting pressure on the opposing defense and team, and hopefully by the second or third period, they’re worn down … We did that in a lot of the successes we’ve had this year. In the games where we haven’t done that, they’ve been a real grind and real fight.”
Junior captain Morgan Barron, the team’s leading point- and goal-scorer, echoed similar sentiments to his coach’s.
“I don’t think we were fully satisfied with the effort we had on our Saturday,” Barron said. “So we’re trying to get to the basics … because that game on Saturday was probably the least we’ve created in terms of opportunities throughout the year.”
The Athletic reported that Barron, a 2017 sixth-round draft pick by the New York Rangers, was considering leaving for the NHL after the end of Cornell’s season. Barron, however, said that he was committed to the team.
“I have expectations of taking the season as deep as we can into the playoffs,” Barron said. “The Rangers want us to go as far as we can as well, so it’s been pretty good — we’re all in unison.”
While Cornell’s scoring may be down, the team’s penalty kill has continued to thrive. After giving up two power-play goals to Union on Jan. 11, the Red has killed 13 straight penalties over the last four games.
“We knew our PK was struggling,” said junior forward Brenden Locke. “We just all kind of sat down the one Monday and hit the reset button.”
As a result, Cornell’s coaching staff completely revamped the team’s penalty kill and went back to the basics after the Union game.
“[Schafer] and [associate head coach Ben Syer] brought us in and they just said, ‘Hey, we’re starting from scratch now,’” Locke said. “‘We’re just going to reteach everything and make it really basic.’ We went like we were starting from day one and made sure we had the fundamentals down before moving on.”
While the Red beat Quinnipiac, 2-1, and Princeton, 5-1, in its previous matchups, the outcome of a second meeting can vary, especially since both teams possess film on each other. Just last weekend, Harvard surprised Cornell with a change in its game.
“Harvard totally changed their penalty kill in the game against us,” Schafer said. “We never saw that in 10 games that we scouted them before that. It was a great lesson for us to expect the unexpected … teams are going to do some things that maybe they don’t traditionally do in order to win.”
That change resulted in the Red failing on its first three power-play opportunities before sophomore forward Michael Regush knotted the contest on a 6-on-4 advantage.
Another concern for the Red is the 137-mile distance between Quinnipiac (14-9-1, 7-4-1) and Princeton (3-12-4, 1-8-3). After Cornell faces Quinnipiac in Hamden, Connecticut, it will have to take a long drive down to Princeton, New Jersey late in the night.
“One year, we got down there at 4 o’clock in the morning with an accident on the road,” Schafer said. “You just got to deal with it, get up and get readjusted for the following day … Sometimes, we’ll skate. Other times, we’ll have breakfast, stretch out, meet and put a premium on sleep.”
Even if the Red is not performing perfectly, it is still the No. 1 team in the nation, and its accomplishments cannot be understated. Cornell is currently riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, and through 19 games, the team has only sustained a single loss. This start is the best for the program since 1970 — when the Red went undefeated and won the national title.
Cornell will strive to continue its excellent season as it travels to Connecticut and New Jersey to square off against Quinnipiac and Princeton this weekend. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.