Coming off a two-game sweep over Colgate, No. 2 Cornell men’s hockey will stay at Lynah Rink this weekend to host a pair of ECAC foes in Union and Rensselaer.
After a postponement on Friday due to heavy snow, Cornell kicked off the weekend on the road and left Hamilton, N.Y. with an impressive 4-1 victory.
“We came out on the road in adverse conditions,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I was worried a bit because our guys were so dialed in to play on Friday … and we were out of the routine. I talked to them today about how proud I was of them — they stayed the course.”
On Sunday, the Red got off to a hot start, scoring four goals in the first period. After that, though, Cornell let off the gas, tallying only one more score in the final two frames before conceding two late power-play goals.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t keep it going on them,” Schafer said. “We just didn’t sustain the same pressure.”
While the Red played a full 60 on Saturday, it struggled to do so on Sunday after building a big lead.
“When you go up on a team, 4-1, after the first period, it’s tough to stay mentally focused, especially with how young we are,” said sophomore forward Max Andreev. “But it comes with experience, and I think guys will start realizing more and more that you can’t let the foot off the gas in college hockey. You’re not allowed to because the teams are too good and they’ll punish you.”
First on the docket this weekend is a tilt with Union, a squad that forced a 3-3 tie with the Red back on Jan. 11. During that game, the Red fell behind and allowed three goals for the first time all season — two of which came on the power play.
“They have been all over the place a little bit with some big wins and tough losses,” Schafer said. “The one thing we’ve noticed on tape is that they play hard. It doesn’t matter what the score is, they play physical, they play strong, and they’re tenacious.”
Even though the Dutchmen have only converted 12.3 percent of their opportunities on the man advantage this year, the team still poses a threat to Cornell’s penalty-kill unit, which has experienced an up-and-down season.
After not allowing a power-play goal over the course of several weeks, the Red regressed against Colgate, allowing three over the weekend. It was especially problematic on Sunday, with Cornell giving up one just seconds after the penalty expired and two power-play goals deep into the third period.
“We’re making some fundamental mistakes,” Andreev said. “We have a lot of new guys killing in comparison to last year. I think we’re going to get better and better every weekend from now on.”
RPI is no slouch, either. Currently in a tie for fifth in the conference standings, the Engineers have played well during 2020, notching two big victories over Colgate and Dartmouth with the latter ending as a 7-1 blowout.
“RPI’s a hard-nosed team,” said junior forward Kyle Betts. “Both games will be very physical, and we got to match that intensity.”
Betts, who returned from injury on Saturday, scored a goal in his first game back. But during the following game, he experienced an injury scare after a Colgate skater took out his knees. Despite not being at full health, Betts is ready to play.
“I’ll be good to go this weekend,” Betts said. “It’s easy to tweak it — it’s probably not going to be perfect for the rest of the year, but it’s manageable anyways. Yeah, I kind of somersaulted there and pulled it again.”
With only six games left, the race for the ECAC regular-season crown is only heating up with each passing weekend. The Red is currently tied with Clarkson at the top of the league standings — both teams have accrued 26 points so far.
Even with the postseason approaching, Cornell is maintaining its focus and not letting the outside pressure affect its play.
“You know, we just control what we can control,” Schafer said. “There’s six games left and it always seems to come down to the last game of the season. If that’s the case, hopefully we have fate in our own hands. But we’re not looking ahead or at the league standings — just focusing on our first game on Friday.”
Schafer remains dialed in, and his players are as well, even if they do sometimes engage in unnecessary scoreboard watching.
“Sure, some guys go on and check the scores,” Andreev said. “I sometimes do personally, but I don’t pay much attention to it — I just follow my buddies. Our team isn’t very focused on the scores in the conference, we try to focus more on the way we play.”
Andreev reiterated the team’s focus heading into the homestretch.
“Sometimes even when we win games, we’re not satisfied with the way we played,” Andreev continued. “The focus is to keep the win streak going until the end of the season and keep it going for as long as possible. It’s us against the world — that’s going to be the mentality for the rest of the year.”
Riding a three-game winning streak, Cornell will hope to keep that run alive against Union and RPI on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.