Michael Wenye Li / Sun Senior Photographer

A win Friday night will ensure the Red at least a share of its third-straight regular-season ECAC title.

February 27, 2020

Hunt for Cleary Cup Comes Down to Senior Weekend for No. 1 Men’s Hockey

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In a season where No. 1 men’s hockey has not surrendered a single home game, the Red will face its final regular-season tests this weekend in Lynah Rink. Cornell will go up against St. Lawrence on Friday and Clarkson on Saturday.

That second tilt may just be the deciding game for the No. 1 seed in the ECAC Tournament — entering the final weekend of the regular season, Cornell is just two points ahead of Clarkson in the standings.

With a win on Friday, Cornell will clinch at least a share of the Cleary Cup, but if Clarkson also takes home a victory, the No. 1 seed won’t be decided until that last game of the regular season, when the top two teams in the conference go head-to-head Saturday.

“We’ve faced a ton of big games,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “And that’s what we’ve had our sole focus on — just doing your job, just playing the way you need to play.”

But a win Friday over St. Lawrence — which might have looked like a given two weeks ago — isn’t guaranteed. The Saints claimed their fourth win of the season last weekend over then-No. 20 Harvard. Though St. Lawrence hasn’t looked to be a particularly formidable team throughout the season, that win over a quality opponent should make Cornell fans a little nervous.

After all, even Cornell couldn’t eke out a win against the Crimson at home.

“In that game, [St. Lawrence] definitely deserved to win [over Harvard]. Maybe people look at it and think it’s a fluke — it was no fluke,” Schafer said. “They’re a much better team [now] than when we played them up there in early November.”

For a team at the bottom of the standings, playing spoiler would certainly make for an exciting end to the Saints’ regular season.

And if Clarkson wins Friday against Colgate and Cornell drops its contest, the Saturday night tilt will really see the two teams laying it all out on the line, each hoping for sole possession of the Cleary Cup.

But Saturday night’s game is significant not just in terms of the standings — Senior Day will certainly lend the atmosphere sentimental value.

“We usually have one of each of the seniors’ parents in the room for Schaf[er]’s pregame speech,” said senior forward and captain Jeff Malott. “And then he usually puts out as many seniors as he can fit in the starting lineup, which will be fun.”

Even with all that might be at stake in the Clarkson matchup, the seniors are looking forward to shaking things up in their final regular-season tilt for the crowd they’ve played in front of for four years to make it a memorable last go-around.

“[Senior defenseman and captain] Yanni [Kaldis] has been talking a big game. I think he wants to start right wing on the weekend,” Malott said.

Cornell will be entering the weekend full-force — freshman defenseman Sam Malinski, who returned last weekend, was the final Red player whose injuries were keeping him from seeing ice time. Schafer will have the entire roster healthy and available to pick from for his lineup.

In his first weekend back on the ice, Malinski potted a goal against Brown in a 3-0 win.

“It was a long — well, it was only a couple weeks off, but it felt like a long time,” Malinski said. “It’s good to get back into things with the guys again.”

Both games this weekend could prove absolutely pivotal for the Red as it searches for its third straight Cleary Cup.

“We’ve never had an easy game against Clarkson,” Malott said.

Cornell faces off at 7 p.m. Friday against the Saints and 7 p.m. Saturday against the Golden Knights.