All season long, Cornell’s No. 1 ranked hockey teams have worked hard to blot out the distractions and focus on their next game. This weekend, as they’re forced to play playoff games in a nearly empty Lynah Rink due to concerns about COVID-19, the teams will have their ability to ignore what they can’t control put to the test.
The women’s team’s NCAA Tournament game against Mercyhurst and the men’s team’s ECAC quarterfinal series against Princeton will take place at Lynah Rink this weekend, but fans won’t be allowed to attend in accordance with Ivy League restrictions, the athletic ticketing office announced on Tuesday.
“I think that something that’s really special for Cornell is our fans and it’s not something that very many teams in women’s hockey have, period, and we’re very lucky for them [and] we don’t take it for granted,” said junior forward Finley Frechette of the women’s team. “With that being said, I think that we’re focused on our game, and while it might be a little bit different and weird having Lynah being empty, we’re going to try and move past that and focus on what we can do … to beat Mercyhurst.”
At their weekly media availabilities on Tuesday, both teams expressed confidence in their ability to focus on their upcoming playoff games, despite constantly changing news and distractions surrounding COVID-19.
“It doesn’t change how we prepare for the weekend at all,” said Jeff Malott, a senior forward and tri-captain of the men’s team. “We’re used to a packed house and it’s definitely something that contributes to our home ice advantage, but … it’ll be a different opportunity and I think it’ll be kind of cool, having everybody being vocal and you can really hear everything on the ice. It’ll be different, but I think guys are kind of excited to play in a weird environment.”
As women’s hockey looks to return to the Frozen Four after appearing in the national semifinals last season, head coach Doug Derraugh ’91 said his team’s home-ice advantage isn’t completely eliminated by the coronavirus-related attendance restrictions.
“There’s still the advantage of the fact that we’re used to the ice surface, the boards, we’re going to sleep in our own beds, all those advantages,” Derraugh said. “But it is disappointing that we won’t have the advantage of having our great fans who support us the way they do.”
Mike Schafer ’86 and the men’s team are taking the opportunity to enjoy a unique playoff experience — at least this’ll be a great story to tell.
“Our philosophy is not to worry about the things we can’t control, and this is obviously something that we can’t control, so we’ve already talked about as a team that we just need to really focus on ourselves,” Schafer said. “The guys handled it really well; they talked about how it’s going to be a real unique experience playing a game [without] spectators.”
Normally, the ECAC quarterfinals serve as a celebration for the seniors, who will be playing their final games at Lynah Rink. Schafer said that his three seniors — Malott, forward Noah Bauld and captain and defenseman Yanni Kaldis — were some of the most positive voices in the locker room as the team digested the news.
“Everybody’s just excited to play playoff hockey,” Malott said. “It’s nice [to have] the bye week but it’s hard sitting at home watching other teams get it done so I think everybody’s just just really fired up — whether there’s fans or not — fired up to get playoffs rolling.”
Cornell women’s hockey will face Mercyhurst at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will be streamed online for free — the athletic department will provide information about the stream soon.
The men’s team will face Princeton in a best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series at 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, game three is set for 4 p.m. Sunday. All games will be broadcast on ESPN+.