After squeaking out two overtime wins over the University of Alaska Fairbanks to open its season, men’s hockey will embark on its first road trip this weekend when it faces Harvard and Dartmouth.
The Red go into ECAC play with a 2-0 record after sweeping their opening weekend against Alaska. It took the Red an extra frame to win both contests, but overtime was a quick affair each night. On Friday, senior tri-captain Brendan Locke scored the game winner 40 seconds into OT, and on Saturday, junior Matt Stienburg broke a 0-0 draw 80 seconds into the extra frame.
The Red’s young defense and goalkeepers impressed, holding the Nanooks to just two goals on 43 shots over the weekend. The offense, however, stalled at times. Cornell took 57 shots, but only scored four times.
“We had some good chances,” Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86 said. “[Alaska’s] goaltender made some huge saves both nights.”
Cornell entered the season with no clear starting goaltender, and this weekend did not resolve any questions about the position. Senior Nate McDonald got the start on Friday and racked up 21 saves on 23 shots. Freshman Joe Howe started Saturday and recorded a 20 save shutout in his first collegiate game.
“We’ll watch practices all week again and follow the same process we did [last week],” Schafer said. “[Freshman] Ian [Shane]’s not out of this conversation. I think that he’s also an outstanding goaltender.”
The Red will need strong defense and goalkeeping in its match against No. 13/9 Harvard on Friday at Lynah East. The Crimson (2-0) put up huge numbers in its opening weekend, scoring nine times against Dartmouth and seven against Bentley.
“We’re gonna have to make sure we manage the puck well and just play our style of Cornell hockey,” junior defenseman Sam Malinski said.
The Crimson have a dangerous group of forwards, including 2019-2020 ECAC Rookie of the Year Nick Abruzzese. Three Harvard forwards notched multi-goal weekends in the Crimson’s first two games.
“They’ve got outstanding players, they’re good in transition and they can make plays if you give them time and space,” Schafer said. “That will be our challenge to take all their time and space away.”
Harvard was especially effective on the power play during its opening weekend, going 5-11 when up a man. Cornell’s penalty killers, who kept Fairbanks off the board on all six of their attempts, will seek to keep Harvard at bay on the power play.
“They’re going to have skill, they’re going to get their opportunities,” Schafer said. “When they get them you have to get in the shot lane and eat that and take care of the backside.”
The Red, despite hitting the road for the first time, will be playing in a somewhat friendly arena in Cambridge. The Lynah Faithful travel well, and Cornell’s alumni network in Boston always has a strong showing at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center when the Red is in town, earning the rink the nickname Lynah East.
“This will be our first time going on the road, so I think that lends itself to being a little more patient,” Schafer said.
Friday’s matchup will be a big test for the Red. The Crimson were picked to finish ahead of Cornell in the ECAC and come into the game ranked higher in the polls. A win on Friday would help to assuage concerns following the Red’s shaky performance last weekend.
“I think the big question is what [is Harvard] going to do to contain us,” Schafer said. “We might not put up the gaudy numbers, but we have the ability to create offense and hem teams in.”
After leaving Lynah East, the Red will travel to Hanover for a Saturday night contest with Dartmouth. The last time Cornell played at Dartmouth it went into the game with a 10-0 record and a No. 2 ranking, but suffered its first defeat of the season at the hands of the Big Green. The Red has not won in Hanover since the 2017-2018 season.
The Big Green comes into this season with a new coach, but did not find success in its first two games. Dartmouth lost its opener to Harvard, 3-9, and fell the next night to UConn, 1-4.
“They didn’t have much luck in that game [against Harvard],” Schafer said. “They had some bad breaks go against them.”
The Big Green played a more competitive game against UConn, but could not come back after the Huskies pulled ahead in the third period and added two empty net goals in the final minutes.
The two conference games will be the first the Red play with the ECAC’s new overtime and point rules. There will be no more ties in ECAC hockey. If a game is tied after a five minute 3-on-3 overtime, a shootout will determine which team gets an extra point in ECAC standings. A win in regulation is now worth three points, while an OT win is worth two, an OT loss is worth one and a loss in regulation gets you nothing.
Instead of the normal four points, Cornell will have an opportunity to earn six points this weekend in its two conference games. The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday at Lynah East and 7 p.m. Saturday in Hanover.