After a weekend of close games, controversies and mixed play from the Red, the men’s hockey team is looking to settle into the season as they prepare to face Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this upcoming Friday and Saturday, respectively.
This past weekend saw the Red compete in their first Ivy League competition, facing the then No. 13 Harvard followed by a strong Dartmouth squad.
Harvard gave Cornell a fight early, taking 13 shots on goal before the Red could fire one. The Crimson initiated a dominant forecheck before finally allowing Cornell’s offense to recover and take a slew of shots of its own.
Behind scores late in the first and early in the second by juniors Matt Stienburg and Sam Malinski, the Red jumped out to a 2-0 lead. However, Harvard power plays and a controversial goal on a dislodged net would sink Cornell’s chances as the Crimson scored three unanswered to comeback and give head coach Mike Schafer ’86 his first regular season loss since January 31, 2020.
“We’re still in the learning process,” Schafer said. “[It’s] not until halfway through the year where we can get settled in … That doesn’t take place for a long time. Everything is learning, especially with a lot of young guys because you don’t draw on any kind of experience … there was no last year … so, you know, it’s all new experiences, and that means it’s all new, you know, kind of playing catch up and learning.”
Taking notes from that game, the Red went into Dartmouth and fired on all cylinders offensively, scoring five goals behind senior Ben Berard’s hat trick. While the game was only a one score affair and there were some questionable decisions by Berard himself, such as passing on a wide open goal which would have widened the lead, it was ultimately Cornell’s first Ivy League win of the season and proved that the team is taking steps to learn on the ice.
Sophomore Kyle Penney scored his first collegiate goal in the Dartmouth matchup and credits it toward the team’s ability to quickly adjust and create opportunities to score through increased passing and trust.
“A lot of guys haven’t played together, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment,” Penney said. “I think we’re starting to get the hang of it for sure. It’s good to get some familiarity with guys that always helps with chemistry.”
As the kinks seem to begin being worked out on offense, RPI and Union will continue to test Cornell’s up-and-down season. Although not extremely dominant in the wins-column, each school has had its impressive moments, including both beating out the renowned men’s hockey program of Clarkson University.
“They’re very competitive. They’re well coached. They’re not going to beat themselves,” Schafer said while addressing his upcoming opponents. “Our guys are learning real quick that there’s not an easy game, there hasn’t been one yet, and there’s never going to be one.”
After overcoming Clarkson and tying with St. Lawrence, Union College seems poised to rebound after an abysmal 1-7-1 start to the season. Junior forward Gabriel Seger has stepped up as the only consistent scorer in each of their recent contests. However, both games went into extras, a period the Red has proven to dominate in their swift overtime wins over Alaska Fairbanks.
RPI, meanwhile, stands as the more challenging of the two opponents. Having defeated Clarkson as well as Union College three times already this season, the Engineers. Across nine games, chemistry has already been established on the ice with five RPI players having garnered three goals or more. A unified Engineer offensive unit combined with an impressive .919 save percentage by senior goaltender Linden Marshall proves that RPI will be no easy matchup for the Red.
Now four games into the regular season, the team hopes to return to dominant form and settle into the competition ahead. So long as players and coaching staff continue to teach each other through game experience, Cornell men’s hockey has the opportunity to become the best team they can be.
“A lot of lessons learned,” said Schafer. “I thought we were a better hockey team coming out of the weekend, and now it’s back to this week to get better by Friday … and keep pushing forward.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday at Lynah Rink against Union followed by a game the next night at 7 p.m. on Saturday again at Lynah Rink.