After defeating Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in dominating fashion last weekend, the Red look poised to head into its next match ups against Brown and Yale this weekend with confidence. The two Ivy League opponents are currently a combined 1-6 on the season, with the only win coming in a season opener in which Brown defeated Yale 2-0.
After decimating the Engineers 11-3 in Cornell’s highest scoring affair in 42 years, the Red is hopeful that facing off against two programs that have struggled early in the season will lead to crucial wins heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.
“The effort was tremendous in the RPI game,” Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86 said about his team. “I thought our effort waned in the second and third period against Union, but against RPI, we … just kept playing our game. What we’re trying to teach these guys is that regardless of what goes on, just play.”
Schafer and his players are hoping to carry this effort into the weekend, as it will be Cornell’s final games played at Lynah Rink until Jan. 21 of next year. Currently, the Red is 4-0 at home and have played tremendously well with the fans’ encouragement.
“Best place to play. No doubt about it,” said junior defenseman Travis Mitchell. “Just the fans, the atmosphere. I definitely don’t want to be a goaltender on a visiting team coming in. It just seems ruthless sitting on the bench. Some of the guys are kind of laughing at what [the fans] come up with.”
“We’re going to miss Lynah while we’re gone and during that stretch,” echoed junior forward Matt Stienburg. “We want to take advantage and do our best to get the crowd engaged in the games this weekend.”
Still, with the crowd behind them and their opponents struggling early in the season, the team has to concentrate on being in the right mental state to play. No win is guaranteed in hockey, and every weekend has an opportunity for an upset.
“It’s an ECAC game. It’s an Ivy League game,” Mitchell said. “No matter how slow the start they came out to, no matter how good of a start we came out to, there’s a lot on the table for all three teams going into this weekend.”
Each team still has much to prove. Brown in particular stands out as the Red’s biggest threat heading into the weekend. Coming off of two weeks worth of rest while having the NCAA’s best goaltender by save percentage, freshman Mathieu Caron, the Bears have many reasons to make Cornell worry.
“You’ve just got to ignore people’s records and trust that our hands are going to be full this year,” Schafer said. “Both teams got some good guys. Brown and Yale have given us problems and we just got to come out and take care of our own and we got to focus on what we’re doing.”
However, as Cornell is now ranked among the top-10 teams in the country according to the United States Collegiate Hockey Organization, it has been hard for some of the players to focus on the challenges ahead, according to players and coaching staff.
“It’s obviously something that you can’t not see,” Stienburg said about his team’s most recent ranking. “I think in this day and age all of us have social media … It’s something that we don’t want to look into and put too much value on … We’ve only played six games now, and we had a big game last Saturday … but we don’t want that one game or weekend to define us.”
The coaching staff certainly has seen a change in attitude since the most recent rankings, according to Schafer.
“Our practice [Tuesday] was awful, so maybe they read a lot of stuff online, because they sure didn’t come ready,” Schafer said. “For us, I think we got a lot of growth ahead of us, but [the players] got to work to get better … Can we stay in that day to day process of just coming and showing up, forgetting what happened yesterday, not worry about tomorrow, and just get ready to focus on and get after?”
Now finally back in action almost two years removed from one of the greatest regular seasons in coach Schafer’s career, player are trying to find ways to tune out the noise and focus on taking it one game at a time.
“You have to flush [the previous games], no matter if it’s good or bad. Under biggest highs, you have to get back to even keel, and when you’re at a low you have to find a way to get back up,” Mitchell explained. “Coach Schafer said we didn’t have a great practice [Tuesday], and we didn’t … Moving forward, we just have to get back to playing Cornell hockey.”
In its final two games at home for the year, the Red hopes to regain focus and prepare for the long road stretch ahead. These two Ivy League matchups will be crucial in determining how the rest of the season plays out in the conference and among the greater ECAC division.
The games begin at 7 p.m. on Friday at Lynah Rink against Brown followed by a game Saturday night against Yale at 7 p.m. at Lynah Rink.