The Red Hot Hockey rivalry between Cornell (7-1-0) and Boston University (4-8-2) has returned to square off the No. 10 ranked Red against the Terriers under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
In what has become a biannual tradition, the Red has met the Terriers at the historic New York City venue every other year dating back to 2007. The nationally televised game has garnered fans and alumni from all over the city to pack the arena in what is a special game for both players and coaches.
“Obviously I’m really excited,” said senior forward Brenden Locke. “It’s my fourth time playing there, so a little bit less of the nervous jitters playing in that kind of renowned arena. I think all the guys are excited to get down there and get going.”
Being used to the venue already, Locke said he understands what it takes from a player’s perspective to perform in such a lively setting — packed with fans from across the country. As a veteran, he said he has already imparted his knowledge to the underclassmen to prepare them for the game ahead.
“The biggest thing is just treat it as any other game,” Locke said. “Since it’s New York City, a lot of guys come from small towns or from small areas, and just playing at MSG is awesome. The first couple shifts, there’ll be some jitters but we’ve been telling them to embrace it and use that energy.”
Freshman forward Kyle Penney has yet to skate on the ice of MSG, but has been looking forward to the chance to face the nerves and excitement that come with the arena.
“I’m super excited,” Penney said. “It’s gonna be pretty cool to be in that historic building, in front of a big crowd, and it should be a good game.”
“I think nerves are always good,” Penney continued. “I don’t shy away from them just because they go along well with excitement, and I think that’s what I’m going to be: moreso excited. I’ll be a little bit nervous, but mostly excited.”
The last time the Red faced the Terriers was in the Red Hot Hockey match of 2019, when Cornell won 2-0 behind a late score from then-sophomore Locke. However, two years can change an entire program in collegiate athletics, and Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86 is preparing to face a completely different Boston team this time around.
“A lot of things have changed. It seems like such a long time ago since we played against them,” Schafer said. “You remember who they had and I’m sure we’ve had a lot of guys that have changed on our team.”
The Terriers have started the year with inconsistent results, only splitting games between four opponents while failing to sweep any. Despite this, Schafer said he predicts that Boston’s squad is better than their record would suggest.
“I’ve watched the last four games and they played pretty well,” Schafer said. “They’ve got some big-time players that play hard. When it’s on this kind of stage, you’re not going to get an inconsistent effort. You’re going to get a great effort when you’re playing at a special place like Madison Square Garden, so I’m sure that we’ll get their best and they’ll get our best.”
“I think for the most part, they always get these highly touted prospects,” said Locke about Boston’s roster. “They’re always lethal offensively. I think when it comes down to playing those guys, just not playing their game but imposing our will on them and making sure we don’t give them any space for those skilled guys to make plays … is the way we’ll shut them down.”
On the defensive end, the Terriers have struggled with two goaltenders under .900 save percentage. To take advantage, the coaching staff has put a point of emphasis on getting to the goal in order to find better scoring opportunities.
“I think that one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is continuing to have a good net presence,” Schafer said. “I thought that our net presence against both Brown and Yale was very inconsistent. I think against any goaltender, it doesn’t matter what their save percentage is. If they get a chance to see [the puck], odds of them making the save go way up.”
“We need to take advantage of our opportunities,” Penney said. “Don’t shy away from driving to the net, getting pucks in and making sure we’re testing them.”
Beyond preparing to return to Madison Square Garden, this matchup marks the start of a lengthy road schedule — the Red will not play at home until Jan. 21.
The Red Hot Hockey match begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Madison Square Garden against Boston University.