Men’s hockey’s quest for the Whitelaw Cup will begin this weekend when it hosts Colgate in a best of three series at Lynah Rink.
After stringing together a three game win streak to end the regular season and clinch a first round bye, a rested Cornell squad is hoping for better results than it achieved in its series with the Raiders last month.
“I think we had more to give in that series,” said Associate Head Coach Ben Syer. “At times we played extremely well, but then I also think there were times where we got away from our process or our detail.”
That series came in the midst of the Red’s six game winless streak that included a number of disappointing results against teams with losing records.
Cornell seemed to right the ship at the end of the regular season, beating the top two teams in the league, Clarkson and Quinnipiac, before addressing its tendency to play down to teams with a 4-0 victory over Princeton.
“You have to play hard and you have to be detailed every time you step on the ice,” Syer said. “I thought we did a good job of that against Princeton, and we have to do that against Colgate because they’re extremely talented.”
The question heading into this quarterfinal series will be which Cornell team takes the ice. Will it be the team that went 6-0-1 against opponents in the top 20 of the Pairwise rankings, or will it be the team that suffered embarrassing and avoidable ties and losses against teams in the bottom of the league?
“Our guys know what’s at stake here, and they know it’s not going to be easy,” Syer said. “They knew that going down to Quinnipiac and Princeton, and it’ll be the same this weekend.”
Cornell has had a tendency to rise to the occasion, most recently snapping back to life with its playoff position on the line in the final weekend of the season. No player better exemplifies that trend than freshman goaltender Ian Shane, who notched 65 saves over two shutouts during the season’s final weekend.
“I just need to be a guy my team can rely on. Obviously goaltending is a huge part of a playoff run,” Shane said. “We can be really good as a team, especially against Colgate coming up, but I just have to be reliable. I have to be dialed in.”
With Shane locked in and the team executing as well as it did against Quinnipiac and Princeton, Colgate should be a team Cornell can beat in a best-of-three format on home ice. The Raiders (16-16-4) rode a 6-2-2 finish to the regular season to the 5th seed before sweeping Yale in the first round last weekend.
“They’re a hard team to play against. They’re fast, they’re physical,” junior forward Matt Stienburg said. “I think it’s gonna be all about establishing the way we want to play. We’ve got some guys back in the lineup that we’re excited to have. So I think hopefully they can help us establish our game and kind of dictate the play.”
Colgate’s biggest threat comes from the skill of its top-line forwards. The wingers on that top line are brothers Alex and Colton Young, who combined for four points in the series against Cornell in February.
“They’re extremely skilled. We have to be hard on them,” Syer said. “You can’t give them a lot of time or space, and you have to be alert when they’re on the ice.”
Colgate’s goaltender, Mitch Benson, has played well as of late. Benson sports a .917 SV percentage and a 2.48 GAAVG. He made 59 saves on 63 shots over two games when the teams met in February.
“We have to find ways to capitalize, and I think the traditional way to do that is to throw more at him and put more traffic in front of him, so we’re going to look to do that,” Stienburg said.
One of the big advantages of the bye week was extra time to get healthy. On top of players who were out of the lineup with injuries, like freshman forward Kyler Kovich and senior forward Max Andreev, a lot of the roster, including Stienburg, was playing through soreness and bruises.
“[The week off] has allowed us to get a couple guys back and let a couple bumps and bruises heal up,” Syer said.
One of the lingering questions heading into the weekend is Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86’s status. Schafer has not been behind the bench since early January, but he’s been increasingly involved at practices in recent weeks.
Game one will be 7 p.m Friday and game two will be 7 p.m Saturday. If neither team wins both, game three will be 4 p.m Sunday.