For the first time in over two months, Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86 appeared behind Cornell’s bench in the team’s 3-1 win over Colgate on Friday night.
Schafer was hospitalized after contracting COVID on the team’s trip to North Dakota in early January. While in the hospital, his doctors discovered that he needed to have a cardiac stent placed.
Since that trip to North Dakota, Schafer has been confined to limited involvement with the team. He has been around his players at practices and meetings, and has kept in close contact with the coaching staff. But he hasn’t had the stamina to get behind the bench for a game.
Schafer went out of his way to be in the building for Senior Night on Feb. 19. After that game, he was skeptical about his ability to return this season.
“Mentally, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life … You want to be in the trenches with [the team] but physically I just can’t right now, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to by the end of the year.” Schafer said. “My health has got to be the first priority … It was probably a little stupid [coming] tonight, but it was well worth it.”
Part of Schafer’s battle has been the stress that comes with managing the team’s performance in a live game. Schafer told College Hockey News’ Josh Seguin that adrenaline and heart issues have prevented him from watching live feeds of the team’s games during this stretch.
But Schafer, who has been at the helm of Cornell’s program for 26 years, says that being behind the bench brings a sense of calm.
“I kind of find comfort behind the bench,” Schafer told The Sun after the team’s win on Friday night. “I’m much calmer there.”
Schafer has tried to ease his way into assuming his normal role. Part of that transition, at the insistence of his doctors, was to see how he felt before the game before jumping back in.
“I saw a doctor on Thursday and he gave me some ideas about how I could manage this,” Schafer said. “Things went well with pregame and I was kind of waiting to see if anything was going to happen after that and it didn’t.”
Part of Schafer’s transition back to the bench included watching the first period of the game from the press box. The idea was to ease his load, but Schafer said watching from the press box made him more stressed.
“I hated being up in the press box,” Schafer said. “It’s either come to the rink and go on the bench or not come to the rink. It hurts more in the press box than it does being on the bench.”
Schafer expressed optimism about his status for Saturday night.
“I followed [the doctor’s] advice and now I have to see how I feel [Saturday],” Schafer said. “As of right now, I feel pretty good.”
Friday night’s win was Schafer’s 499th as the team’s head coach. A win on Saturday or Sunday would bring Schafer to the 500 win mark and send Cornell to Lake Placid for the ECAC semifinals.