Men’s hockey will start ECAC play this weekend when it travels to Princeton and Quinnipiac.
After disappointing results last weekend against Minnesota Duluth, Cornell is hoping to get its conference schedule off to a strong start.
Last weekend, Cornell was faced with the challenge of making its season debut against a team that had already played six games. The experience gap hurt the Red in two close games with Minnesota Duluth.
“Their experience helped them. They were a battle-ready team, and we were not,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Going out there at any point in time is a tough road trip. We’ll be a better hockey team because of it.”
The team expects that the disadvantages of getting a late start to the season will be less of a factor this weekend. Princeton is subject to the same Ivy League rules that require the late start, but Quinnipiac has played four more games than Cornell.
“I think we’re kind of in the groove now,” said sophomore defenseman Hank Kempf. “There’s no room for excuses.”
This weekend’s road trip will also be a much more familiar one for the Red. While the team made its first trip to Minnesota since 2005 last weekend, Cornell plays at Hobey Baker Rink and M&T Bank Arena every year. Last season, Cornell swept its trip to Princeton and Quinnipiac.
“I’ve only played one season and it’s already kind of feeling more familiar,” Kempf said. “Going into arenas that I’ve played in, going against teams I’ve already played twice, you just feel a bit more comfortable.”
The Red has not lost at Princeton since 2014, and is 16-3 in its last 19 games against the Tigers. One of those losses came at Lynah in January of last season in a game that Cornell felt it did not prepare properly for due to its anticipation of a big game against Quinnipiac the next night. Ahead of this weekend, Cornell is focused on not overlooking Princeton.
“They’re a good hockey team,” said senior forward Ben Berard. “I don’t think anyone’s overlooking Princeton this week.”
After playing the Tigers, the Red will travel to Hamden, Conn. to face No. 7 Quinnipiac on Saturday. Recent meetings between the teams have been defensive battles.
“They’re a good, patient defensive team. That’s what we’re trying to be — really solid defensively,” Schafer said. “In the past both teams have had great goaltending and blocked shots and made it difficult to score. History would say it will be something similar.”
Cornell scored three goals in its sweep of Quinnipiac last season, beating the Bobcats 2-1 in overtime at Lynah before securing a 1-0 win in the final game of the regular season. Berard scored both of Cornell’s goals in the game at Lynah.
“We have to take advantage when we do get chances because they don’t give up many opportunities,” Berard said.
All three of Cornell’s goals against Quinnipiac last season came on power plays. Cornell struggled on the power play last weekend, going 0-9 on the man advantage to open its season.
“I don’t think we need to change anything big,” Berard said. “We were close on a few, there were some plays that normally would end up in the net but didn’t last weekend.”
Cornell will be without Schafer for the weekend as he has COVID. Schafer, whose battle with COVID in January led to doctors discovering he needed a cardiac stent, received the booster in the past few weeks. The quarantine period will prevent him from making the trip regardless of how he is feeling. Associate head coach Ben Syer will take over behind the bench.
Both games start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Freshman forward Winter Wallace, who suffered a lower body injury after scoring his first collegiate goal last Friday, skated this week. He could be back as soon as this weekend.
Despite not being behind the bench, a win this weekend would count as Schafer’s 500th as head coach.
Schafer said he started freshman goaltender Remington Keopple on Saturday night because Keopple played well in practice and he felt he deserved an opportunity. Schafer also said he replaced Keopple in the third period not because he was upset with Keopple’s performance, but to give the team a spark.
The Red should expect to pick up its first win of the season on Friday against Princeton. Cornell is the better team and there should be a sizable contingent of Cornell fans in Hobey Baker Rink. Saturday night’s game against Quinnipiac will be much tougher. The Bobcat’s are the ECAC’s most formidable team, but Cornell has demonstrated it can beat strong Quinnipiac squads. Cornell’s success against Quinnipiac last season suggests that Saturday’s game should be within reach.