After a three-week, six-game stint on the road, men’s hockey will finally return to Lynah to take on Ivy League foes Yale and Brown.
Though the team wants to avoid excuses, the Red feels its disappointing 2-4 record (2-2 ECAC) is at least partially due to both the late start to its season and the long road trip. The Red, battling sickness, injury, and fatigue following a 1-1 weekend on the road against St. Lawrence and Clarkson, is looking forward to a weekend free of hotel rooms and bus rides.
“It’s been a grind,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Coming out and seeing our fans on Friday night is gonna be a really welcome sight for our program.”
Fans packing the stands at Lynah will certainly be a pleasant change for the team. With no COVID-19 restraints, the Faithful will be back at full capacity. Schafer, in a message to students via Cornell Athletic Ticketing, made a point to highlight the impact the fans have on his team.
“When our crowd is loud and in their seats before the teams take the ice for the national anthems, it intimidates our opponents and motivates our players,” Schafer said.
As the team continues to fight in a very deep ECAC, coming out of the weekend with six points is imperative.
“It’s definitely huge,” said senior forward Zach Tupker. “There’s so much parity right now… we’re battling for that four-seed with the reconfiguration of the ECAC playoff.”
Tupker is referring to the new-look playoff that the ECAC announced last week. Instead of teams finishing outside the top four playing a best-of-three series, the conference has changed the format to a single game play-in. This makes finishing in the top four a clear-cut advantage, and one Cornell wants to jump on.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s one game and anything can happen,” Tupker said. “From now on, every game matters for sure. It’s huge to get six points this weekend.”
Cornell will look to get six points against Yale and Brown teams that haven’t been off to the best of starts. With Yale (1-5, 1-5 ECAC) on Friday, a team that has only been able to score three goals in its six games, the Red will look to take advantage offensively.
Tupker said that he doesn’t want to underestimate his opponent, and noted Yale’s goalie, who has been solid in the times Tupker has played against him.
“I think when you can create some chaos, have some guys in traffic, have some sticks in their faces, that’s where we’re gonna create some offense,” Tupker said.
Cornell’s offense has been streaky to start the season. The Red scored five goals at St. Lawrence last Friday, but only scored one the next night at Clarkson.
“We had a good night at Princeton, put up five against St. Lawrence but didn’t come back and create as many chances the next day. So we’re trying to find that consistency in our game,” Schafer said.
The Red will especially want to capitalize on the power play, an aspect of its game that hasn’t completely clicked yet. With just three power play goals on 26 attempts, Cornell’s PP% sits at a mere 11.5.
Schafer, amid power play struggles, doesn’t appear worried. “It comes with confidence,” he said.
Going into Friday, the Red has won four straight against the Bulldogs and six of the last seven. Cornell’s penalty kill ranks in the top-10 in the NCAA, and the Red will look to keep the Bulldogs off the board like many of Yale’s opponents have done so far this season.
“The guys are doing a good job of blocking shots and they’ve been pressuring and working as a four man unit system,” Schafer said.
Brown, on the other hand, has been a tricky team. The Bears’ 1-4-1 record seems deceiving after they battled ECAC perennial powerhouse Quinnipiac to a 4-3 loss on Friday. Schafer noted that, on the road, it’s difficult to battle back after getting down a goal early, as Brown did. The Red will look to put the Bears in a similar spot on Saturday.
“Whoever scores first, it can be a long, hard climb to get back into that game,” Schafer said.
It’s especially difficult in tough atmospheres like St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Quinnipiac, which the Red have already experienced. But Lynah, Schafer noted in his message to the fans, has an unrivaled atmosphere.
“I am confident in saying there is no place like Lynah Rink on a Friday and Saturday night.”
Cornell takes on Yale in its home opener at 7 p.m. on Friday, and Brown at 7 p.m. on Saturday.