Men’s hockey will continue its Thanksgiving weekend tradition of playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday when it faces No. 6 UConn in the Frozen Apple.
The Huskies (10-2-3, 7-2-2 Hockey East) will be, perhaps unexpectedly, a daunting opponent for Cornell (5-4, 4-2 ECAC). UConn entered the season unranked, but its elite defense and talented roster have shot the Huskies up to sixth in the national rankings and third in the Pairwise.
“They’ve got some top end talent,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We’ll have our hands full. This team’s number three in the country right now, it presents us with a tremendous opportunity.”
The Lynah Faithful have become accustomed to enjoying a Cornell victory in the city. The Red has won four of its last five games at the Garden. To continue its success under the bright lights, the Red will have to buck its recent trend of struggling against good teams.
The Red was swept on the road by Minnesota Duluth to start the season. The next weekend, Cornell managed to keep within striking distance in a loss to No. 7 Quinnipiac, despite being dominated in possession and shots. Cornell’s other loss came against perennial ECAC-contender Clarkson in Potsdam.
After a 2-4 road trip to start the season, Cornell has started to turn things around at Lynah. The Red enters the weekend on a three game winning streak after defeating Yale, Brown and Sacred Heart at home.
Cornell will have to contend with a highly talented UConn roster. The Red’s success on Saturday will depend on shutting down #28 Ryan Tveberg and #71 Matthew Wood. Tveberg, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, leads the Huskies with 10 goals in 15 games. Wood, the youngest player in college hockey at 17, is expected to be a first round pick in June’s NHL Draft and has notched 12 points for UConn.
The Huskies excelled on defense and the penalty kill. They rank 9th in the country with 2.13 goals allowed per game (right behind Cornell’s 2.11) and 3rd in the country with a 92.4 PK%.
Despite their talented power play units, the Huskies have only converted 11.9 percent of their man advantages this season. UConn has ridden success at even strength to an average of 3.4 goals per game.
Cornell’s somewhat slow start to the season and UConn’s position near the top of the Pairwise makes this an important game for the Red.
“For us, this is the kind of game that we need,” Schafer said. “We need to step up and get the job done.”
The Red’s experience and success at the Garden, as well as the throng of Cornell fans that will be in attendance on Saturday night will be an advantage.
“It’s our rink. It’s our home game,” Schafer said. “Coming out of the tunnel and seeing 11,000 Cornellians and a sea of red, how awesome is that.”
Despite the friendly confines that the Faithful and the Cornell alumni network make of the World’s Most Famous Arena, Schafer expects his players to still deal with some nerves and excitement playing on such a big stage.
“When they skate out and see the rink and crowd, they’re gonna have some nervousness and excitement. That’s natural, but it’s also good,” Schafer said. “I want them to enjoy that part of it… but when that puck drops, they’re zeroed in on what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Cornell’s annual trip to the city is a highlight of the University’s athletic schedule. Saturday will be a return to normal for the biennial Frozen Apple series after it was disrupted by the pandemic. Cornell would have faced Yale at Madison Square Garden in 2020, but the 2020-2021 season was canceled.
“That’s what athletics does for the University. It gives you school spirit, gives you pride in your institution,” Schafer said. “We do our part by playing for our school. Madison Square Garden, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. In New York City, playing in front of our alumni, it’s awesome.”
Puck drop is scheduled for 8 pm on Saturday night.