After routing No. 6 UConn 6-0 under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden Saturday night, men’s hockey faces another tough test this weekend against Ivy League rivals No. 7 Harvard and Dartmouth.
On Friday night, Cornell will welcome rival Harvard to Lynah in a highly anticipated contest.
“Fish will be flying on the ice, the crowd will lose their mind,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “It’s a lot like Madison Square Garden. Big game, emotional game, but you have to come ready and be focused to play.”
Friday will be the first rivalry game against Harvard with Lynah Rink at full capacity since January 2020. Last year’s game was played in front of a limited capacity crowd, and many students had trouble securing tickets.
Those troubles continued this year, with tickets to Friday night’s contest selling out shortly after going on sale Tuesday morning.
“We’ve been getting texts all week, people asking us for tickets,” said sophomore defenseman Tim Rego.
Those that were fortunate enough to secure tickets will help create one of the most exciting atmospheres in college hockey. The team looks forward to the traditions, and animosity, associated with the Harvard game, but the environment could serve as somewhat of a distraction.
“We talked about it today — knowing all the traditions, knowing what’s going on and anticipating it so you’re not surprised by it,” Schafer said. “Being very disciplined and focused on the job at hand, I thought we did a great job of that at Madison Square Garden, so we’re gonna have to hit repeat on Friday night.”
The Crimson boast a 7-1-1 record and are undefeated in ECAC play (6-0-0). Harvard’s record is just one number that conveys their dominance: Their PP% ranks 5th in the country at 27.0, while their penalty kill is statistically the best in the country, at 96.4 percent.
The Crimson will be one of the deepest teams Cornell faces all season, complete with 15 NHL draft picks — the most in the NCAA.
Despite this, Cornell isn’t approaching Friday’s contest too differently. While the team is aware of Harvard’s star-power, they are ready to shut it down as they would any other opponent.
“It’s just going to be a good hockey game,” Schafer said. “There are a lot of guys who are drafted, but it really doesn’t make a difference with how good you are. So it’ll be a battle.”
A notable aspect of the Crimson’s team is its offense, which averages nearly four goals per game. Solid defensive performances for the Red will be key to stifling Harvard.
“We had a lot of pre-scout about their first two lines,” Rego, a Massachusetts native, said. “But at the end of the day, every team has those top two lines that really set the tone for them. I think, defensively, you’ve got to do things well every shift and focus on your job and the next guy to do his job.”
With most of Harvard’s top forwards returning from last year’s squad, Rego believes that his team’s likelihood of shutting down the Crimson’s offense depends on physicality.
“I remember a lot of high end skill,” Rego said. “It’s kind of like UConn where you kind of get in their face a bit and their skill disappears… we’re going to be physical from the start with them.”
A fast start is key, and Cornell has proven its ability to start games off on the right foot. The Red will look to replicate their start against the Huskies on Saturday, where they had a two-goal lead less than two minutes into the game.
Similarly, Cornell’s offense has ignited as of late. In its last four games, the Red has tallied 18 goals.
“You know, we want to be on the attack, make them defend, and present them problems in the offensive zone,” Schafer said. “They have to defend us…that’s the kind of hockey we want to play: put them on the edge defensively and do it well for 60 minutes.”
Not to be overlooked is Saturday’s game against Dartmouth, where the Red will look to end the unofficial first half of the season on a high note.
“It’s just a matter of [hitting] that reset button after Friday night,” Schafer said.
The Big Green come to Lynah after a weekend of games in Dublin, Ireland. Although they came out with two losses to Quinnipiac and UMass Lowell, both were highly contested and showed grit from the Dartmouth squad.
“It’ll be important that we continue to perform better,” Schafer said. “Dartmouth’s got a good hockey team, and they’ll be hungry.”