Men’s hockey is out for revenge.
Last year, Cornell’s season ended with a crushing loss to Colgate in game three of the ECAC quarterfinals. This weekend’s home-and-home series with the Raiders will be the first time the teams have met since, and the Red has not forgotten the disappointing conclusion.
“It’s been on our mind since the end of last season,” said sophomore defenseman Hank Kempf. “Not only did they end our season, they also season-swept us. It’s going to be more than just a game in that regard.”
The memory of that loss will prompt a heightened intensity this weekend.
“We took it personally last year and it’s gonna be a battle out there,” said senior forward Max Andreev. “It’s for pride.”
Colgate (13-13-2, 10-6 ECAC) is lurking nine points and two spots behind second place Cornell (15-7-1, 12-4 ECAC) in the conference standings. With six points up for grabs this weekend, a successful showing would keep Cornell in striking distance of first-place Quinnipiac.
“They’re a top four team in our league. They’ve had some huge wins this year,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “You just take it one game at a time. Friday night is a huge game. Saturday is a huge game.”
One key to success this weekend will be containing Colgate’s top forwards and shutting down the Raiders in transition. Brothers Alex and Colton Young as well as juniors Matt Verboon and Ross Mitton are talented forwards who can quickly get the puck into the zone and are threats to score on the offensive end.
“We’ve had some good success against top lines and some [struggles] against top lines,” Schafer said. “You learn that lesson, you don’t want to get them in transition… Those guys are real good hockey players, it’s a real good line they’ve got going.”
Cornell has had success at shutting teams down before they get established in their offensive zone. The Red has allowed 20.9 shots per game this season, which is the lowest in the country. Cornell is tied for the third best scoring defense in the country, allowing an average of 2.1 goals per game.
“We try not to let teams get settled in. We try not to let them even dump the puck in our zone,” Kempf said. “We try not to let them enter with control and, and then once they’re in the zone, it’s layers and layers of trying to outnumber them.”
Part of Cornell’s defensive success is attributable to their efforts on offense. By dominating possession and spending a lot of time in its offensive zone, Cornell manages to limit its opponents’ opportunities.
“The best form of defense is offense, and we’ve just been having a lot of offense and playing in their zone,” Kempf said. “That keeps a lot of shots away from our net.”
After its six power play goals on Saturday, Cornell is converting at a nation-best 32 percent clip on the power play. Part of its success has been driven by being able to use consistent lines. Aside from senior forward Matt Stienburg, who will not be back in February, the Red has not had any major injuries to its power play contributors.
“I think we finally have that chemistry going, we kind of know where each of us is going to be and where the puck needs to go,” said Andreev, who has four power play goals. “Other than [Stienburg], we’ve been pretty healthy, which is huge.”
The team usually makes adjustments to their special teams on a night-to-night basis. With the same opponent both nights this weekend, variety will be a key.
“The biggest thing is they’re not predictable and we’re not predictable,” Schafer said. “If you look at our power play, we’ve been able to score on one timers, we’ve been able to score on tip goals, low plays through the seam, one timers from up top. That unpredictability of where the offense can come from, I think really helps you on the power play.”
The home-and-home series will start at 7 p.m. on Friday at Lynah before continuing to Hamilton, where puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.