Winless in its last three games, men’s hockey will head to Brown and Yale to close out the regular season this weekend.
After being swept at home last weekend, this weekend’s contests will have heightened importance for the Red. Cornell needs to win both games to keep its chances of securing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament alive. A loss to either the Bears or the Bulldogs would sink Cornell in the Pairwise rankings and put the Red on the outside of the playoff picture.
“We have to win,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “At the start of the year or mid-year you try to push [the Pairwise] out of your mind because it really doesn’t make any difference. Now it does.”
With a loss in either game, Cornell’s only path to the NCAA tournament would be to win the ECAC tournament in Lake Placid. The Red will either be the second or third seed in the conference tournament and will host a best-of-three quarterfinals series at Lynah starting on March 10.
Brown (9-16-2, 5-13-2 ECAC) and Yale (6-17-4, 5-13-2 ECAC) are two of the three worst teams in the conference, but could be tough matchups for Cornell on the road. Both teams have capable goaltenders, although Brown’s Mathieu Caron could miss Friday night’s game due to injury. Yale’s Luke Pearson has posted a .924 SV% in 16 games this season.
Cornell struggled to get the puck past St. Lawrence’s Emil Zetterquist last Saturday. The Red fired 28 shots, but was shutout for the second time of the season. Cornell missed a number of close opportunities in both games last weekend.
“I don’t know if there’s much more to it except for putting it in the back of the net,” Schafer said. “That sounds stupid, but it’s about as basic as it gets.”
Both Brown and Yale have middle of the pack defenses. Each team allows an average of 2.9 goals per game. Cornell’s offense is eighth in the country, scoring an average of 3.5 goals per game.
“I think we just need to go to the gritty areas like the front of that a little bit more to get more greasy goals,” said junior forward Jack O’Leary.
Cornell’s simplest path to two victories this weekend would be to shut down its opponent’s offenses. Yale has the worst scoring offense in the country at 1.7 goals per game, and Brown is not too far behind at 2.3 (eighth worst). Cornell held Yale to two goals and Brown to one when the teams met at Lynah last November.
“If you don’t score well, you don’t want to give any up,” Schafer said. “That’s always been my M.O. as a coach. If we’re not going to score goals tonight, we’re not going to give any up. If we don’t give any up, we don’t lose.”
Cornell allows the fewest shots per game in the country at 20.6, but defensive lapses have proved costly in recent games. Last Friday, a neutral zone and a defensive zone turnover gave Clarkson easy scoring opportunities. On Saturday, nobody backed up senior defenseman Sam Malinski when he went to the net late in the third period, eventually giving St. Lawrence a two-on-one the other way for the game winning goal.
“They don’t judge us on how many shots we give up,” Schafer said. “We only get judged on whether we win.”
Cornell’s defensive tendency of shutting down opponents except for the occasional mistake has been difficult for sophomore goaltender Ian Shane, whose SV% has ticked down to .904 from a season high .921. Shane has not faced more than 19 shots in his last six games.
“We do such a great job of limiting chances but [those opportunities] sort of take me out of the rhythm of the game,” Shane said. “I don’t see a lot of shots, so I’m kind of not into it as much. When they do get an opportunity that makes it a little harder.”
Shane allowed a big rebound that led to a power play goal against Clarkson on Friday night and got away with some big rebounds against St. Lawrence.
“I think it kind of falls on all of us to be a little bit more accountable… For me, cleaning up things in my rebound control and making it easier for those guys,” Shane said. “I think we all have a job to do… We need to settle down a bit, get back to our basics, our fundamentals and really focus on those details this weekend.”
The crucial weekend starts at 7 p.m. on Friday at Brown and the same time Saturday night at Yale.