Men’s hockey will begin its postseason this weekend when it hosts Clarkson in a best-of-three quarterfinal series.
Cornell is coming off a bye week, which has proven to be the key to a strong, healthy lineup for this weekend’s games.
“Guys are a lot healthier than we were, we had some guys playing hurt over the last two or three weeks,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We were able to get some guys healthy that probably wouldn’t have played last Friday.”
Cornell dropped both its games against the Golden Knights in the regular season, most recently at home by a score of 4-3 on Feb. 17.
“In the two games against Clarkson, we haven’t fared well in the special teams,” Schafer said.
On 11 power play opportunities across both games, the Red converted on only one –– an anomaly given the overall success of the Cornell power play this season. The Red’s power play ranks third in the nation going into the weekend.
Clarkson easily advanced to the quarterfinals with a 5-1 shellacking of Brown last Saturday, dominating possession and edging the Bears in shots, 34-27.
Of the four teams that won their respective single-elimination games to advance to the quarterfinals, Clarkson is the only opponent the Red is winless against this season.
“It’s a tough matchup. In the games we played, they played hard against us and we played hard against them,” said Schafer. “We didn’t capitalize on chances and they did.”
While the Red is remembering the sting of the regular season losses to the Golden Knights, the team is approaching this weekend’s matchup as they would any other.
“It’s no different than all the games we’ve played all year,” Schafer said. “We’re excited.”
The transition to the postseason also doesn’t seem to daunt the Red.
“I think every game sort of has a playoff feel,” said senior forward Matt Stienburg, who hasn’t seen game action since an injury on Dec. 29 but is getting closer to returning. Stienburg’s availability this weekend is still up in the air.
“I just try to play simple and contribute in the little ways, and I think the rest will take care of itself,” said Stienburg, acknowledging the chemistry his teammates have built since his injury.
The Red will look to continue its chemistry on offense after a dominant weekend against Yale and Brown to close the season. The Red scored 10 goals across the two games.
Cornell will hope its high powered offense and stingy defense will propel it to its first trip to Lake Placid for the conference semifinals since 2019. Last year, Cornell lost to Colgate in the quarterfinals.
Playoff experience will benefit this year’s squad. Going into last year’s quarterfinal series, only seven players had any type of playoff experience following the abbreviated 2019-20 season and the canceled 2020-21 season.
“Last year we had a young team in the sense that there was very limited playoff experience,” Stienburg reflected. “We learned a lot about just how hard it can be going to the playoffs and how quickly it can end.
Of course, a packed Lynah Rink will likely be a massive advantage.
“I like [our fans] being here– they help us ride that emotion when we get momentum going and pick us up when adversity hits,” Schafer said. “That’s the biggest advantage of being at home– last change and the familiarity with the rink, but adding our fans is going to play a big, big factor this weekend.”
Despite the team’s hunger to make a return to Lake Placid, the Red is trying to take it one game at a time and curb its eagerness.
“You know when we were at Yale [two weekends ago], we wanted to win an Ivy League Championship, and we stayed focused in the moment. We were excited to play but we came out and we executed,” Schafer said. “Hopefully we can duplicate that mentality this weekend.”
While the Red will subconsciously look to avenge last year’s early postseason exit, it is more focused on the controllables in the present. And for Schafer, looking to earn his sixth Cleary Cup and first in over a decade, taking it game by game is the key to success.
“Everybody wants to win. That’s a given,” Schafer said. “But it’s the teams that can stay focused on that process to win throughout the whole weekend, those teams are gonna have success, or give themselves opportunities to have success.”
Game one and two will be at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. If necessary, game three would take place at 4 p.m. on Sunday.