After a road trip that saw men’s hockey (11-4-4, 6-4-2 ECAC) collect four out of a possible six points, the team returns to Lynah Rink this weekend for tough tasks against St. Lawrence (8-13-3, 6-5-1 ECAC) on Friday and Clarkson (13-10-1, 7-4-1 ECAC) on Saturday.
The Red triumphed in an emotional 2-0 win –– four years in the making –– over Harvard at Bright-Landry on Friday, before its offense came out flat against Dartmouth the next night, ultimately settling for a 2-2 tie.
“I thought we came ready to play on Friday night. We played with good pace, poise and pressure and played our kind of hockey,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “The guys didn’t have the [same] intensity on Saturday.”
In Cornell’s home series against Clarkson and St. Lawrence last year, the Red was stifled on offense and dropped both games –– the latter game a crushing 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Saints on Cornell’s senior night.
St. Lawrence is a team not to be taken lightly –– recent victories over Dartmouth, Clarkson and Harvard prove the Saints can keep up with any opponent.
“[St. Lawrence is] very well structured,” Schafer said. “We’ll need to play [at] a good pace and be patient. [We need to] be physical, but keep our sticks down and stay out of the penalty box.”
Issues on special teams have loomed largely over Cornell’s recent games. Although the Red have flourished on the power play in recent years, 2023-24 has seen Cornell’s man advantage linger among the bottom half of the NCAA. The Red has a 16.4 percent success rate on the power play thus far.
However, Clarkson has also struggled on the power play this season. On Saturday, Cornell will be tasked with the Golden Knights’s smothering defensive play and experienced skaters, clashing with Cornell’s youthful, fast-paced play.
“We [have] to continue to follow our blueprint –– be[ing] physical, being in guys’ faces. Battle hard for pucks, [give them] no skating room,” Schafer said. “That’s our blueprint [both] on the road [and] at home: just be a difficult team to play against.”
A large contributor to Clarkson’s success is due to the likes of Austin Roden, a graduate student transfer portal acquisition for Clarkson. Roden’s 2.4 goals against average ranks fourth in the ECAC.
The leader of that stat category lies at the other end of the ice. Junior goaltender Ian Shane, who boasts an impressive 1.7 goals against that not only leads the ECAC, but the entire NCAA. Shane is fresh off a 2024 Hobey Baker Award nomination, bestowed on college hockey’s MVP at the end of the season.
Shane was also crowned the ECAC’s MAC Goaltending Goaltender of the Month on Thursday after guiding his team to a 5-0-1 record in January. Over that stretch, Shane has amassed a .928 save percentage and allowed just nine goals over the six-game stretch.
While one could anticipate Saturday’s clash between the Red and the Golden Knights to exemplify a goaltender’s duel, expect the unexpected when it comes to ECAC play down the stretch.
“Who knows?” Schafer said when asked about his expectations for the Saturday night Clarkson contest. “We [always] have the ability to put pucks in the net and create offense, but we’re starting to do it the right way.”
While its offensive touch got away from the Red against Harvard and Dartmouth, Cornell will lean on its system of precision to counteract the defense brought upon by its upcoming competitors.
“Against Harvard, we passed up shots in the slot to make that extra pass,” Schafer said. “There [are] a lot of simple ways for goals around the net –– shots from blueline, being around the net for rebounds, tips and deflections and shooting pucks. Some nights we’re all three and some nights we’re [only] one.”
Should Cornell achieve all three of those offensive objectives, it will play itself into a much more breathable position in the ECAC.
Cornell enters this weekend’s games third in the ECAC with 21 points, behind only Clarkson (23 points) and Quinnipiac (31 points). Two victories this weekend would give Cornell a comfortable lead in the ECAC, well in position for a bye week –– awarded to the top-four teams in the conference –– as playoffs near.
Cornell returns to Lynah Rink to verse St. Lawrence on Friday, Feb. 2 and Clarkson on Saturday, Feb. 3. Puck drop for both games is slated for 7 p.m.