Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Junior Ondrej Psenicka at the the men's hockey game vs. RPI at Lynah Rink. The Red won 3-1 on Feb. 3, 2023.

February 8, 2024

Men’s Hockey Looks to Build On Recent Dominance at RPI and Union

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Check out the full interview with Coach Schafer and Gabriel Seger here.

It’s been 67 days since men’s hockey has lost.

Since ringing in the new year, Cornell has amassed seven wins in its last ten games. The Red has catapulted itself from sixth to second in the ECAC and is toeing the cutoff for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

The Red occupy a #14 ranking in Pairwise, a key indicator in determining the field. In the latest edition of USCHO’s Bracketology –– in which the tournament field is predicted based on current standings –– Cornell is the 14th team out of 16 to earn a bid. 

The Red (13-4-4, 8-4-2 ECAC) will look to continue its commanding play in a weekend slate against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (8-16-2, 5-8-1 ECAC) on Friday, Feb. 9, and Union (12-12-2, 6-6-2 ECAC) on Saturday, Feb. 10.

“A third of our league schedule is still in front of us. So, we put ourselves in a good position right now, but we need to capitalize on these last eight games,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.

Cornell sits at second place in the ECAC with 27 points, trailing only Quinnipiac (38 points). Within striking distance of the Red is Colgate and Clarkson, with 26 and 23 points respectively. 

Historically, Cornell has fared well against RPI and Union. In its last time out against the Engineers and the Garnet Chargers, the Red picked up a well-earned 3-1 victory over RPI on Feb. 3, 2023, before cruising to a 10-1 trouncing of Union on Feb. 4, 2023.

RPI, which Cornell will verse on Friday, has not earned the results it has wanted this season. Lingering toward the bottom of the ECAC, the Engineers’ rebuilding squad is still looking to find its groove offensively.

“[RPI] play[s] very hard. [If] you look at their season, they’re in almost all their games,” Schafer said.

The Engineers return a rather experienced team, its roster highlighted by nine seniors and three graduate students. However, there has been some uncertainty between the pipes for RPI, as its three goaltenders have split time with no clear starter.

Perhaps RPI’s largest weakness is defense –– its 3.96 goals against per game averages worst in the entire NCAA. With Cornell’s proliferating offense as of late, including a 12-3 combined goal margin against St. Lawrence and Clarkson this past weekend, the Red should fare well against RPI.

“[We have to keep] our feet moving on offense or keeping the puck moving, too,” Schafer said. “[We are] just trying to play at a better pace and I think we’ve gotten better at that slowly since Christmas –– it’s really coming along.”

Schafer gave credit to the recent depth of the Red’s scoring, as all five goals on Friday were scored by different skaters, as well as all seven goals on Saturday.

Of note, junior forwards Sullivan Mack and Jack O’Leary and freshman forward Ryan Walsh have emerged as second-half breakout candidates. All three have garnered multiple points over the last few games, while Walsh was named the ECAC Rookie of the Week on Monday, Feb. 5 after a two-goal weekend against the Saints and Golden Knights. 

Junior forward Sullivan Mack at the the men’s hockey game vs. RPI at Lynah Rink. The Big Red won 3-1 on Feb. 3, 2023. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

“We’ve started getting some different guys produc[ing] offense since the holidays. We talked [about] that a great length before they went home,” Schafer said. “Sometimes you can get down on yourself that you’re not having the season or you’re not producing the points that you thought you were going to. And they’ve come back and they’ve stayed the process. They haven’t varied and gotten frustrated, and that’s now paying dividends for all [of] them.”

Saturday’s clash against Union poses an intriguing matchup for Cornell. Union, once second place in the ECAC just a few weeks ago, has slipped into fifth, while Cornell currently occupies second. 

The Garnet Chargers (22 points) are knocking on the door of that imperative top-four group. The four best finishers in the ECAC receive a bye week once the playoffs commence and skip right to the quarterfinals. 

“[Union] is a tough place to play at,” said senior forward Gabriel Seger. “They play hard [and] play pretty structured, so it’s always a battle to go to that rink.”

Seger played two seasons at Union before ultimately transferring to Cornell for his final two years of eligibility. 

“Last year, it was kind of weird sitting in the away locker room [at Union], on the other side of the bench [and] playing against your old teammates,” Seger said. “But I think it will be easier this year for sure. I’m treating it as any other game.”

On paper, Union boasts a few eye-opening statistics. The Garnet Chargers hold a nationally renowned penalty kill, succeeding at an NCAA third-best 87.9 percent clip. Despite this, Union has still seen some woes defensively, allowing over three goals per game on average.

“We’ve got to go up there and stay focused on RPI, get the job done and then turn our full attention to Union the next day,” Schafer said. “And, again, we’ve had pretty good success with that this year.”

Cornell will take on RPI in Troy, New York on Friday before making the quick drive to Schenectady, New York to face Union. Both games begin at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+.