Anthony Corrales/Sun Staff Photographer

Men's hockey will travel to Springfield, MA for the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

March 28, 2024

Men’s Hockey Draws Maine in NCAA Regional Semifinal

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This story is part of The Sun’s 2024 NCAA Hockey supplement. To view the rest of the supplement, click here.

On Saturday, men’s hockey hoisted the Whitelaw Cup for the first time in 14 years, after defeating St. Lawrence, 3-1.

On Sunday, the team gathered at Lynah Rink to watch the NCAA hockey tournament selection show, which dealt the Red its national tournament fate, including its regional location and first-round opponent.

On Monday, the team practiced, scouted its upcoming opponent — No. 6 Maine — and caught up on school work.

On Tuesday, the Red was bound for Springfield, MA.

“[The championship] still hasn’t completely sunk in,” said junior defenseman Hank Kempf.

It’s full speed ahead for Cornell, which will face off against Maine in the Northeast regional semifinal — the first round of the NCAA tournament — on Thursday.

“To try to get prepared for three teams in a day and a half is kind of a monumental challenge,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “We’re really trying to get ourselves ready for Maine.”

Kempf added: “It’s time to go to work because we [have] another huge opportunity.” 

Punching its ticket to the national tournament via an automatic bid, Cornell (21-6-6, 12-6-4 ECAC) is the No. 3 seed at the Springfield regional, and is No. 12 overall.

“We’ve got to get through Maine first — that’s the biggest challenge,” Schafer said. “They’re good in transition, [and] they’re very stingy defensively. [They have] good goaltending [and] excellent special teams.”

Maine (23-11-2, 14-9-1 Hockey East) fell in the Hockey East semifinals at the hands of Boston University. The Black Bears –– which sit at fifth in Pairwise — received an at-large bid and are the No. 2 seed in Springfield. 

“I think it’s a great matchup for us,” Kempf said. “They play a similar game to us. … They have a really good power play and seem like they’re a pretty structured team.”

The Black Bears enter the NCAA tournament as victors of four of their last five games. In three of those games, Maine limited its opponents to fewer than 20 shots.

While Maine, on paper, has only the 23rd-best power play in the nation, the Black Bears have been lethal on the man-advantage down the stretch. Maine hasn’t gone a game without a power play goal since Feb. 24 and has been converting at a 42.1 percent clip since then. 

Cornell’s penalty kill is in the middle of the pack nationally, just shy of 80 percent, but has allowed only one goal on the kill in the last five games. Aided by junior goaltender Ian Shane, who has anchored Cornell to allowing the fewest goals against per game, the Red’s penalty kill will be put to the test.

“You’ve got to keep them off the power play, which means playing disciplined — controlling your sticks,” Schafer said. “They have some [smaller] guys that seem to draw a lot of penalties, so you have to control yourself against those guys.”

One of those smaller yet powerful forwards for Maine is 5’8 forward Josh Nadeau, who plays on a line with his brother, Bradly. The pair of freshmen have dominated for the Black Bears, amassing near identical point totals (45 for Josh and 46 for Bradly) and goal totals (18 for Josh and 19 for Bradly). 

The brothers’ 91 goals account for 31 percent of Maine’s offense this year.

“Their top line is one of the best top lines we’ve seen,” Schafer said.

Maine emerged from a Hockey East conference that has been particularly strong this season. Besides Maine, three other Hockey East teams qualified for the NCAA tournament, including the top team in the nation, Boston College.

Read more about the other 15 teams in the NCAA tournament here.

Cornell has twice faced — and beaten — Hockey East opponents this season, the first being its formidable rival, No. 2 Boston University, which the Red defeated, 2-1, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 25. 

The Red also upended then-No. 11 Massachusetts — the fourth-seeded team in the Springfield regional — in a shootout on Dec. 29 in the Adirondack Winter Invitational in Lake Placid.

”Playing UMass and BU gives us [an advantage] because you watch what UMass and BU did against Maine,” Schafer said. “[We can] watch what was effective and what we did.

However, both teams are different than they were in the early stages in the season.

”They’re a better hockey team, but we’re a much better hockey team than we were in November and December — night and day,” Schafer said. “We can only speak to ourselves, but we’re also pretty stingy defensively right now.”

The other semifinal matchup in Springfield features the NCHC champion Denver and Massachusetts. Should Cornell advance to the regional final, it’ll face one of two teams that it’s already familiar with. 

“Denver hasn’t changed, they [have a] very similar style to what they played last year and do a lot of similar things,” Schafer said, referring to the matchup between his team and Denver in last year’s regional semifinal, where Cornell dominated en route to a 2-0 win.

Kempf, who endured the regional final loss to Boston University last season, added: “[Against] BU, we got a little lost. … We didn’t have as much of that ‘just got for it’ [mentality] that we had [against Denver]. I think that’s what we should take from the experience.”

Though Maine is on the docket right now, past the Black Bears is a possible Frozen Four qualification, something Schafer has remarkably achieved only once in his 29-year head coaching tenure with the Red.

”We have that experience of getting through that first round but not getting through the second one,” Schafer said. “It’s extremely difficult to win it and get [to the Frozen Four].”

Despite its youthful roster, Cornell is confident that this group can lift Schafer over that jump.

“[In] other years, we’ve been right on that edge [to the Frozen Four],” Schafer said. “It’s just [important to] continue to have those experiences like Lake Placid. We didn’t play so great against Harvard last year. And then this year, we’re fortunate that we took that next step, and we’ve got to do the same thing in the NCAA [tournament].”

Correction, March 28, 2:32 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Josh and Bradly Nadeau as twins. The brothers are two years apart in age, though both are freshmen at Maine.