In what is sure to be a big weekend, #10/10 Cornell (3-2-1, 1-2-1 ECAC Hockey) — the defending Ivy League champion — hosts Harvard on Friday and Dartmouth on Saturday.
Harvard (3-2, 2-2) will be hitting the road for the first time this season as it heads to Lynah for the annual Red-Crimson rivalry. The game on Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.
“It’s one of those things you kind of look forward to, it’s on your calendar every year and you’re counting down the days until we get to play Harvard, so I’m excited,” said defenseman and tri-captain Braden Birch. “It never loses its excitement so I think we’re all ready to go.”
The Cornell-Harvard hockey rivalry has a rich and vibrant history.
“The game itself is a great environment — it’s electric,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86 “It’s exciting for fans and players alike and we’ve enjoyed the rivalry over the course of many, many years and I’m sure this game will live up to the hype as it does every year.”
The Lynah Faithful take this very seriously and traditionally throw fish on the ice.
“It’s always a great game,” Schafer said. “I hope our fans just throw fish — in the last couple years they’ve started throwing all kinds of stuff on the ice that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s a great tradition, one we don’t want to ever see die here, but it’s just about if the fans are going to throw it, throw it. Throw the fish early and get it out of there and enjoy the tradition and don’t throw anything in after that.”
Last year, the Red and the Crimson went 1-1-1. Cornell won the teams’ first meeting on Nov. 11 at the Bright Center, 4-2, and then tied with Harvard at their Lynah meeting, 2-2, on Jan. 21. The Crimson went on to earn a 6-1 victory over the Red in the ECAC Hockey semifinals on March 16 in Atlantic City, N.J. Cornell holds a 71-60-8 lead over Harvard in the all-time series match-up.
“They are going to bring it either way,” Birch said. “It’s their first road trip. They are going to come hard, so we’re excited … I think we’ve got a lot more to prove definitely. Every weekend is a big weekend, especially playing college hockey we are only playing I guess 36 games so every weekend is important, but I think a lot of guys have things to prove and as a team we have things to prove [this weekend].”
This year, the famed Cornell-Harvard game will be broadcasted on a national scale on NBC Sports Network. Furthermore, the network is sending Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire — who usually cover NHL match-ups — to handle play-by-play and color analyst duties, respectively.
“[Playing on televsion] is great for our alumni, and for our fans across the country to be able to see,” Schafer said. “Especially when hockey is not going on at the NHL level, it gets out to a national level to people that are hungry to watch a game of hockey.”
Dartmouth (5-0-1, 4-0) is the only ECAC team that remains undefeated in the league. Saturday’s game — which has a 7 p.m. puck drop — will also be televised, this time regionally by Time Warner Cable Sports.
“They are 4-0 and watching them on video, their forwards are extremely strong, they seem to have really good special teams,” Schafer said. “We matched up well with them in the past. We had a great series against them last year here so [we are] looking forward to both games. Both games are extremely important with them sitting at 4-0 in the league, it is going to be important for us to come in here on Saturday and get victory and bring them back to the pack.”
The Red is coming off two weekend losses last weekend. Cornell fell to Princeton, 5-3, on Nov. 9 and then again to Quinnipiac, 3-1, on Nov. 10.
“They came out to play and we didn’t … that’s the bottom line,” said senior forward John Esposito. “They outworked us, they out battled us, they out hit us.”
Despite last weekend’s disappointing results, Schafer is trying to move forward and prepare his team for the upcoming weekend battles.
“You always learn from losing a hockey game,” he said. “Good teams learn from losing and from winning. You don’t want to ever get too low or too high coming off of a great weekend … You want to address your issues that you have as a team and we have addressed that this week in practice and we’re looking for that to translate into a better performance this weekend.”
According to Birch, one thing the team has been working on is keeping the momentum going for a full 60 minutes.
“[We] have to be focused, also we have to have a higher compete level,” he said. “I think there are parts of the games where we lost some focus and lost some energy and that kind of hurt us, so I think it’s competing for the full 60, it’s playing Cornell hockey for the full 60 … I don’t think we really put together a full game yet so I think it’s really about putting together 60 minutes.”
Schafer also discussed how the team’s mentality is an extremely crucial part of the Red’s game.
“It’s about understanding what kind of hockey team we need to be to be successful,” he said. “We are a blue collar team that’s got pretty good skill, that has to play physical, push the pace, wear teams down and be good in special teams. And that’s who we are — we step outside that box, we’re in trouble. I think any team once they step outside the box of their identity is in trouble.”
According to Esposito, the team has been working hard at this and is hoping it will lead to better results this weekend.
“I think for us to be who we want to be, we have to work hard,” he said. “We know what we want to do, we just have to go out there and do it.”
Schafer feels confident that if the Red can manage that, it will see more success on the ice.
“If we address that issue, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to be successful … Hopefully that mentality comes out loud and clear seven o’clock on Friday night,” he said.