After Long Season, Cornell Back in Familiar Spot
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. For Cornell, playing for ECAC championships is like a birthright.
So, despite a bad start, a lot of personnel turnover, a rare two-goaltender rotation, a lot of early overtime losses, and a lot of mistakes — at the end of the day, here is Cornell again, playing for its 13th ECAC Tournament title.
The Big Red got there with an, at times, ugly, yet ultimately productive 3-0 win over Dartmouth in Friday's ECAC semifinal.
"Obviously it wasn't a pretty one for us tonight, but we did exactly what we had to do," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said.
Cornell's first two goals came in quick-strike fashion late in the first period, from unlikely sources — Sean Whitney, his second of the season, and Armand de Swardt, his first.
"We talked all week about the fact that they block shots, and you have to get your head up and find a lane to the net," Schafer said. "And Sean did that on the first one."
De Swardt's came on a rebound, just 24 seconds later.
"Being hungry around the net for rebounds, which is another thing we talked about going in," Schafer said.
With the win, Cornell faces Yale, a team it has lost to seven consecutive times, including a season-ending loss in New Haven that nearly cost the Big Red a top-four spot in the standings.
"We played down at Yale and Brown, we were so ... we got embarrassed at Yale, badly," Schafer said. "We were really fortunate to get that home-ice bye. And we addressed some things about the way we needed to play if we were to have any kind of success in the playoffs. And we talked about (that) we didn't want to just get to Atlantic City, we wanted to win. And if we weren't going to make changes defensively, stay above people and be a little more committed, the same thing was going to happen — whether in the quarterfinals or semifinals, it was going to happen at some point in time. And the guys got re-committed to it, and I'm just happy for them."
In particular, it's a young defense. But Schafer knows defense, and his preaching finally paid off.
"We knew that going into the year that it was going to be a learning curve for everybody, and it has been," Schafer said. "The last game of the year, we were still trying to figure out what kind of team we have to be to be successful. Those guys have played a lot of minutes, they've made mistakes, but it is learning. We're getting better. I still don't think we've played our best game of the year yet. I think our guys in the locker room realize that, and hopefully it's tomorrow night."
Against Dartmouth, Cornell got caught running around in the second period, caused in part by having to kill a lot of penalties.
"The guys that were caught out there were the guys killing a lot of penalties," Schafer said. "We knew they were going to keep coming and play strong, they have a real good team offensively. ... We knew we still had to keep coming, and we did. We did a good job staying above them, and when called upon, we blocked a shot or Mike made a save. Give them credit, they were the ones making us run around.
"They're a big, strong hockey team, and we knew we had to keep going with a 2-0 lead. They kept coming and and for us to hold on and make the championship game, it's been a tremendous journey for us."
If Schafer sticks to the goaltending rotation he's had all year, freshman Andy Iles will get the start in the championship game, though he didn't officially tip his hand.
"I always like to have one guy at the end of the year, but we're in a routine where Mike has played awesome and Andy's played awesome. So we're in a situation where those guys can be fresh," Schafer said. "It is unusual, but it's not the first time. It has been a long time since we've had two great goaltenders like Mike and Andy. So we feel pretty blessed."