Team of the Week: Cornell
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Cornell coach Mike Schafer talked about managing expectations going into this season. After two wins to open the year at home against Colorado College, managing that just got a little more difficult.
If the expectations of fans and elsewhere are not quite as high as prior to the 2002-03 Frozen Four campaign, then it's pretty close. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Ferris State in the NCAA Regional final, during a year that Cornell was theoretically "rebuilding," and with tons of talent coming back, it's easy to see why.
But there's still a long way to go, of course, and far too much can happen between now and then. You can even have a great year and be upset in the first round of the NCAAs. So, as the old adage goes, Cornell is trying to take it one game, or weekend, at a time.
"Expectations stay with the opportunities that are in front of you," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. "We lost a point at CC last year and we knew we wanted to play well against them. Now we have Colgate — last year we lost both to Colgate. So we're getting them to focus in from Friday to Saturday."
Cornell defeated CC, 2-0, on Friday, in a game that was similar to a win that opened the 2002-03 season against Ohio State.
"I thought they outplayed us in the first period," Schafer said. "We were able to hang around and get the job done. The guys expected and wanted to be ranked high. Now it's about trying to prove they're worthy of it."
Saturday was more of a back-and-forth game, with Cornell holding three one-goal leads but never trailing in 3-2 win.
It can't be stressed enough how important early-season non-league games can be when it comes to NCAA Tourament selection and seeding purposes later on. That's especially true for an Ivy League team that plays just 29 regular-season games. But the Catch-22 is that these games come when a team is often least prepared to play them — in Cornell's case, as its season openers.
"It was good even in our meeting with the players this week," Schafer said. "We were looking to maybe be a little more balanced in our lineup. But we take into consideration the kids' opinions. And they said, 'Hey coach, at this point I'd rather play with this guy because the games are so important.' They realize it. They realize it maybe more than I did. They wanted to have the best possible lines together right away rather than balancing things out. As a coach, I didn't have to say anything."
Last season was uncharacteristically average for Cornell on special teams, with a 16 percent power-play efficiency and 80 percent on the penalty kill. Typical Cornell teams under Schafer have been in the high 80s on the PK.
But against CC, Cornell scored all five of its goals on the power play (5-for-14) and was perfect killing penalties.
"It's a little different look this year," Schafer said. "We wanted to emphasize the penalty kill early. We got off to a slow start last year, we had to kill a lot of 5-on-3s, then we didn't take many penalties (the rest of the season). So our percentage was low and it was a long ways to get back at it. But we did emphasize it a lot more early in the year. Last year we were not as sharp.
"There's only so many things you can cover in eight days of practice. But if there was one area we really paid attention to, it would be our penalty kill. I thought we did a good job. Your team pays attention to what you do in practice."
On the power play, "We capitalized on a few broken down situations, where we didn't go into a setup. We attacked."
It's a long season, but so far, so good for the Big Red.