Schafer Wants Neutral Officials For Non-Conference Games
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
DENVER Cornell and Denver, two programs that split the four national championships from 1967 to 1970, had only played eight times prior to 2013. One of those games was former Cornell goaltender and eventual NHL great Ken Dryden’s final game, when the Big Red lost to the Pioneers in the 1969 national championship game – on the eve, it would turn out, of Cornell’s 29-0-0 season the following year, when Cornell and goaltender Brian Cropper completed the only perfect season in college hockey’s modern era.
Seventeen years later, a 1986 NCAA tournament game between Cornell and Denver turned out to be the final collegiate contest for Cornell’s current head coach Mike Schafer. It was also the last NCAA tournament appearance for his then-Big Red teammate Joe Nieuwendyk, who of course went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career as a player and now serves as the General Manager of the Dallas Stars.
Fast forward to the present. This weekend, Denver swept Cornell in the first showdown between the schools since 1986 – and based on comments after Saturday’s emotional game, a 2-1 Pioneers win, perhaps it will be a while before the teams schedule another meeting. At the conclusion of the game, which had already included two five-minute majors called on the Big Red, including a questionable ‘contact to the head’ call on co-captain Erik Axell, Cornell was assessed 40 minutes of penalties after a bench-clearing dispute at center ice.
Included among the infractions – handed out by WCHA officials Chris Perrault and Jonathan Morrison – was a game disqualification assessed to sophomore John McCarron, reportedly for using obscene language to an official, and afterwards, Schafer voiced his frustrations and concerns regarding the end of the game.
“Really disappointing at the end of the game,” said Schafer, now in his 18th season as head coach at his alma mater. “We held our bench. Their whole team comes onto the ice. I just get the [scoresheet] now, and we’re the ones assessed all the penalties. You’re supposed to hold your guys at the end of the game, and that obviously didn’t happen.
“All [McCarron] said was, ‘You’re part of the problem.’ I think if that’s obscene language and that warrants a DQ, that’s a sad state of the officiating to make that kind of a call. He didn’t retaliate, he didn’t fight. He showed discipline. He didn’t swear at him. That’s just a shame. College hockey is such a short season. It’s a shame that an official like that would lose his cool and make that kind of call.”
Schafer made sure to separate his complaints with the officials from his praise of the Pioneers, adding, “Give Denver a lot of credit. They made a great, great play to score the game-winning goal.”
But the veteran coach still wondered aloud of his willingness in the future to travel to play western teams.
“It’s disgusting,” said Schafer, who has won five ECAC tournament championships as head coach at Cornell. “I won’t come back to the WCHA. I’m just not coming back out here. I pride ourselves in traveling everywhere. It was a great game besides that. The kids competed hard. Both teams. They’re well coached. The rest of it was disgusting.
“[The official] is fabricating obscene language or abuse of the officials. It’s a fabrication. Flat out. I’ve already called our commissioner to talk to their commissioner, and to talk to the commissioner of the NCAA.”
Later, Schafer clarified his comments regarding playing WCHA teams – presumably meaning western teams in general, as the WCHA will re-structure itself along with the entire college hockey conference landscape at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Said Schafer, “One of the things I’ll push for as head coach is that we have neutral officials for nonconference games across the country. The only way I’d ever come back to the WCHA is if there are neutral officials.”
Schafer’s comments come just as Cornell wrapped up an ambitious nonconference schedule this season – a schedule that included a pair of games against Colorado College, the pair against Denver, holiday tournament games against Ferris State and Maine, and a showdown with Michigan in November at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. In all, Cornell finished its nonconference slate with a 4-3 record, with wins against Colorado College, Ferris State, and Michigan.
On paper, it may have been the strongest nonconference slate in the decade since Cornell’s 2002-03 campaign, which also featured a robust non-league schedule and ultimately propelled Cornell to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and an NCAA Frozen Four appearance.
Now, the Big Red finds itself with an overall record of 7-6-2, ranked 22nd in the Pairwise, and needing a strong final surge in league play in January, February, and March, in order to advance to the NCAA tournament. Cornell will also look to tighten up its trademark defense after now allowing an uncharacteristic 13 goals in three games.
That’s why, Schafer says, he put this schedule together.
“You find out things about yourself against different teams in different venues,” said Schafer. “We went 4-3 in the schedule, but we learned a lot about ourselves. We have to make some adjustments now to get ready for the rest of our league.”
Cornell starts its ECAC stretch run next Friday with a game against defending league champion – and Frozen Four participant from a year ago – Union.
And the Big Red will of course do so without McCarron, whose controversial game disqualification handed out at the end of Saturday’s game against Denver carries an automatic one-game suspension.