ALBANY, N.Y. — Mike Knoepfli, Mike Iggulden, Paul Varteressian, Charlie Cook, and Jeremy Downs — not exactly college hockey household names. However, these five Cornell seniors have kept their teammates focused and determined all season long and have led the way to the Big Red’s 11th ECACHL championship.
In the title game, the seniors were responsible for all three goals, and each played a pivotal role in coming back from a first period deficit and subsequently keeping the Harvard Crimson off the board in the second and third periods.
“[Last summer], we had a little retreat down by the lake in Ithaca,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “I wanted to talk to our seniors about what we were going to try and get accomplished this year.
“They came to the meeting fully prepared. They walked in, and they laid it out — the things that we were going to get accomplished and the things that we were going to do to team build. It wasn’t much of a meeting. We knew right there that those guys were ready to be successful.”
Assistant captain Charlie Cook, with two power-play goals in the championship game, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. His thunderous one-timer, responsible for both goals, was also a result of diligent preseason preparation.
“Charlie and I had a conversation last summer,” said Schafer. “On the power play, I said, ‘If you’re not going to shoot it, you’re not going to be up there.’ He spent a lot of time shooting pucks. He concentrates and does the little things.
“Charlie’s probably the most detailed player I’ve ever coached — as far as paying attention to everything from scouting, to watching video, to taking care of his body, to rest, to stretching. Everything.”
“I definitely remember that conversation,” added Cook, with a laugh. “One of my main focuses in the summer was to work on my one-timer. It’s definitely paid off.”
Highlighting the Big Red seniors are captain Mike Knoepfli and assistant captain Mike Iggulden, who along with Mitch Carefoot, are responsible for being unyielding defensive forwards.
“They take great pride in shutting down the other team’s top line,” said Schafer.
Their attitude has been contagious, and the younger players on the team have had no problem following the lead of the seniors.
“They’re definitely the best group of guys I’ve ever been with,” said Cornell goaltender and Hobey Baker finalist David McKee. “Everyone looks up to them in the locker room, and we feed off of their positive energy.”
Despite their success, which over the course of their careers includes two ECACHL championship, four Ivy League titles, and three NCAA tournament appearances, the senior class of the Cornell Big Red still has some unfinished business.
As freshmen, they were eliminated from the NCAA tournament by New Hampshire in the quarterfinals. A year later, as sophomores, they were part of a dominant Big Red team that made the Frozen Four, only to be ousted by the Wildcats again. The bitter taste of those defeats has been a driving force behind this entire season.
“[The Frozen Four loss] has driven these guys to improve, to be more committed, and they’ve become better leaders and better players,” said Schafer. “Our seniors have led from day one. They just got the job done all season long, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”