2006-07 Cornell Season Preview

The team that everyone had pegged as the one to beat the last few years in the ECACHL is not that team this year — or at least not according to the prognosticators. Cornell has been a favorite in the ECACHL the last few years, and with good reason, as the Big Red have become a force in the league and nationally.

But this year, there are those who don’t have such high hopes for the Big Red. Cornell was picked to finish fourth in the league by the media, and the coaches agreed, putting the Red in a fourth-place tie with Dartmouth.

“The polls are trying to project how good we are going to be,” observed head coach Mike Schafer. And why are the projections so modest, compared to the Big Red’s recent results?

Perhaps it’s because the Red graduated Matt Moulson, Daniel Pegoraro and Cam Abbott, who accounted for 72 points between the three of them. Perhaps it’s because the Big Red lost three underclassmen on the defensive side over the offseason in David McKee, Ryan O’Byrne and Sasha Pokulok.

“With us, we have so many unknowns, like who is in net and on our blueline, so we don’t really know,” said head coach Mike Schafer. “We know we’ll be a good team, but how good depends on players being able to make the transition to college hockey and new roles.”

Goaltending will be a focal point on the Big Red this season. McKee left early to sign with Anaheim, and as a result the Big Red have a total of one game of collegiate experience coming from Troy Davenport to lean on between the pipes. Add sophomore Dan DiLeo, who had no experience last season, and freshman Ben Scrivens, and you have a question mark for the Big Red.

Scrivens could be the man to follow in the footsteps of Matt Underhill, David LeNeveu and McKee — all guys who came in and took the league by storm.

Byron Bitz will be needed more than ever this season at Cornell (photo: Melissa Wade).

Byron Bitz will be needed more than ever this season at Cornell (photo: Melissa Wade).

In parallel to figuring out where the goaltending situation will lie, the Big Red will once again concentrate on another point which has always been important to Schafer — scoring goals.

The Big Red scored 99 goals last season, just under three per game, while the defense allowed just over two goals a game. That’s a great formula to win hockey games, but with goaltending unproven, getting out of the gate and finding some scoring touch will be key for the Red.

Byron Bitz and Topher Scott (28 points each last year) return to lead the Red in scoring. Ray Sawada and Mark McCutcheon will also be relied on to contribute. But the Big Red’s hope is that freshman forwards step into the fray immediately.

Colin Greening, Justin Milo, Tony Romano, Blake Gallagher and Joe Scali will all be expected to step in and provide an offensive punch to the lineup.

The season can’t come soon enough for Schafer, who wants to see what he has.

“It’s been a long summer,” he said. “I just want to get out there right now.”

If the Red can get one of the goaltenders to step up right away and get the offense going, there is little doubt that Schafer’s systems will get the Red above where the pundits have predicted.