For Cornell, it’s not about where you start, but how you finish.
An early 4-6-1 skid to start the year is far behind now, as the Big Red are set to take on second-seeded Yale in Saturday’s ECAC Hockey Championship after grinding out a 3-0 win over Dartmouth in Friday’s semifinals.
It’s the third year in a row Cornell will make an appearance in the conference championship game, and 10th appearance in 16 years during coach Mike Schafer’s tenure.
“It’s been a tremendous journey throughout the course of the season,” Schafer said. “We were in 11th place at Christmas and lost two games in overtime down in Florida to St. Cloud and Maine. It shows how far we’ve come. We had two-goal leads in both of those games and lost. But we came right back and won at Princeton and Quinnipiac.”
Schafer made it clear that Cornell wasn’t happy simply making it to the championship weekend. After losing 4-1 at Yale to wrap up the regular season on Feb. 26, Schafer and his staff shifted focus on improving Cornell’s defensive commitment.
“We needed to stay above people on defense,” Schafer said. “If you step up on them in transition, they’re going to move pucks by you and get a lot of three-on-twos. It’s all about staying above people and making them work for their ice surface.”
A timeshare opportunity
While returning to the ECAC Championship is nothing new for Cornell, the situation between the pipes is.
For much of the last decade, the Big Red have mostly had one goaltender take most of the minutes in net. But with senior Ben Scrivens wrapping up his impressive career last year, Cornell has employed a time share between junior Mike Garman and freshman Andy Iles.
Garman drew the start against the Big Green and turned away all 37 shots he faced for his first collegiate shutout.
“I always like to have one guy at the end of the year,” Schafer said. “We’re in a rotation; [it seems like] Mike has played awesome and then Andy will play awesome. So it’s a situation where those guys can stay fresh. We feel blessed as a hockey team that both guys can step up and do the job.”
Will Schafer continue that rotation Saturday? That remains to be seen.
“We’ll make that decision and you guys will find out right around game time,” he said to the gathered media in the post game press conference.
Down but (almost) not out
Granted, it will take a lot of things going its way for Dartmouth to make the NCAA tournament as an at large-team, but coach Bob Gaudet remains optimistic, even after the Big Green’s 3-0 loss to Cornell in Friday’s semifinal game.
“I don’t think it’s quite over yet; there’s still a bit of a possibility,” he said. “We’re going to play to win tomorrow and we’re going to go after it; this is a very proud program and group of kids.”
A shutout first
Garman’s first collegiate shutout made a bit of history. Coupled with a shutout by Yale’s Ryan Rondeau, it marked the first time in the ECAC semifinals there were two shutout wins in the same night.
“I just try to continue to play my game from the first minute to the last minute,” Garman said of his shutout. “A lot of the credit goes to the team — they played great in front of me and really eliminated a lot of scoring chances.”