Cornell uses its time-tested approach to build a 3-0-1 start

The Cornell Big Red got to 3-0-1 the hard way.

The program’s traditional defense-first, defense-last, goaltending-everywhere-in-between mantra has begun to evolve in recent years but the time-tested approach is what got the Red through their first four games unbeaten. The team is averaging two-and-a-half goals a game — it hasn’t scored more than three in an outing — and has played three one-goal games out of four. (The fourth was a 2-0 result.)

“I have mixed emotions,” coach Mike Schafer said. “I thought we played very solid hockey versus Colorado College. They were great in transition, and we were ready for it.”

Cornell took each of the decisions against CC, winning 2-0 and 3-2 at Lynah Rink. The following weekend was a different story.

“Colgate is the best team we’ve played so far,” Schafer said, though acknowledging that his side has only seen two NCAA opponents so far. “They were better than us both nights. Colgate is young, but they are very skilled, very well coached.”

The Raiders outshot the Red 45-14 in Hamilton on Friday night, including 24-4 in the first period.

“Andy won that game for us in the first period,” Schafer said of junior goalie Andy Iles, who stopped each of Colgate’s two dozen first-period salvos.

“It was a good lesson for our guys: Our league is extremely tough this year. We learned how good the league is,” Schafer said. Colgate was picked to finish ninth in this year’s coaches’ poll (and 11th by yours truly).

“The nation needs to realize how tough our league is from top to bottom.”

When asked if he was surprised that only his team and Dartmouth’s remain unbeaten among Division I programs this early in the season, Schafer said no.

“I think the parity in college hockey continues to get better all the time,” he said. “It’s one of the few D-I sports where the No. 1 team can fall to the No. 46 team on a regular basis. … You don’t see that in football or basketball.”

The Red wear the nation’s fourth-largest target down to Princeton and Quinnipiac this weekend, hoping to avoid exactly the kind of upset that their coach has seen so often. The Tigers will test the offense, while the Bobcats, the D.

If Cornell wants to escape the weekend with a round number in the loss column, it may have to prove that it can play the new game as well as the old.

Bears’ puzzle missing pieces

Here’s my obligatory, unavoidable, couldn’t-help-it-if-I-tried election joke for the week:

Brown coach Brendan Whittet is a single-issue voter, and right now that issue is health care.

“Injuries at any time are brutal. Injuries specifically at the beginning of the year are taxing because we’re still trying to establish our identity as a team,” Whittet said of his already battered roster.

“Opening night, we had basically a full roster … and we played very good hockey” in a 2-1 win over Princeton.

Since then, two rookies with high ceilings and integral roles have been shut down.

Defenseman Nate Widman: “Probably done for the year, more than likely” with what is presumed to be a torn ACL, Whittet said. Forward Nick Lapin — son of former St. Lawrence standout Pete Lapin — “was excellent opening weekend” but has been hampered by a groin injury.

Just like that, a second-line defender and a power-play producer are out of the lineup for an indefinite amount of time. When considered with respect to Whittet’s preseason message — “I don’t believe we have any superstars” — things don’t look so good for the squad.

Fortunately, the coach has great admiration for his upperclassmen and the stable leadership they provide.

“Our leadership has been very good. [Junior] Dennis Robertson is our captain … there’s obviously a lot of respect internally for Dennis’ game and the leadership he provides. [Our upperclassmen] have a familiarity with me and with what I want from our program.”

Where leadership has failed to carry the team, junior goalkeeper Marco De Filippo has done his best to shoulder the load.

“He’s been great,” Whittet said. “It’s what we expected — I saw it in spurts last year — and y’know, it was hard for him to unseat the incumbent in [graduated alumnus Mike] Clemente, but he’s been everything we could’ve asked for and more. He’s given us an opportunity to win every game. I kinda knew that he had it in him; it’s just the consistency. It’s also having the opportunity to start, whereas last year he knew that if he had an off night, Mike Clemente was coming right back in.”

“[De Filippo is] very calm in the net — almost too calm; sometimes I wonder what’s going on in there — but I think that’s part of his makeup as a player and as a person. He has a very calming affect back there.”

Perhaps the power play took its goalie’s mentality too far, as the unit has failed to score on any of its 15 advantages this season.

“Half the special teams have been special,” Whittet said. “The power play has been awful. This whole week, that’s all we’ve been working on.

“Unless we find a way to score more than 1.5 goals, Marco better be good, because we’re going to have to shut everybody out,” Whittet continued, indicating that the power play is expected to produce if his team is to have any hope of success. “All they have to work on is getting pucks to the net and outworking the opposition. We have one more guy on the ice than they do; we should be able to come up with pucks and generate offense.”

The “special” half of Bruno’s special teams is its penalty kill, which currently ranks among the best in the nation with an 88 percent success rate (15-for-17). With St. Lawrence at the door, the Bears will have to be in lockdown mode to keep potent Saints players Greg Carey and Kyle Flanagan in check.

Around the league

In injury news, Union junior defenseman Mat Bodie will miss some time with an arm injury suffered last Friday night at Rensselaer. Cornell‘s Kirill Gotovets and John Esposito both missed the Colgate series, though their status is unknown for this weekend.

St. Lawrence rolled through Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, with a highlight being Joe Marsh’s recognition ceremony on Friday night.

“You can’t go on coaching forever,” Marsh told the Watertown Daily Times. “What makes this special for me is the connectivity, the connection that I still have with so many guys I coached. This makes this more palatable and more acceptable.”

The Yale Bulldogs have been known to shuffle between goaltenders in recent years, but early results this year indicate a somewhat disparate race for the No. 1 position. Seniors Nick Maricic and Jeff Malcolm have split the starts, two apiece, but Malcolm’s 2-0-0 record — combined with his .946 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average — will become awfully difficult to ignore, especially should Maricic continue to post … well, let’s just say uninspiring numbers of his own.