Slumping Cornell’s Schafer: ‘We find ourselves in uncharted territory’

It takes only a quick glance at the ECAC Hockey standings to find two of the bigger story lines in the league this season.

At the top is Quinnipiac, the nation’s hottest team that’s working on a three-month unbeaten streak. And sitting in 11th is Cornell, only three points out of last place.

The Big Red are stuck in a seven-game losing streak and are just 2-10 in the second half. They’re on pace to finish with their first losing record since 1998-99 and third overall in coach Mike Schafer’s 18-year tenure, which includes eight NCAA tournament appearances.

“It’s a lot of areas,” Schafer said when asked if he could pinpoint any reason for Cornell’s slump. “We’re not capitalizing on scoring chances; some games we’re not being disciplined, not blocking shots.

“Looking back, and going ‘How the heck are we where we are?’ and a lot of it has to do with the different little things that you do when you’re winning games.”

Cornell outshot Princeton 39-12 last Saturday and held the Tigers to no shots in the third period but lost 1-0.

“There was a lot of frustration, not just in the final period but a lot of frustration that we were getting that many scoring chances,” Schafer said. “Over the course of time, we can’t use it as an excuse.”

Few, if any, ominous signs were present to warn of what was ahead for the Big Red. Cornell lost four productive seniors from last year’s team that was one game away from the Frozen Four. But it returned most of its core en route to a 3-0-1 start and a 7-3-2 mark after beating national runner-up Ferris State on Dec. 28 in the opening round of the Florida College Hockey Classic.

The Big Red led Maine 3-0 in the tournament’s championship game the next day but let the lead evaporate into a 6-4 loss to the Black Bears, who entered the tournament with two wins on the season.

Cornell has had its share of injuries, including losing forward Cole Bardreau for the year last month with a fractured neck, but Schafer isn’t making excuses.

“It’s unbelievable that we find ourselves in this situation,” Schafer said. “I’ve never been in this situation as a coach before; the team has never been in this situation as a team before. We find ourselves in uncharted territory.”

He can’t help but look at first-place Quinnipiac, a team in the top spot by virtue of what Cornell has done well for so many years.

“Everyone has bought into their systems,” Schafer said of the Bobcats. “They get good goaltending night in and night out, they’re blocking shots and they’re disciplined night in and night out. That’s what winning teams do.”

There’s three weekends left for Cornell to better position itself for the league playoffs, but if all holds, it’s likely Feb. 22 and 23 will be the Big Red’s final games at Lynah Rink this season.

“We need to get away from the fact that we let a good season slip away,” Schafer said. “Now we need to get going and to play our best hockey of the year to be a solid team in the playoffs. It’s going to be on the road and it’s going to be difficult, but we put ourselves in this situation.”

Midweek wrapup

The weekend blizzard that buried New England pushed Yale and Brown’s game back to Tuesday night, where the Bears took a 1-0 win in Providence.

Anthony Borelli continued his impressive run in net for Brown, stopping all 44 Bulldogs shots. Yale was still without starting goaltender Jeff Malcolm, who left Yale’s game against Princeton on Feb. 1 with an injury.

The Bulldogs’ loss opens things up a bit in the standings, as a good weekend by either Dartmouth or Princeton could leapfrog those teams over Yale into second place.

Meanwhile, Harvard probably wishes it could face Boston University a little more often. The Crimson beat BU 7-4 Monday in the Beanpot consolation game, with freshman Peter Traber making 43 saves for his first career win.

Harvard has two wins since Nov. 16, both against the Terriers. The Crimson have scored 13 goals against BU this season — and just 37 in their other 21 games.

This is the third season in a row Harvard has won the consolation game. Last year, it rode a win over Northeastern to a first-round bye and the league playoff championship game, where it lost to Union.

What’s in a number?

For Quinnipiac, a lot, as the Bobcats rose to the No. 1 spot in this week’s Division I Men’s Poll for the first time in program history.

I realize polls mean little, if anything, and Quinnipiac has been tops in the PairWise Rankings since Jan. 19, the only ranking Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold and his players care about. But it’s still a nice recognition for the program.

“I think, looking back, to me it’s more than impressive that in only our 15th year as a Division I program, that we’re the No. 1 team in the country,” Pecknold said in an on-campus news conference Monday. “I think it’s something our fans, alumni and our administration can enjoy. For us, as players and coaches, we’ll enjoy it for about 15 minutes and get ready to play St. Lawrence.”

At the risk of outing my alumni status, I can relate to a similar situation during my senior year at Northeastern. While it didn’t come close to matching Quinnipiac’s 21-game (and counting) unbeaten streak, the 2008-09 Northeastern team was riding a wave entering that year’s Beanpot, ascending to the No. 3 spot in the polls. It was a nice milestone for a program that had made the NCAA tournament only three times in its history entering that season.

And yes, I realize being No. 3 in the country isn’t the same as being No. 1. But bear with me here.

I remember then-coach Greg Cronin and the players saying the same general thing as Pecknold and the Bobcats are now: It’s nice but it means little in the grand scheme of things. For the record, NU lost in that year’s Beanpot, Hockey East tournament and was bounced in the first round of the NCAAs by Cornell.

So while the rankings mean little for those on the ice, it can be a big deal for those off it. I remember the excitement in the student body and the faculty about being able to see the No. 3 team in the country play on campus. And it was a good recognition for the school’s athletic department and alumni, just as the Bobcats’ ranking is today.

In short, the ranking should have no impact on Quinnipiac’s season. But it serves as a landmark for a program that only recently went Division I and is a point of pride for fans and students. What’s so wrong with that?

The Capital Region’s other second-half team

Union has put together some impressive second-half runs each of the last two seasons, going a combined 25-4-3 after New Year’s Day in 2011 and 2012. But that luck hasn’t carried into this season.

The Dutchmen are just 4-6-1 in 2013 and fell out of the Division I Men’s Poll for the first time 81 weeks Monday. Meanwhile, Capital Region rival Rensselaer is on a 5-1 stretch to move its 2013 record to 6-4-1 and put it in the mix for a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Engineers were 7-6-3 in the second half last season, which doesn’t seem that impressive until you consider that they went 3-15 in the first half. Overall, the Engineers are 13-10-4 following New Year’s Day in the last two years compared to 9-22-4 before.

Around the league

Clarkson: The Golden Knights are one of several teams making a push as the season draws to a close. Clarkson is 3-2-1 over the last month, which looks a lot better when you consider the Golden Knights won only three times in the two months prior to that.

Colgate: The Raiders could have a new home in the coming years. If Colgate can get another $4.2 million in donations, the university will be able to build a new athletic facility on campus, with the men’s and women’s hockey, lacrosse and soccer teams as its primary tenants.

Dartmouth: Two former Dartmouth players just missed facing each other Monday night in the NHL. David Jones (2004-07) skated for Colorado against Phoenix, but Coyotes forward and former Big Green teammate Nick Johnson (2004-08) was a scratch that night for the first time this season.

Princeton: I mentioned some of the conference’s emerging goaltenders this season two weeks ago but failed to mention Princeton’s Mike Condon, who had himself a pretty nice weekend in a sweep of Colgate and Cornell. The senior stopped 75 of 77 shots to help the Tigers move into a tie for third place.

St. Lawrence: The Hobey Baker Award finalists won’t be announced until next month, but count RPI head coach Seth Appert as one of Kyle Flanagan’s supporters. The Saints senior is third nationally in points per game behind Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau and linemate Greg Carey.

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Players of the week

As selected by the conference:

Player of the week — Nick Bailen, Rensselaer: The senior defenseman had three goals and five points in a pair of North Country wins for the Engineers.

Goalie of the week — Mike Condon, Princeton: Condon stopped 75 of 77 shots on the weekend to help the Tigers to a road sweep of Cornell and Colgate.

Rookie of the week — Soren Jonzzon, Quinnipiac: The Bobcats freshman made the most of his first appearance in 20 games, scoring his first collegiate goal in a 3-2 win over Colgate Saturday.


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