Cornell primed for Lynah Rink homecoming against Quinnipiac, Princeton

 (Tim Brule)
On the road for its first five games if the season, Cornell will open up Lynak Rink this weekend with two ECAC Hockey contests (photo: Melissa Wade).

With a storied history and passionate fan base, Cornell’s Lynah Rink is generally regarded as one of college hockey’s top venues.

The only problem for the Big Red is that is hasn’t gotten a chance to play there yet this season.

Cornell began its schedule with five straight games on the road. That, coupled with the Ivy League’s late start to the season, means that the Big Red will be the final team in Division I hockey to play at its home rink when it hosts Quinnipiac and Princeton this weekend.

Wins against Brown and Yale last Friday and Saturday ensured that Cornell would head back to Ithaca with a 2-2-1 record. That’s not bad when considering the Big Red have never started a season with five consecutive road games in the 116-year history of the program.

“Our fans are starved and we’re excited to play back there,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, who let out a sigh of relief Saturday following the end of his team’s 2,400-mile road trip, which amounted to 42 hours on the team bus over a 17-day span.

Injuries made the Big Red’s road trip even more difficult. Cornell was without forwards Jeff Kubiak and Dwyer Tschantz for all but one game, while defenseman Ryan Bliss has yet to play this season.

Schafer said Bliss and Tschantz could return after January, if they come back at all, while Kubiak, the team’s leading scorer last season, is day-to-day, but might not get back until after Christmas.

“We need guys to step up,” Schafer said. “You travel on the road and you find yourself with adversity and we’ve come together as a hockey team. It’s finding our identity, finding out who we are.”

That showed this past weekend, as sophomore Mitch Vanderlaan recorded his first collegiate hat trick Saturday and now has five goals in five games after scoring seven all of last season. Six other players also scored on the weekend for Cornell, which scored ten goals in a weekend for the first time in five years. It was also the Big Red’s third road sweep of Brown and Yale in the last ten years.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” said Vanderlaan, who also had several important blocked shots on the penalty kill Saturday. “It’s a building process, and I think we took two big steps last weekend.”

The record-setting road trip isn’t the only unfamiliarity for Cornell this season. Typically one of the biggest teams in the country, the Big Red have taken a different approach to recruiting. Of the five freshman on Cornell’s roster, forward Jeff Malott is the only one taller than six feet.

“The physicality is gone out of the game,” Schafer said. “Everything is gone out of the game. You can’t get into anybody any more, so you have to be quicker and you have to be faster. We want to still play the same kind of hockey; I just think that speed will help us.”

Still, Cornell isn’t entirely abandoning size when recruiting players. Schafer said next year’s incoming freshman class has several players with size in addition to speed.

“Look at Yale, they’ve been a great defensive team,” Schafer said. “They’ve always been a team that’s got great skating speed and they stay above you. It’s teams like that have had success on the national level and that’s where Cornell belongs. We want to get back to that level and to do that, we’ve got to switch up.

“We’re in transition; we’ve got some guys who are good sized, but we’ve got to make a transition and make sure that an ingredient in our recruiting is speed.”

Bobcats Charged Up

Quinnipiac’s power play has been among the best in Division I the last several years.

However, the Bobcats lost several important pieces from last year’s power-play unit, including forwards Travis St. Denis and Sam Anas, as well as defenseman Devon Toews.

Therefore, it wasn’t surprising when Quinnipiac started 8-of-67 on the man advantage. But the Bobcats picked it up last weekend, scoring a combined five power-play goals in 14 chances against Dartmouth and Harvard.

While returners Landon Smith and Tim Clifton each scored on the man advantage, the remaining three goals came from underclassman. That’s an encouraging sign for a Bobcats team that heads on the road this weekend prior to heading to Belfast, Ireland, for the Friendship Four the weekend following Thanksgiving.

Around the league

• Yale’s defense was the best in the country last season. But the Bulldogs had a tough weekend in their own end, allowing a combined ten goals to Colgate and Cornell in a pair of losses. The Big Red scored six goals Saturday at Ingalls Rink, the most Yale has allowed since Feb. 7, 2015, in a 6-4 loss to Dartmouth.

The Bulldogs played two freshman and sophomores on defense against the Big Red. The team’s lone seniors on the backend are Dan O’Keefe and goalie Patrick Spano, neither of whom has seen extensive playing time entering this season. How quickly Yale’s young defense can get up to speed could play a major role in the Bulldog’s success this season, as the offense appears to have the potential to generates goals.

• Vanderlaan’s hat trick Saturday against Yale earned him the league’s player of the week award. It was the first hat trick by a Big Red player since Tyler Roeszler did so against Colgate on Jan. 22,2010. He is also the first Cornell player to record five goals in the first five games since Blake Gallagher did so to start the 2009-10 season. Vanderlaan wasn’t the only league player with a hat trick this weekend; Smith scored three straight goals in Quinnipiac’s 6-3 win over Dartmouth on Friday.

• A pair of Clarkson players were named as the other weekly award winners, with forward Nico Sturm (rookie) and Jake Kielly (goalie) being honored by the league. Sturm had three points last weekend for the Golden Knights, while Kielly had two wins and a .951 save percentage.

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