November 11, 2004
Cornell's Attention to Detail

By Joe Gladziszewski

 ECACHL Notebook

Mike Knoepfli and Cornell are the only unbeaten team in Division I.

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Any win is worth celebrating, but at Cornell a win against Harvard is worth a little more.

Recent seasons have seen Cornell and Harvard slugging it out for position in the league standings or in pursuit of the playoff championship, and no other game gets as much attention from Cornell for students and alumni.

In the aftermath of the most recent meeting between these rival schools, a 2-0 Cornell victory on Nov. 5, the victory itself wasn’t the main point of discussion. The matter in which the Big Red went about earning the victory was what was on everyone’s mind.

Cornell took care of all of the little things. It was a performance tailor-made for the playoffs and it came in the Big Red’s third official outing of the season. In the defensive zone players stayed in shooting lanes without leaving their skates. When a loose puck squirted to open ice, Cornell players made correct reads on whether to jump into the play or stay back in a defensive posture. The few pucks that made it toward David McKee’s goal crease were easily handled by the sophomore goaltender without concern as defenders tied up any lurking Crimson forwards.

“Some teams set out to be the best offensive team. We set out to be the best defensive team in the country this year,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. “I think when you’re a good defensive team you had better pay attention to detail. I like the rule changes because the teams that play defense with their feet are being rewarded right now.”

It’s not a new formula for Cornell. In Schafer’s nine years as head coach in Ithaca, N.Y. the Big Red have emphasized defense. Cornell lost five regular season games last year in Lynah Rink, one of the most advantageous home venues in college hockey, and also lost an ECACHL quarterfinal playoff series on home ice. Less dedication to playing without the puck was a contributing factor to Cornell’s record.

“We got away from that a little bit last year,” Schafer said. “It was a part of our success a couple of years ago and we’ve absolutely demanded it from our guys, and they’ve come through.”

Cornell senior captain Mike Knoepfli, who scored a short-handed goal in the win over Harvard, sets the tone in the dressing room, weight room, and on the ice. The team has taken on the mandate of the coaching staff and it’s paid huge dividends so far. At 4-0-0, the Big Red is the only team in men’s Division I hockey with a perfect record, and stands in the top 10 in all of the national polls.

“At the start of our season our team got together and came up with a motto and details was a part of that. It’s very important to us. Everything we do as far as workouts and practice, we’re a very detail-oriented team. It pays off in games,” Knoepfli said.

Cornell’s four wins have come on home ice. They’ll be tested on the road this weekend with games Friday and Sunday at Michigan State.


Saints' Success – Cornell isn't the only team that things are going well for in the ECACHL. St. Lawrence had some eye-opening wins in non-conference play and earned a split in the opening weekend of league play. After losing to Union College on Friday night, St. Lawrence picked up a 3-2 win over Rensselaer with a better work ethic and exceptional penalty killing.

"(Union) outworked us last night and our kids knew that," St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh said after the win over RPI. "That's a very important aspect of our team and our personality. We know we have to work hard. I thought the guys response tonight was outstanding."

Another key to St. Lawrence's good start is leadership and poise, which comes from playing in big games.

"The toughness at this level is not always about pushing and shoving after the whistle. I think our kids are learning a lot about discipline and they're trying hard and working very hard. They've done a lot of things that we've asked them to do and bought into," Marsh said. "I think a strength of the team has been leadership. They've maintained a pretty high agenda for themselves. I'm very pleased to see that."

And those early wins over Maine, Michigan State, Miami, and Rensselaer are only a positive sign toward what's ahead for St. Lawrence.

"Confidence is not something that just shows up at your door one day. You have to earn it and it's more of a commodity that has to be built upon and I've certainly seen that slowly but surely guys are playing more poised in tough situations," Marsh said.

Powerful, Power Outage – Rensselaer scored all five of its goals on the power play in a 5-3 win over Clarkson last Friday, then went 1-for-13 with the man-advantage in a 3-2 loss to St. Lawrence on Saturday. Junior forward Kevin Croxton led the team in scoring in each of his first two seasons and shares the team scoring lead (15 points in nine games) with Kirk MacDonald this year. When reporters approached Croxton after Saturday’s loss, he wasn’t surprised when asked about the power-play struggles.

“How did I know that was going to be your first question? Live by the sword, die by the sword I guess,” he said. “We were on yesterday and tonight they did a real good job packing it in and blocking shots.”

Despite seeing RPI struggle to take advantage of its extra-man opportunities, St. Lawrence's Marsh called the Engineers' power play the best his team has faced this season. That's quite a compliment considering the Saints have also gone head-to-head with powerhouse teams Maine, Michigan, Michigan State, and Miami.


Great Weekend Getaway
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Cornell at Michigan State (Fri. and Sun.)
Typically, we feature a game or series being played at an ECACHL home rink, but this week we turn our attention West. Cornell is off to a blazing start, but it can be argued that those four wins have come against lackluster opposition. Michigan State faced high expectations to start the year and hasn't met those so far. It's a test for the Big Red and a chance for Michigan State to get back on the national scene.

While You're There: This part of the notebook could turn into a 5,000-word essay, as East Lansing is a great city. The one can't-miss event for visitors is the pre-game football tailgate on Saturday. The Spartan football team plays No. 4 Wisconsin at 3:30 p.m., but the hours leading up to the game are the best part.

Stick Salute

College hockey officials have never faced more scrutiny, but I'll applaud Frank Murphy for one decisive call he made during Saturday's RPI-St. Lawrence game. With the Engineers already short-handed, RPI penalty-killer Kevin Broad appeared to be hauled down while carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Murphy made a bold call and whistled Broad for unsportsmanlike conduct (diving) to put the Engineers two-men short.

Bench Minor

The New York Post is known for its aggressive reporting and in-your-face headlines, and paid plenty of attention to Hugh Jessiman's injury this week. Sure, he's a first-round draft pick and a native of the tri-state area, but he's not a Ranger yet.

• Four teams made it through the first full weekend of ECACHL play with perfect conference records. You won’t be surprised to learn that Cornell and Colgate were two of those teams. The other two teams, however, are a bit of a shock as Union and Vermont join the Big Red and Raiders atop the league standings.

Dartmouth stalwart forward Hugh Jessiman left Sunday’s game against Princeton with a torn ligament in his right ankle and is out indefinitely. He was evaluated by both Dartmouth and New York Rangers team doctors, and is scheduled to undergo surgery today.

Union's 6-5 win over St. Lawrence last Friday was the first win over a ranked opponent in the Dutchmen's history.

Colgate swept Brown and Harvard over the weekend. Senior Adam Mitchell has a four-game point streak and has scored at least one point in eight of the Raiders' nine games.

• Traditionally, Harvard's visit to Cornell's Lynah Rink means that Big Red fans (primarily students) shower the ice with fish upon Harvard's appearance on the ice before the start of the first period. In recent years, the university's athletic department has encouraged the fans to cease the long-standing tradition. Efforts are starting to bear fruit, as the fish count has decreased in the last two years.

• That road trip was an early test for new Harvard coach Ted Donato, and he'll finally get to coach his first official game on home ice at the Bright Hockey Center when Yale visits. That game can be seen on CSTV.

Here's what Donato said when asked about his first month in charge:

“It’s been exciting. I’m looking forward to getting into the meat of our schedule and getting into more of a rhythm. It’s been difficult no doubt, but not much different than I expected."

• There's plenty of good news in Burlington, Vt., these days where the Catamounts are riding a four-game unbeaten streak and sitting atop the ECACHL standings. For the last 15 years, Gordon Woodworth has been involved in spreading that good news in the university's athletic communications department, the last several as the primary contact for the men's hockey team. Earlier this week he announced that this would be his last season in that position. Best wishes, Gordon. You'll be missed.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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