Playing a game against the Cornell hockey team is a little like getting stuck in a cement mixer.
The Big Red love to play a very physical game, and when the games end, Cornell’s opponents know they have been in a battle just by the bumps and bruises they have on their bodies.
Union coach Rick Bennett is expecting more of the same today, when his top-seeded and second-ranked Dutchmen (26-6-4) take on the fourth-seeded and 13th-ranked Big Red (17-9-4) in the ECAC Hockey tournament semifinal at 4:07 p.m. at Lake Placid’s 1980 Rink-Herb Brooks Arena.
Bennett believes the Big Red have a size advantage over his team.
“They seem to be one of the biggest teams in the country, and I’m not sure that we are,” Bennett said.
It doesn’t matter to Bennett that the game is being played on a bigger ice surface. Brooks Arena is 200 feet long by 100 feet wide, 15 feet wider than the teams play on during the regular season.
Union played four games on the wider ice surface this season at St. Cloud State and New Hampshire, and went 3-0-1.
“The teams that we played, St. Cloud and UNH, were a little bit different than Cornell, as far as the physicality,” Bennett said. “Cornell is a naturally physical team. They try to work you down low. When they have an opportunity, they try and hit you. It’s going to be a little different on the big sheet versus St. Cloud and UNH.”
The Dutchmen, who swept the season series from the Big Red, certainly know how tough the Big Red can be. In their 4-1 win at Lynah on Feb. 14, forwards Daniel Carr and Max Novak left the game with injuries. Carr missed the next night’s game at Colgate, while Novak missed the final five games of the regular season.
“On a bigger sheet, you’ve got a little more time out there and the time to escape some hits,” Novak said. “But they are usually good at finishing their checks all over the ice. I expect it to be just as physical.”
Cornell coach Mike Schafer thinks the bigger sheet could neutralize his team’s physical play.
“Using your size on the Olympic sheet is very difficult because of the extra 15 feet,” Schafer said. “We’ve got to be able to use our size advantage, if we have one, in puck battles. Union is the second-ranked team in the country. They obviously know how to handle people with size. They’re very good in one-on-one battles, both defensively and offensively, I don’t think our size is that much of an advantage going into Lake Placid.
“It’s going to be a game up there where you’re definitely going to have to think the game because people are going to have time and space. Knowing when to pressure, knowing when to be physical and knowing when to pass off and contain is going to be one of the keys to the weekend.”
The success the Dutchmen had this season on the big ice surface is playing the game between the faceoff dots, and that takes the extra space out of play. Still, Dutchmen defenseman Mat Bodie expects the hitting to be intense.
“They’re a real physical team, and I’m sure regardless of what rink they’re playing on, they’re going to be a physical team,” Bodie said. “We try and do that, as well. Obviously, with the little bit of extra room, you might have a little extra time. But that’s not something we’re banking on. Coach says the game between the dots is still the same, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on.”
The Big Red will try and match lines with the Dutchmen. Since Union is the higher seed and the home team, it gets the last line change.
“From what I read and coached against Mike, he loves his line matchups, so I guess we’ll have to play some reindeer games through the game,” Bennett said. “He can expect that.”