This is not the Red's first meeting with the Warriors. Cornell and Merrimack have met twice previously. The series is split. Both meetings occurred in the now-defunct Syracuse Invitation Tournament.
Merrimack hockey is young. It just is not that young. The Warriors first took the ice one season before the carnelian and white moved into Lynah Rink. They have earned two berths to the NCAA tournament at the Division I level, one appearance in Hockey East's championship game, and a Division II national championship in the late 1970s.
So, how did these two programs with seemingly disparate pedigrees come to arrange the first on-campus meetings of the series? Mike McMahon, who does double duty for College Hockey News and his The Mack Report, interviewed Merrimack's head coach Mark Dennehy. McMahon, despite his known suspicions of Ivy League recruiting, elicited many of the right responses. The audio is somewhat crude. This contributor transcribed Dennehy's thought-provoking comments on the series.
Mike was looking for some games down in Florida this year. Something happened where a team backed out. We had some availability. It was great to be able to put it together. They needed home games this year.
A coach of another program may have backed out of games during the conference in Naples. It is equally possible that slots opened in Cornell's schedule when North Dakota decommitted (readers of Where Angels Fear to Tread know that was for Dennehy) from the 2013 Florida College Hockey Classic. The series with the Fighting Hawks (née Sioux) may have included an arrangement for a home-and-home series over the next few seasons which deteriorated at North Dakota's breach.
Either way, Mark Dennehy came to the aid of Coach Schafer and Cornell hockey in arranging this game as a favor to the hockey program of New York's land-grant university. Dennehy, as much as opposing coaches can be viewed, is a friend of Cornell hockey.
A team backed out [in Florida]. Mike had mentioned to the group that he was looking for some home games. And, I grabbed him right after. I've been talking to him the last couple of years. I wanted our program to experience Cornell hockey and Lynah Rink: the tradition, the level of play.
Mike Schafer is a good coach. He has a belief system in how a team should play. He has recruited for that throughout his tenure. Although I think he is smart enough, and I believe he has changed a little bit with the times, they are still going to be a defense-first team. It is going to be very hard to get to their net.
Listen, I've got all the respect in the world for Mike Schafer. I've got all the respect in the world for the history of the Cornell hockey program. I was lucky enough at Princeton to go up there every year. It's a great college environment.
He knows Cornell. He knows how to beat Cornell when it matters.
It's going to be a great experience for our players.
Dennehy does know what to expect. He experienced Lynah Rink firsthand as a player. Boston College braved Lynah Rink during his senior season. Merrimack's head coach assisted on the Eagles's third goal. Four goals from Cornell's Ryan Hughes, an assist from Doug Derraugh began the Red's attempt at a rally, was not enough. The Eagles won, 5-4.
Former players of Boston College often quake about the horrors that they experienced on East Hill.
Lynah Faithful who can attend must attend to make sure that Mark Dennehy and his team do not leave disappointed.
When I took the Merrimack job and looked at Lawler, I thought we could make it like Lynah. I thought that the tight confines, our style of play, basically try to copy what they did.
Readers, take heed at Dennehy's emulation of Cornell's style. There are two frequent opponents of Cornell that imitate Coach Schafer's style of play in recent years: Union and Quinnipiac. Union, well, Union did not pose a problem for Cornell despite its rise under Nate Leaman and Rick Bennett until they met in games of extreme consequence.
The Dutchmen have rattled off three unanswered postseason victories against the carnelian and white. And, Quinnipiac, well, they are this era's great thorn in its side. The Bobcats claw and gnash, and wrest victory from the Big Red far too often. Astutely, Dennehy implies that the style that Merrimack will present Cornell is similar to those of Union and Quinnipiac. The weekend will be a good test to see how this Cornell team in this new season will fair against a Union or Quinnipiac with at least three games guaranteed against those programs in the coming weeks.
Classes may be out, but this weekend's test, like all those on East Hill, will have a steep curve.
Laughter was the extent of any reaction that Merrimack's head coach had to Mike McMahon's implied inquiry. The writer of The Mack Report opened his questioning about the Cornell series dryly, "I assume with the way you guys schedule now that they'll be coming back to Lawler at some point." Dennehy responded with laughter.
Dennehy with ease danced around the direct question. He did not give an outright denial that Cornell will not visit Lawler Rink in the coming years. So, in that there is the possibility, that Cornell will return the trip. However, Mark Dennehy intimated very obviously that Coach Schafer does not plan to repay a two-game trek for Merrimack with any game, let alone a series.
Coach Schafer seems to be grappling with the above paradox of azurine blood and collar. Most Cornellians do.
This season is a mixed bag in that regard. Cornell began the season on the road at Dwyer Arena. It was a great experience. It was a great environment. It was great for college hockey. Now, the Lynah Faithful and contributors at Where Angels Fear to Tread hear that the Cornell hockey program may, not definitely, remain tainted with the very programmatic arrogance that Coach Schafer boldly broke in other programs with refusing to play a program in its building unless it returned the trip.
The hypocrisy is a bit disconcerting. Cornell should travel to Lawler Rink. It is great for the game. It is great for both programs. How can the coaching staff of a program demand that its team respects each opponent on its schedule equally after disrespect caused humiliation when that staff does not respect each prospective opponent equally in making the schedule?
Coach Schafer knows the right thing to do. He proved that this season. This writer hopes he will do the same with Merrimack.
It's going to be like Hockey East hockey.
Mark Dennehy, a former player, assistant coach, and associate head coach, and current head coach in Hockey East, intended that comment as a compliment. Well, in ECAC Hockey, we do not take comparisons to the lesser of the Eastern half lightly. Cornell, the historic standard bearer of ECAC Hockey, will have to set Dennehy straight with a healthy dose of ECAC Hockey. Unless Dennehy was making a comment on officiating. If he is doing that, then everyone should plan for a four- to five-hour game because Hockey East officials or ECAC Hockey officials imitating Hockey East officials become embroiled in the game and degrade all flow to the contests. Yes, there are officials worse than those in ECAC Hockey.
All ribbing aside, Mark Dennehy shows great respect for Coach Schafer, Cornell hockey, and the Lynah Faithful (even in the last comment). The weekend should be an exciting occasion of college hockey before the Red resumes ECAC Hockey play.