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Big Red Men’s Hockey Marches Into MSG

Cornell forward Christian Hilbrich said after the Big Red’s win on Friday that the team is intent on rolling through to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, when they take on Penn State on Saturday night. “We’re planning on going on a roll now, all the way through MSG until christmas time. We don’t want to lose another game.”

Last weekend was by far the best pair of games for the Big Red, as they improved to 3-4-1. The Big Red beat ECAC rivals and Ivy League compatriots Yale and Brown, scoring seven goals in the two games, and leveling their conference record at 3-3. The weekend could be a fulcrum point if the Big Red intends on turning around their season. “Now that the floodgates are open I hope they just keep rolling in,” Hilbrich commented.

Cornell has relied on their defense and goaltending all season long, and boast the third best goals against in the nation. But the offense showed signs of coming alive as the Big Red have also now scored on seven of their last 18 power play opportunities, and have scored at least two power play goals in their last three contests. Sophomore Matt Buckles has been reaping the rewards as he has three goals on the man advantage in just six games, good for the highest PPG per game ratio in the nation. But he’s not the only one benefiting from the offense resurgence. The junior skater Hilbrich scored his first two goals of the season, one goal apiece in each game. The six foot seven forward mused, “I think being a big guy is kind of the brand of Cornell Hockey that’s always been around. But I’m happy to be the guy who stands in front of the net on the power play and takes the goalie’s eyes away. Do whatever I got to do in front of the net.”

Now its the matter of playing one game against Penn State in the world’s most famous arena. Not to disparage the friendly confines of historic Lynah Rink, but the Ithaca, New York rink holds less than five thousand fans. Madison Square Garden, located in the Midtown Manhattan holds some 18 thousand strong fans, and usually the New York Rangers are the only ones calling it home. But lately, it’s also seen its fair share of Cornell games. This will be the second year of the Frozen Apple game, but the sixth time Cornell has plaid in the venue in eight years. Last year Cornell routed Michigan 5-1, but has lost three others games and tied Boston University once. “It’s awesome,” Hilbrich commented, before calling it a “Phenomenal four times in a lifetime kind of game, playing in front of 18 thousand screaming fans in a rink of that magnitude.”

How does the Madison Square Garden experience compare? Head Coach Mike Schafer downplayed the week’s preparation, calling it “more of the same.” But the week is no doubt different. It’s not your traditional road game. “The day leading up to it feels completely different. You feel like a professional hockey player. It’s great,” Hilbrich, veteran of two MSG games commented. Aside from the obvious venue change, it’s only one game. And it’s over Thanksgiving break, which means lots of quality bonding time for the Big Red. “Thanksgiving is a time to reflect about family, and thats what we want to be as a team — a family. So the guys are going to spend a lot of time with each other not having classes. So we bring that attitude with us into the weekend,” Assistant coach Topher Scott explains.

As excited as Cornell is to play, their opponent Penn State (7-3-2 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten) might be even more anxious. Penn State was thrashed 8-1 by Michigan in its last game, and will have a week to stew in it before taking on Cornell in the iconic arena. Coach Scott said, “They’re gonna be real hungry. I think after a loss like that its time to reflect.” Penn State has started strong this season (before losing by seven goals) and boast a strong offense as the Nittany Lions have only been held once to less than two goals, and three goals twice.

“Madison Square Garden, man you don’t need to get ready for that,” Head coach Schafer said after Cornell’s win over Brown. “To play for your alma mater in front of that many Cornellians, I think its probably the most elite Cornell sporting event.” As sophomore Gillam said of the game, “It could get loud.”

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