Gimenez: Why Schafer’s Press Conference Could be the Catalyst the Big Red Needed
Maybe calling the opposing head coach an f***ing classless a****** was not the best way to do it, but what Men’s Ice Hockey Head Coach Mike Schafer did in defending his players following Saturday evening’s game at Quinnipiac is the type of thing you like to see from a Head Coach.
For those who somehow missed the story, Big Red senior and assistant Captain Cole Bardreau was checked into the boards from behind on what looked like a gruesome hit, strangely reminiscent of a hit from two seasons ago that left Bardreau with a broken neck that nearly ended his career. Following the play, Quinnipiac’s Matthew Peca received a 5 minute major penalty and a game misconduct and Bobcat’s Head Coach Rand Pecknold immediately asked for an embellishment call on Bardreau, implying that he was faking the severity of the hit. Maybe asking is too light a term, as Pecknold was shouting aggressively at both Bardreau and the referee from his position on the Quinnipiac bench.
Schafer’s comments during his post game press conference which can be heard above, earned him a one game suspension.
Pecknold is not the most well-liked head coach in ECAC Hockey, and the Big Red have had run-ins with him and this Quinnipiac team in the past. The most notable incident came in the playoffs two years ago when the Bobcats ran up the score for an eventual 10-0 win over the Big Red, which Pecknold later apologized for.
Head Coaches have a huge responsibility in protecting their players both on the ice and in the public eye. Schafer was not going to allow a star player (both in the locker room and on the ice) to get put into a precarious situation without commenting on it and the lack of respect shown from the Quinnipiac bench just added fuel to the fire. His comments were representative of the intensity with which he coaches this team and his passion for the name he and his players wear on the front of their jerseys each night, Cornell University.
There are unwritten rules in sports at all levels, and arguably the most universal of them is respect for a potentially injured player on the ice, court, field, etc. Even if that player ends up being fine, which was the case with Bardreau Saturday night as he played the rest of the game, it is not an excuse to break this unwritten rule of respect. Sure there is flopping in the NBA and players will sometimes fake getting hit by a pitch in baseball, but a hard check into the boards from behind represents a very real threat for serious injury. Hockey players know this, and they are not going to “embellish” under these circumstances.
With the season off to a frustrating start, Schafer showed Cornell hockey fans that he is still 100% behind this team. He sent a message to his players that he is going to support them and a message to all other teams in the league that the Big Red are not going to lay down and take misguided aggressive play on the ice lightly. This will no doubt go a long way in helping this team achieve success down the road. As an athlete, when you see your coach put his own neck on the line for you, there is a certain amount of respect you gain and you are going to play that much harder in order help your team win.
Still winless in regular season play, this team is in dire need of a spark offensively. Sometimes it takes an ejection, a suspension, or an outburst by a coach to provide that spark. I think we will see this team come out with a newfound energy this weekend as they welcome ECAC foes Clarkson and St. Lawrence, and I’ll have trouble buying that this incident did not help create that energy.
Let me be clear, I’m not advocating for coaches to use expletives in post game press conferences. Nor do I believe that it was necessarily in Coach Schafer’s best interests to publicly make the statement he did. However, the thought behind the message is exactly what you need in a sport as tough as hockey and when it is all said and done, I think we will look back to this moment as a catalyst that allowed the Big Red to turn the corner and achieve the success we all know they are capable of this season.