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Men’s hockey: Clarkson an underdog but has a chance in ECAC quarterfinal

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POTSDAM — Ten years ago, the Clarkson University men’s hockey team pulled off an upset of Cornell University at Lynah Rink in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.

There is one similarity between that series and the one that begins tonight when the Golden Knights (20-15-4 overall) play Cornell in game one of the best-of-three quarterfinal in Ithaca.

Clarkson has struggled over the past six years at Lynah, going 0-5-1. In 2004, Clarkson entered that series with five straight losses in the building, before pulling off the upset.

Unlike 2004, Clarkson enters this series as a team that finished in the upper half of the conference standings. The Golden Knights finished in fifth place in conference play, one spot behind Cornell (15-8-5), which had a first-round bye. The 2004 Golden Knights were a ninth-place team meeting a second-place Big Red squad.

“There’s parity in college hockey,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “They are a very good hockey team and very good at home, a tough team to play in their building. We have to go down and we have to manage the building. They have good players, and they are well-coached. It’s an exciting place to play, and the guys are anxious for that.”

If anyone should know about Lynah Rink being an exciting place to play it’s Jones, who played at Cornell and was the Big Red’s captain in the 1989-90 season. He also was an assistant to Big Red head coach Mike Schafer from 2008-11.

“We are anxious to get on the road here and continue in the playoffs,” Jones said. “There’s no sentimental value to this weekend.”

Jones may not be treating the series as a personal homecoming, but he does know more about Schafer than any other coach in ECAC Hockey, having spent three years on his staff.

“I know he will look at our tape and take away our top options,” Jones said. “He does a good job taking away what makes you good. His philosophy on playing good team defense and doing little things right, I certainly feel strong about that as well.”

Clarkson played in two 3-2 games against Cornell this season, winning at Cheel Arena and losing at Lynah Rink.

In the win at Cheel Arena on Nov. 15, Clarkson outshot the Big Red, 26-11. The Big Red scored both of its goals on power plays, but Clarkson pulled out the win when Allan McPherson scored on a rebound of his own shot with 37.3 seconds remaining.

In Jan. 25 game at Ithaca, Cornell used a three-goal outburst in the third period to take the win. In both games, the Golden Knights blew 2-0 leads.

“I guess they were two really hard-fought games this year,” Jones said. “It’s going to be playoff hockey. When you play them you have to fight for every inch of the ice. The fact that they were hotly contested games shows you better be prepared.”

Both teams have a lot of statistical similarities as they both average around 2.5 goals a game and play stingy defense. Both teams also have nearly identical special teams statistics.

“(Cornell) has good depth,” Jones said. “They will be physical. They are very good on the cycle. They want to get pucks to the net. We’ll have to defend properly, defend as a team, as a unit of five. Good teams challenge your habits and our habits will be challenged this weekend.”

One thing Clarkson may have to do this weekend is play from ahead.

When Cornell scores the first goal of a game, the Big Red is 10-0-3. Clarkson, if it allows the first goal, is just 4-11-3.

Cornell is 7-0-3 if it leads a game after the first period and 14-0-2 if it is tied, or ahead, after two periods. When Clarkson trails after one period, it is 1-9-1 and the Golden Knights are 1-9-2 when behind after two.

NOTEBOOK

Jones is not the only member of Clarkson with ties to Cornell. Sophomore defenseman Paul Geiger, an assistant captain, was at Cornell’s ECAC Hockey championship game win in 2010 because his father, Ross, played for the Big Red in the 1980-81 season. ... Clarkson’s last win at Lynah Rink was a 4-2 decision on Jan. 20, 2008. Clarkson is 50-20-4 all-time in ECAC Hockey quarterfinal games, but 6-8-1 in quarterfinal games against Cornell. The Golden Knights are 8-17-1 overall against Cornell in postseason games.

Sportswriter Cap Carey covers Clarkson University hockey for the Times.

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