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Cornell Hockey Loses Both Assistant Coaches

Many Cornell men's hockey fans credit a stable coaching staff for the team's success over the last decade or so. Coaching changes in college hockey are fairly common, especially given the clear increase in prestige that comes with a move from a lowly hockey school to a top team in Hockey East or the WCHA. Many coaches are also looking to jump to a position with an NHL team. But, Cornell coach Mike Schafer '86 has held his job since 1995. There have been rumors of Schafer leaving, which may have helped him win a nice salary increase a few years back, but he has remained.

Cornell has also enjoyed stability in the assistant coaching corps, with men like former assistant Brent Brekke and current assistants Scott Garrow and Casey Jones content to rack up a lot of years of standing next to Schafer behind the team's bench. In particular, the French-speaking Jones has been credited with bringing in some top recruits since he returned to Ithaca to take the job of associate head coach in 2008.

Given this lack of change at the top, it is surprising that Cornell will need to replace both assistant coaches this summer. Jones left to take the head coaching job at Clarkson, and Schafer hired Quinnipiac assistant Ben Syer to replace him. Then, Garrow made a lateral move to serve as an assistant at Princeton. Rumor is that Topher Scott '08, who volunteered with Miami's team this past year, will take Garrow's spot.

What does all of this mean for the future of the team? As associate, Jones would have stepped in if Schafer ever left. I expect that Jones would have stayed if he were confident that Schafer would be leaving in the next few years, but that Schafer gave no indication of leaving. We can speculate that Schafer refused to promote Garrow to associate head coach, so Garrow saw little choice but to leave.

Schafer deserves to be thanked for maintaining Cornell's status as a hockey power, but I wonder how much longer he will be willing to stay to pursue his goal of a national championship. Under Schafer, Cornell is 1-5 in games that would send the team to the Frozen Four. Schafer's most talented team, in 2003, was a favorite to win the championship but lost in the semifinal.

If Schafer stays for many more years, he will likely be compared to other long-running coaches like BU's Jack Parker, or BC's Jerry York. But, while Parker and York have proven that they can continue to win championships, Schafer has never reached that pinnacle of collegiate hockey. For some Cornell fans, it is enough to remain nationally competitive in a sport that is tilted against Ivy schools. To others, Cornell may have missed the opportunity to see what Casey Jones can accomplish in Lynah Rink. As the team moves forward with a new staff, both perspectives are important.

Elie Bilmes | Posted on June 21, 2011 (#)

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