The Big Red’s bench boss wins elite coaching award for first time in 25 years
ITHACA, N.Y. — For the first time in his illustrious career as the Jay R. Bloom ’77 Head Coach of Men’s Hockey at Cornell, Mike Schafer ’86 has been named the Spencer Penrose Award as Division I CCM/AHCA Coach of the Year. The American Hockey Coaches Association announced that Schafer shares this year’s honor with North Dakota’s Brad Berry, marking just the second time since the award’s debut in 1951 that there are co-winners.
After opposing coaches and media pundits alike picked Cornell to finish atop ECAC Hockey this year in preseason polls, the Big Red did more than just lead the league’s landscape this season – it established itself as nationally elite. Cornell posted a sterling 23-2-4 in the regular season before efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated any chance of a postseason. The team’s winning percentage (.862) proved to be the highest the Division I ranks have seen at season’s end since Maine (.956) marched to the 1993 NCAA championship. The Big Red spent a total of six weeks at the #1 position in the national USCHO.com poll, and it finished the season at that perch for the first time in program history.
Schafer’s calling card was prominent again this year, with Cornell finishing second in the nation in team defense by surrendering a paltry 1.55 goals against per game — including a remarkably low 24 even-strength goals in 29 games. But what’s spurred the Big Red from nationally relevant back to its place among the national elite is a deep, potent offense that scored 104 goals in 29 games. That average of 3.59 goals per game ranked sixth in the country and was the highest posted by Cornell since 2002-03.
The Big Red stormed through ECAC Hockey play with a 18-2-2 record to give it a five-point cushion for first place and a 38-point total that hasn’t been seen in the league since Cornell posted an identical ECAC Hockey record in 2005. It’s the third straight year in which Cornell has laid claim to the Cleary Cup (for the league’s best regular-season record).
As such, Schafer was named ECAC Hockey’s Tim Taylor Coach of the Year Award for a record fifth time, with the other four times coming 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2018. With that honor came an automatic nomination for the Spencer Penrose Award, where Schafer was one of nine finalists alongside Berry, Red Gendron (Maine), Mike Hastings (Minnesota State), Eric Lang (AIC), Bob Motzko (Minnesota), Greg Powers (Arizona State), Scott Sandelin (Minn.-Duluth) and Tom Serratore (Bemidji State).
Schafer becomes just the second Cornell coach to win the Spencer Penrose Award, joining Ned Harkness – who was honored in 1968. It’s also the fourth time in the last 10 years that an ECAC Hockey coach has won the award, which is the most of any league in the country over that span.