August 19, 2005
Big Red Machine

Cornell's coast-to-coast quest for recruits pays off

By Paul Shaheen

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When it comes to cross-continent recruiting, Cornell does it as well as anyone. It's a big reason why the Big Red has not only climbed the mountain (reaching the 2003 Frozen Four) but done a pretty good job staying there...the 2004 ECAC playoffs notwithstanding. This past season, on the strength of All-American goaltender David McKee, coach Mike Schafer and Co. went 27-5-3 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Minnesota in Minneapolis.

With the recruits Cornell nabbed this year, the forecast along the shores of Cayuga Lake looks just as bright.

Rug-ged Defenseman

Some players use roller hockey as a way to stay in shape during the off-season. Others like soccer.

Eighteen-year-old Salmon Arm Silverbacks defenseman Brendon Nash, however, prefers rugby over all the rest.

"Rugby's a great training for hockey," said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Nash. "It helps keep you in shape because you rarely get a break, you have to play as a team, it's full contact and it teaches you how to take a hit."

Nash's conditioning has always complemented his offensive skills, a combination that caught the eye of several schools last year. Nash accepted Cornell's invitation over the summer.

A left-handed shot, Nash will play another season in Salmon Arm before heading to Ithaca in the fall of 2006.

The Company Lynah

Cornell's 2005 freshman class:
F Evan Barlow (Salmon Arm)
F Matt Conners (Apple Core)
D Taylor Davenport (Drayton Valley)
• G Dan Dileo (Wichita Falls)
F Mike Kennedy (St. Thomas)
F Ryan Kindret (Quesnel)
F Tyler Mugford (Nanaimo)
D Jared Seminoff (Nanaimo)

Cornell's 2006 verbals:
F Colin Greening (Nanaimo)
F Justin Milo (Indiana-USHL)
D Brendon Nash (Salmon Arm)
F Tony Romano (Suffolk PAL)

Note: Ottawa selected Greening with the 204th overall pick in this year's NHL Draft).

"I was considering a few other schools," the Kamloops, B.C., native explained, "but Cornell just seemed right. The school has a great tradition, [Schafer and assistant coach Brent Brekke] both came to visit me last year, and I made a trip to Cornell in September.

"I really liked it," Nash said. "It was so green, it reminded me of home."

On the ice, Nash looks right at home almost anywhere.

"He really has a great set of hands," said Silverbacks' coach-general manager Garry Davidson, who lured Nash to Salmon Arm from the AAA North Kamloops Lions. "That's what I noticed about him most. But he also has very good size, which [gives him] pro potential. He understands if he truly commits himself, he'll be able to do great things down the road."

Even as a BCHL rookie, Nash performed admirably on offense. But like many young offensive-minded defensemen, he concentrated on improving his play in his own end.

"I focused on what I needed to do behind my own blueline," Nash said. "I need to be sure I'm making the right decisions and not get caught running around."

Davidson agreed. "It's good that he knows his strengths and where he needs to improve. He picks things up quickly, though, and...I expect him to really take charge and become a solid two-way defenseman."

No Rush, No Worries

Biding time for three years in junior hockey until the right college opportunity came along wasn't easy. But for 20-year-old goaltender Dan DiLeo, who heads to Cornell this fall, the wait paid off.

"I wouldn't change a thing," said DiLeo, who spent last season with Wichita Falls in the North American Hockey League. "Junior hockey is a great experience, and really, it's like pro hockey but without the money. The seasons are long, but they give you an opportunity to learn about hockey, and about yourself.

Sam and Dave

Sam Gagner is 16 years old, a number that nearly matches the number of places he's called home.

"I've lived in Minnesota, Dallas, Toronto, Calgary, Florida, Oakville (a suburb of Toronto) and now Minneapolis again," laughs Gagner, the son of Dave Gagner, who spent 15 seasons in NHL. "I've been all over the place."

Gagner, a talented centerman who scored 180 points (you read that correctly) for the Toronto Marlies midget sqaud last season, is in the process of sifting through information from college coaches who would like to see him settle on their campus for four years.

Before that happens, however, he'll spend at least one season with Sioux City of the USHL. By committing to the Musketeers, Gagner is eschewing the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights, the team that picked him in the fourth round of this year's Ontario Hockey League draft.

"My family values education and I think going the NCAA route will help me reach my goals," Gagner explained. "I'd love to play in the NHL, of course, and growing up, the OHL is pretty much all I had ever heard.

"But I know I'd probably never be able to finish college in four years if I played [major junior] and I'd really like to have my schooling done before giving pro hockey a try."

Father and son have made unofficial visits to a number of schools, including Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Minnesota, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. But Sam's only a junior in high school and says he has no intention of jumping to a decision any time soon.

"I think if I wait, the right opportunity will come along," he said. "I've no notion of looking for a big school or a small school. All I want is the one that will feel right and will help me reach my goals."

"Sam's very mature," says Dave Gagner, who started a specialty rink development company called Custom Ice after retiring from the NHL. "What we really want to do is become more familiar with the college system and get a better understanding of how it works."

While the Gagners may not be completely familiar with the college game, there's no question coaches from Durham to Denver know about Sam

"He's very gifted," says former Sioux City assistant coach Marty Quarters, who accepted an assistant coaching position at Merrimack earlier this month. "He's strong on both sides of the puck, but what you really notice about him is the way he carries himself. He's such a leader. He has Steve Yzerman-like qualities that way."

— P.S.

"It's great when kids commit at 17,
but there's so much to learn. For me, I've had three years to do that and as a result, I feel more than prepared going into Cornell."

Well-spoken and intelligent, DiLeo proved his Ivy League mettle by scoring a 29 on the ACT. He takes a cerebral approach to hockey, too, spending his summers training with long-time Wisconsin goaltending coach Bill Howard

"Bill's goaltending philosophy suits
me well," said DiLeo."It's not butterfly all the time. It's more situational. The time and distance you have to work with, depending upon the play, is
what dictates whether you stay up or down."

That mindset worked well for DiLeo, who put up impressive numbers with both Wichita Falls and Fargo-Moorhead (the Jets traded him in January). The St. Louis native posted a 23-8-6 record and a 2.86 GAA.

"We were a game under .500 when Dan got here," said Wichita Falls coach Brian Meisner."He helped us make a playoff run. He's very competitive, he works very hard and he's really taken advantage of the opportunity."

While the trade changed Wichita Falls' fortunes, DiLeo benefitted from
a change in climate.

"When I left Fargo it was 30 below
and [in Wichita Falls] it was 60 degrees and guys were running around in short," DiLeo said. "There couldn't be a better place to play.
You get to play in a world-class facility (8,000-seat Kay Yeager Coliseum) and there are great coaches here. It's the total package."

With McKee, a 2005 Hobey Baker Award finalist, returning for his junior season, Dileo's role with Cornell appears to be limited at best. But Schafer is obviously looking for depth in goal, and he's keenly aware of his club's string of netminding success which allowed standouts such as David LeNeveu and Jean-Marc Pelletier to leave school early for the professional ranks.

"For all my experience in juniors," DiLeo said, "I'll be a rookie all over again."

Small Guy, Big Heart

When Cornell's coaching staff was trying to figure out which of its players would do the best job of showing 5-foot-6, 176-pound forward Justin Milo around campus, Schafer decided to pick on someone Milo's own size—fellow five-and-a-half footer Topher Scott.

Scott, who scored five goals and 24 ponts for the Big Red as a freshman, picked up an assist off the ice, too. Just two weeks after hosting Milo's visit to Ithaca, the standout forward from the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede committed to Cornell for the fall of 2006.

"[Scott] really showed just how great the school was," said Milo, an 18-year-old from Eden Prairie, Minn. "I loved it. It's a great program, and I'm comfortable that I'm making the right decision."

Prior to joining struggling Sioux Falls, Milo played for a passel of star-studded programs, including Detroit-based midget team Honeybaked and Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minn.

"He's really been around the hockey world," said Mark Kaufman, Milo's coach in Sioux Falls last season. "This was only his first year [in the USHL], but he made a very smooth adjustment to junior hockey."

"I didn't know what to expect," said Milo, who scored 27 goals and 44 points in 59 games for the Stampede. "My goals were just to shoot the puck as much as possible and have a good plus-minus statistic."

Milo's nomadic hockey life continues this season. He'll play for the USHL's Indiana Ice this time around.

"I have to keep working on my strength, staying low and breaking the puck out of my own zone," he said. "That's tough when these big defenseman are coming down on you."

Paul Shaheen is the publisher of Research on Ice and will contribute recruiting updates to Inside College Hockey throughout the year. To subscribe to Research on Ice's free daily recruiting e-mail newsletter, contact Paul at

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