Upon puck drop at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, all eyes were on Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86, who, entering Friday, was on the cusp of win number 400. Yet it was the newcomer — freshman forward Jeff Malott — who stole the spotlight.
A bruising force whenever he steps on the ice, Malott’s entered Friday’s game at Princeton with eight more penalties committed than points, which came in the form of three assists.
“I know he has it in him,” senior linemate Eric Freschi said of Malott’s ability to appear on the scoresheet after his first point came in the team’s 3-2 win at Colgate. “He’s a big guy with hands.”
Leading up to the second Princeton game of the season, Malott was just one of two freshmen to appear in all 14 games for the Red this season, but only had three points to show for it.
However, he quickly changed that record by channeling the point-producing capabilities Freschi alluded to on Friday. When the final buzzer sounded against the Tigers — and No. 19 Cornell (10-4-2, 5-2-1 ECAC) headed to the locker room with a 5-1 win — Malott doubled his point total and cut the penalty to point deficit to five. He notched his first collegiate goals in hat trick fashion, all within the confines of the first period and before leaving with an upper body injury, though not expected to be long-term.
It is only fitting that both Schafer and Malott would hit significant career milestones in an arena named for one of ice hockey’s most memorable athletes.
“He was due,” Schafer said of his freshman. “Could not believe that he had no goals [before], then had three tonight and gets hurt, which is really unfortunate. He scored one, then things opened up for him.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Malott added of his first goals. “I have great linemates that help out with that. It was nice to get the first one.”
Princeton (7-11-1, 3-9-1) answered Malott’s game-opening goal in just 24 seconds, when sophomore Max Véronneau got a shot past Cornell netminder Mitch Gillam on an awkward angle.
It would be the only mistake Gillam made all night, as the senior went on to record 31 saves.
Most impressive in his hat trick was the diversity of scoring method. On his first, Malott curled around the net and sent a high wrister past Princeton’s Colton Phinney. The later two came off the deflection, first by a shot from senior defenseman Holden Anderson and second from senior blueliner Patrick McCarron.
“Coach has been emphasizing tips all week and d-men getting the puck down to the net,” Malott said. “[Associate head coach Ben Syer] came up to me yesterday and said ‘Just don’t move from the front of the net. Just plant yourself there and good things will happen.’ And it worked tonight.”
Malott’s points were done after his third goal, but his teammates were not. Sophomore forward Mitch Vanderlaan added to his team-leading goal total with his ninth on the season and junior forward Alex Rauter added an empty-netter to ice the game in its closing moments.
“We had everyone playing well,” Malott said. “Five goals is a pretty good night for us.”
Those five goals not only powered Cornell to its eighth win in the last nine games, but also propelled Schafer to the 400-win peak. Already the winningest men’s hockey coach in Cornell and Ivy League history, Schafer has experienced plenty of happy handshake lines, but his team made number 400 as special as it could.
“I knew at the beginning of the year I was getting pretty close, but I forgot all about it with all of the preparations,” Schafer said. “Guys surprised me after the game. It means a lot to be with the same program of my alma mater.”
The celebration cannot continue too late into the night, however, as the Red travels to face No. 15/15 Quinnipiac in Hamden on Saturday. Like Cornell, the Bobcats also defeated their Friday night opponent allowing just one goal, defeating Colgate 4-1 at home.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. in Quinnipiac’s High Point Solutions Arena.