Hockey is everywhere in Canada. Every town has a rink, most kids try on skates before they ride a bicycle and one may see a Zamboni driving down the road. Canadians still make up the majority of National Hockey League players — even if most teams are located in the United States — and they regularly claim the Olympic gold medal in men’s and women’s hockey. Canada has an impressive youth hockey infrastructure, with an excellent system of junior hockey leagues as well as college leagues.
Even here at Cornell, around half of the men’s hockey team and most of the women’s hockey team hails from the Great White North. Knowing Canada’s hockey tradition, as Cornell men’s hockey prepares to face two Canadian colleges in exhibition games this weekend, one might logically expect the Canadian teams to be two challenging opponents.
However, Guelph University and the University of Ottawa are exhibition opponents for a reason. Cornell is expected to beat each team, and could win in blowout fashion. Last year against the Canadian school Brock University, Cornell scored at their leisure and won, 8-1. The reason for this seeming contradiction is that the most talented Canadian hockey players go to the top Canadian junior leagues, where there is a clearly-paved path to the NHL. The next-most talented group goes to the NCAA teams like Cornell, while the lowest tier typically attends school in Canada. Thus, Cornell has higher-caliber players, and while the Big Red will be rusty, these exhibition games represent a chance for Cornell to iron out the kinks in their play with no penalty if they draw or lose.
Three things to watch in this weekend’s game are the goaltending, the freshmen and the powerplay. Goaltending will naturally be the biggest focus after the graduation of Mitch Gillam ’17. Senior Hayden Stewart should get the start in at least one of the games this weekend. He will get the chance to stake his claim for the starting goaltender position. However, do not be surprised if head coach Mike Schafer ’86 gives freshmen Austin McGrath or Matt Galajda a chance to start in either game. Both have the potential to start for Cornell in the future or perhaps even this year. If any of the goalies record a stellar performance or have a bad game this weekend, that could make a difference in Schafer’s allocation of playing time in net when the season starts Oct. 27.
The freshmen class is always a focus area when a new season starts, and this weekend is no exception. Forward Morgan Barron and defenseman Matt Cairns come to Cornell as two NHL draft picks of the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers, respectively. They both should get a chance to impress this weekend. Other freshmen skaters include Cam Donaldson, Brendan Locke, Tristan Mullin and Kyle Betts up front, and Alex Green and Cody Haiskanen on defense. If these players can show up on the scoresheet this weekend or otherwise impress the coach, that could indicate things to come. For example, junior Anthony Angello scored four goals in one exhibition game as a freshman, and has proven to be a reliable offensive contributor, scoring double-digit goals for Cornell in his first two seasons.
The last focus area is the power play. Trevor Yates led the team in power play goals last season by some distance, and should expect to skate on the top power play unit to start the year. Angello, Beau Starrett, Mitch Vanderlaan and Dwyer Tschantz should also see time up front with the man advantage. Defensively, Yanni Kaldis and Alec McCrea are two of Cornell’s most offensive defensemen and should get chances from the point on the power play. However, Schafer is more fluid with his power play line-up than most NCAA coaches, and just like the other focus areas, a strong performance could earn a player more power play time during the regular season.
Canadian colleges Guelph and Ottawa visit Lynah Rink this Saturday and Sunday, and the Red will be expected to win both games. Schafer will be aiming to win the games, but more importantly he and all of us will want to find out more about the 2017-18 edition of Cornell men’s hockey.