Talk about some big shoes to fill.
This year’s freshman class comes in on the heels of a class which now has four members drafted by NHL teams and players contributing everywhere on the ice.
Add to that the fact that the Class of 2000 had led the team in scoring for the past three seasons, and this year’s rookie class has quite a bit of work to do.
And while they are certainly mindful of what they have to live up to, the freshmen feel secure in their abilities.
“We are confident, we have a lot of good players. [However], last year’s freshman class was extremely good so it is a hard act to follow,” rookie defenseman David Hughes said.
David is the son of John Hughes ’70, who was a tri-captain of arguably the best team in the history of college hockey, the 1969-70 Cornell squad that went 29-0-0 and won the national title. To this day, it is the only team in the modern era of college hockey to go undefeated.
“I hope to follow in my father’s footsteps a little bit. That would be a great thing for me,” he said. And needless to say, it would be a great thing for the rest of the team as well.
Joining David on the blueline is Ben Wallace, another big body for the bruising Red defensive corps.
“Both freshmen defenders are in a transition period. They are both kind of defensive defensemen, and we have a lot of depth there,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said.
The rookie forwards will be fighting for playing time in every game. In this role, expect to see Ryan Vesce and Scott Krahn, two small but very skilled freshmen.
“In Scott Krahn and Ryan Vesce you have two guys who are 5-8, 160-pounds and are very skilled. They have the attributes I like in players: good skating ability, handle the puck well and are very tenacious. And they play big. They are more than offensive players, they are pretty good complete players,” Schafer said.
But in keeping with the physical nature of the team there are Kelly Hughes (no relation to David), Jason Kuczmanski and Greg Hornby.
Kelly, the biggest of the rookies, goes 6-3, 210-pounds and skates well for his size. All of this could lead to his being a fan favorite, if he is able to lay out opponents along the boards. Kuczmanski was a prolific goal-scorer in juniors, netting 77 points with 32 goals for the Buffalo Lightning last year. Hornby had 51 points on 27 goals for the Nanaimo Clippers last year in addition to leading the team in penalty minutes with 154.
“Jason Kuczmanski had very good success in junior hockey with goal scoring,” Schafer said. “Kelly Hughes and Greg Hornby give us that combination that stays within our style of big, strong physical players who can also produce offense.”
These seven newcomers are ready for their chance to show their wide variety of skills.
“Expectations are pretty high for us. We are looking pretty good in practice and I hope we can keep it going into the season,” Vesce said.
Senior goaltender Ian Burt seemed to be impressed with the play of the rookies thus far in practice and the exhibition game.
“We have a lot of good freshmen in,” he said.
So, how did all of this talent make its way to East Hill? Every rookie commented on Cornell’s great academic advantages as well as the great chemistry of the team. And of course, playing in Lynah Rink.
“[Everyone] knows that Lynah Rink is the best rink in college hockey. It is synonymous with noise and history and it is a fantastic place to play,” Kelly Hughes said.
While many of these freshmen will not see significant ice time this season in order to adjust to the collegiate pace of the game, they will certainly be looking for any opportunities which present themselves.
“I don’t think any of us have any serious expectations as ice-time goes because it all depends on injuries and timing really,” Kelly Hughes said.
Regardless of the amount of playing time they receive, these freshmen do bring many skills to the table.
“We have some guys who can score and some guys who can hit, and we are pretty well balanced,” David said.
“One of the major factors of our success here will be our depth. We have a lot of good players here,” Kelly added.
And they will need that depth and talent to fill those big shoes.
Archived article by J.V. Anderton