After making a trip to the Frozen Four for the first time in 23 years this past season, the men’s hockey team looked to duplicate the feat this coming winter. That task was made all the more difficult on July 2, as the Red’s netminder from a season ago, David LeNeveu ’05 agreed to a multi-year contract with the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, thereby forfeiting his remaining two seasons of college eligibility. LeNeveu, the country’s top goalie during the 2002-03 campaign, was a second round selection and 46th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
“[It was] definitely the most difficult decision of my life,” said LeNeveu, who is currently training with the Coyotes in Arizona. “After the season, I fought with the decision for weeks and months, and I couldn’t stand leaving such a great program. But in the end, it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse and sacrifices had to be made.”
All indications following the season pointed to LeNeveu’s return to the Red. However, the Coyotes aggressively pursued the netminder at season’s end and eventually persuaded him to leave the East Hill.
“I knew it was an option, but I didn’t know how serious of an option it was,” LeNeveu said of leaving Cornell. “I didn’t know if Phoenix wanted me to stay another year in college or leave, but they started indicating to me that they wanted me in Phoenix. To leave such a great program, I needed a lot of compensation, and in the beginning, they weren’t offering enough compensation. But one weekend, my agent called me and told me of an opportunity and an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“With David, we took the same position as we did with all collegians. The decision is solely up to themselves and their families,” Coyotes Executive Vice President and General Manager Michael Barnett said. “To this day, I’m not certain why he left except that coming off a season where he broke all kinds of NCAA records, he felt that he was in a strong bargaining position.
“We were perfectly content to let him remain with the Big Red for another season,” Barnett continued.
Although he’s losing his top netminder, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 is excited for his former player.
“He informed me a couple of days before he informed everyone else. We knew before he left campus that if he got to a certain level, if they just kept offering him money, and they wanted him out of here, then he was going to be out of here,” Schafer said. “It’s a great opportunity when a pro hockey team wants you that badly to offer that kind of money for him to leave.
“It’s great for David,” Schafer continued. “He’s a smart kid, and a lot’s been written about him as far as leaving early. The kid’s a great student, a 3.8 student. He’ll do well for himself. He’ll invest that money into the future.”
Sitting between the pipes for the Red this past season, LeNeveu broke numerous Cornell and NCAA records. In his sophomore year, LeNeveu set the ECAC and Red record for shutouts in a season with nine, breaking the mark previously set by the legendary Ken Dryden ’69. Backstopping the nation’s top defense, he also set the NCAA record for the lowest single-season goals-against-average at 1.20.
For his efforts in net, LeNeveu earned a laundry list of accolades. After the regular season, LeNeveu was named the ECAC co-Player of the Year and also won the Ken Dryden Award as the conference’s top goalie. The awards kept piling up for LeNeveu during the postseason, as he was honored as the ECAC Tournament MVP, a first-team All-American, and a Hobey Hat Trick finalist.
During the Winter Recess, LeNeveu was also the only college player selected to the Canadian Junior National Team, which won the silver medal at the World Championships held in December.
LeNeveu, who would have been a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the fall semester, leaves Cornell after having played 46 games and posting a GAA of 1.29 and a record of 39-5-2 during that stretch.
With three established goalies at the NHL level, the Coyotes will send LeNeveu to their AHL affiliate in Springfield. LeNeveu will join a system that includes goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier ’99, who also left Cornell after his sophomore season.
“The program they have me on is a two to three year ideal timeline,” LeNeveu said. “They have three NHL goaltenders, but they have to move one before the start of the season. And if there are injuries, I might be able to get into a game.”
“He’s coming out of a tremendous program. Defensively, they’re a model of what the top NHL teams do. With the low number of shots that the defense gave up night after night, it’s a real tribute to the program,” Barnett said. “So, one of the first benefits he’ll have is that he’ll definitely see more shots at the American Hockey League.”
Despite leaving Cornell after just his sophomore year, LeNeveu plans on earning his college degree.
“One thing that I promised my parents and that they made me promise was that I’d take as many correspondence courses as I could handle during the season, and train and take courses in the summer,” LeNeveu said.
With LeNeveu’s departure, the Red will turn to the trio of senior Todd Marr, sophomore Louis Chabot, and freshman Dave McKee. Marr, who saw action in four games last season while LeNeveu was competing in the World Junior Championships, posted a 2-2 mark in his four starts in net while allowing just 1.76 goals per game. Meanwhile, Chabot played just three minutes during his rookie season on the East Hill. McKee joins the team after playing for the Texas Tornado in the NAHL last season.
“The position’s obviously wide open. Todd did a great job in the four games when he came in last year, Louis continued to get better as the season progressed, and David McKey comes in with great credentials,” Schafer said. “You never know until we get in to day to day, over the course of the year, which kids have the confidence and rise to that challenge.”
Archived article by Alex Ip