Five forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders are set to join Cornell men’s hockey in the fall, making it the biggest incoming class for the Red in the past four seasons.
The 10 incoming freshmen will look to help Cornell build off a successful 2016-17 campaign, which ended with a first round exit in NCAAs to UMass Lowell after finishing as runner-ups in the ECAC tournament.
The incoming class has an identity similar to the one before it — one based on speed and skill more so than a large size and physical stature that has been a staple of head coach Mike Schafer’s ’86 program. Of the new class, only two members sit above the 200 lbs threshold, whereas nine members of the remaining three classes are above 200 lbs.
Three of the new freshmen hail from within the United States, while the remaining seven are from Canada.
“We’re very excited about the class that we’re bringing in for this season,” Schafer said to Cornell Big Red. “We made a conscious decision a couple years ago to increase our team speed going forward, and this class demonstrates that commitment.”
Below is a breakdown of the incoming class by player and position, as well as analysis of what their incoming roles may be.
The five incoming forwards enter a jam-packed offensive unit chock full of talent. The now 16 total forwards will compete for 12 spots on the nightly lineup with four permanent spots open after the graduation of Jake Weidner, Jeff Kubiak, Matt Buckles and Eric Freschi.
Players such as rising sophomores Noah Bauld and Connor Murphy saw some good minutes in the lineup (Bauld in 29/35 games, Murphy in 10), and are sure to challenge for a starting role.
Cornell has typically been a defensive-minded team, usually winning games that see low scoring chances across the board. But in 2016-17, Cornell’s total goal production shot up a staggering 20 goals to 99 in 35 games when compared to 79 in 2015-16’s 34 games.
According to Schafer, “the [incoming] forwards have a history of producing points at the junior level,” and will look to keep that going to help Cornell’s goal total keep rising.
6’3”, 210 lbs — Halifax, Nova Scotia — St. Andrew’s College
Hailing from the largest all-boys boarding school in Canada, the multi-sport athlete was an offensive force to be reckoned with on the ice. Leading the way to back-to-back conference championships in his two years at the academy in 2016 and 2017, Baron was the captain of last season’s team and tallied 28 goals and 22 assists in just 46 games.
The season prior was a big season for Barron, who was the team leader in goals and points — going for 40 and 72, respectively — as St. Andrew’s went on to win the Canadian national championship. Barron was also named the soccer team’s MVP that year.
Heading into the 2017 NHL Entry Draft — which begins Friday, June 23 — Barron is ranked 98th among North American players by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.
6’1”, 180 lbs — Flesherton, Ontario — Powell River Kings (BCHL)
In the past two seasons that Betts spent in the BCHL playing for Powell River, the Ontario native recorded 89 points in 98 regular season games with an additional 18 points in 21 postseason games.
Betts also competed for the Team Canada West in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons in the World Junior A Challenge — an annual under-20 hockey tournament meant to showcase players to the Canadian Hockey League, the NCAA and the NHL. With 11 teams competing in the tournament, Betts led his team to a gold medal in 2015-16.
Prior to the BCHL, Betts was selected to both the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s and the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top prospect games in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
In 2016, Betts was ranked 147th among North American skaters ahead of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.
5’8”, 165 lbs — Pittsboro, NC — Powell River Kings (BCHL)
Donaldson is the smallest player in the 2021 class, but don’t let the small stature let you underestimate his abilities on the ice. Spending last season as Betts’ teammate, Donaldson was named the BCHL Rookie of the Year and a second-team all-star in his only season in the league, scoring 32 goals and adding on 37 assists through 54 games. His 69 points was good for third on the team.
Donaldson committed to Cornell before playing for Powell River, at the time when teammates Tristan Mullin and Kyle Betts already committed for the Red as well. Prior to that, Donaldson played for the Dallas Stars Elite Hockey Club and then spent the past two seasons at The Gunnery Prep, leading his team to a conference title in 2016 and was named the conference’s runner-up for forward of the year, while being named to the New England West all-star team.
5’10”, 180 lbs — Iroquois Falls, Ontario — Cobourg Cougars (OJHL)
Locke comes to Ithaca fresh off a national championship, helping the Cobourg Cougars win Canada’s Junior A national title. Locke spent two seasons with the team and specialized in getting the puck to his teammates, accounting for 35 goals and 52 assists through 88 games.
Locke was selected in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection in 2013, but instead opted to spend the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. In his first season in the NOJHL, Locke accounted for 55 points, most for a rookie in the league, which was followed by 81 points the season after, good for fourth in the league.
6’2”, 195 lbs — Cartwright, Manitoba — Powell River Kings (BCHL)
Mullin was an early commit for the Red, with his announcement being made public back in December 2015.
“I’ve been talking with [Cornell] for most of the season,” Mullin said during the 2015-16 season. “It began to get serious over the last few weeks, and after talking it over with my parents, Cornell’s offer was too good to pass up.”
Last season, Mullin scored 70 points for the team through 57 games, ranked for seventh-best in the league, and was also the team leader for plus-minus a season after being the team’s leading scorer with 56 points in the 2015-16 season. Mullin served as an alternate captain in his two seasons with the team.
“Tristan has come into this program and done extremely well” said Kings head coach and GM Kent Lewis. “He’s a guy who delivers consistently, works hard every shift and logs some important minutes for us up front. He’ll do very well at the college level and we’re excited for him.”
Three defensemen come at a much-needed time for Cornell, which, for most of the past season, skated with only two upperclassmen on the blueline. Due to persisting injuries to rising senior Dan Wedman, and an injury that sidelined Ryan Bliss for the entire season, now-graduated Patrick McCarron and Holden Anderson were the lone upperclassmen on the blue line for a majority of 2016-17, and Anderson spent a fair amount of time filling in on offense.
Rising sophomore Yanni Kaldis and rising junior Alec McCrea became dependable young stars on the back end, along with McCrea’s classmate Brendan Smith, who missed playoffs and an earlier part of the regular season with two separate injuries.
For Schafer, the incoming freshmen defensemen have a few key assets they bring to the program: footwork, and the ability to play a man-up.
“On the blue line, all three freshmen have the ability to skate, and all of them ran power play units with their respective junior programs,” Schafer said.
Bliss, who Schafer hoped would be a centerpiece on the 2016-17 roster prior to his injury, is expected to return to the program with two years of eligibility remaining, and will be the lone senior on the blue line after Wedman will not return for the 2017-18 season.
Bliss will look to help mentor the following three incoming freshmen defensemen:
6’3”, 205 lbs — Mississauga, Ontario — Powell River Kings (BCHL)
Cairns serves as the only member of the class of 2021 who has been drafted by an NHL organization so far. In the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Edmonton Oilers selected Cairns with the 84th pick in the third round (No. 84 overall) to make him the highest drafted player on the Cornell roster.
In 2016-17, Cairns started out playing for the Fargo Force in the USHL before shipping out to play for the Powell River Kings in the BCHL, where he joined fellow class of 2021 members Betts, Donaldson and Mullin. There, he led defensemen with 16 points in 18 games to close out the regular season before a notching two points in 11 playoff games.
In 2014-15, he was named the OJHL’s top prospect as a part of the Toronto Patriots.
“Big kid, good puck mover, good hockey sense,” Oilers director of player personnel Bob Green said of Cairns to the media at the 2016 draft. “A little bit raw, maybe, but a big guy that can skate and move the puck.”
Cairns models his game after the Montreal Canadiens’ Shea Weber, one of the most lethal defensemen in the National Hockey League. In addition, Cairns’ former coach, hockey hall of famer Paul Coffey, played a huge role in developing Cairns’ gracefulness on the ice.
“I think I’m a two-way defenseman,” Cairns said to the media at the 2016 draft. “I’d like to refine defensive skills and contribute also on the offensive side. I want to be a guy that’s able to play a lot of minutes and do whatever [a] team needs.”
6’2”, 184 lbs — Chicago — Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Green has spent the past two seasons in the United States Hockey League, the best junior hockey league in the U.S. Green made his presence felt on the offensive side, scoring 15 points and adding on 14 assists through 43 games last season with the Stars. Green competed for the U.S. Select team at the 2016 World Junior A Challenge and came away with a gold medal. Green was named on the USHL All-Academic Team in 2016 and took part in the CCM/USA Hockey All American Prospects game in 2015.
SB Nation said Green is a “very good skater, and appears to have added a little more muscle this year, making him an even more effective player.”
6’4”, 190 lbs — Fargo, ND — Fargo Force (USHL)
Haiskanen stayed local to play for the Fargo Force, recording four goals and 24 assists last season. Prior to the USHL, Haiskanen played in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and won the championship in the 2015-16 season with the Portage Terriers.
Haiskanen told The Sun he had an offer from the University of New Hampshire, but said he felt at home after his visit to Ithaca.
“I visited UNH and had an offer from them [and] had interest from UMass Amherst and UMass Lowell,” he said. “After I visited Cornell I had that feeling that I knew it’s where I wanted to be.”
“I like the coaches a lot which is very important as well as the guys on the team we’re great to me,” he added. “I’ll receive a high level of education and have a great opportunity after school whether that be with or without hockey. Overall it’s just a great fit for me.”
Replacing the now-graduated Mitch Gillam was never going to be an easy task. For the time being, the job appears to safely be in the hands of rising senior Hayden Stewart, who shadowed Gillam for the past two seasons.
While the job seems to be Stewart’s to lose, Schafer noted the incoming duo of netminders are poised to challenge Stewart, and hopefully keep improving the overall skill level at the goalie position, which has been on traditionally rooted in excellence.
“These two have the opportunity to challenge for playing time and continue the history of strong goaltending here at Cornell,” Schafer said.
6’0”, 195 lbs — Aurora, Ontario — Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
Galajda played for two seasons with the Victoria Grizzlies, and was named the team’s rookie of the year after the 2015-16 campaign. Galajda was also named the team’s and the BCHL Island Division’s most valuable played and posted a 2.33 GAA and a .926 save percentage through 40 games, good for second in the BCHL.
Galajda was named to the BCHL all-star second-team after last season and competed for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge along with classmate Kyle Betts.
6’1”, 180 lbs — Lloydminster, Alberta — Lloydminster Bobcats (AJHL)
McGrath made the most out of his one season with the Bobcats, being named a finalist for Rookie of the Year after the 2016-17 season. McGrath recorded a .905 save percentage and a 3.53 GAA. In the 2015-16 season, he played for the Bobcat’s midget team and allowed 62 goals in 34 games, but only recorded a 0.44 GAA and .980 save percentage in the postseason, earning himself playoff MVP honors.
“For as long as I’ve known him, he’s always stepped it up in the playoffs,” McGrath’s former captain Braden Goulet said, a quality that he will look to bring for the Red.
The incredible run came just four days after the passing of McGrath’s father after catching the H1N1 virus.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said this is the largest class since 2011-12. In fact, it is the largest since 2013-14.