After its thrilling comeback victory over Harvard in what is every season’s most anticipated home game, Cornell men’s hockey has earned the attention of just about everyone across the college hockey world.
The Red (6-0, 4-0 ECAC) remains the nation’s lone undefeated team and is now ranked as highly as fifth in this week’s polls, its best mark since 2010. Clearly, results matter to this team, but rankings?
Not so much.
“I asked our guys what’s different on Monday,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They said ‘well the rankings have come out.’ And then they truthfully answered the question: ‘nothing’s different.’ The media has given us some praise … but we’re a long ways away from where we need to be.”
“Rankings don’t mean anything to us,” added junior forward Beau Starrett. “We’ve got to focus on what we need to do to make us a better hockey team.”
That being said, Cornell is off to its best start in nearly half a century, and it is getting set to face its next pair of challengers this weekend in St. Lawrence and No. 8/7 Clarkson.
St. Lawrence (1-10-1, 0-3-1) is having an uncharacteristically poor season thus far, but both the Saints and the Golden Knights seem to always put up a good fight when they venture south to Lynah Rink.
The Saints have had a tough non-conference schedule and are battling injuries, but the group may be welcoming some key players back to the lineup this weekend. Despite the record, Cornell is not taking Friday’s opponent lightly.
“What’s neat about our guys is they’ve respected every opponent we’ve played so far,” Schafer said.
“I don’t think we’re underestimating them at all,” added freshman forward Morgan Barron. “We know they’ve been a really good team historically so I don’t think that’ll be much of a problem.”
As for Clarkson (8-3-1, 4-0), the Golden Knights bring a talented, hungry team to Ithaca looking to avenge its ECAC quarterfinal defeat at the hands of the Red last season.
A trio of sophomore linemates — Sheldon Rempal, Devin Brosseau and Nico Sturm — leads the offensive charge, while fellow sophomore goaltender Jake Kielly (8-3-1, 1.58, .945) continues to impress with his remarkable stat line, quickly ascending himself into the conversation as one of the ECAC’s top netminders.
Casey Jones ’90 is the team’s head coach but also happens to be a Cornell alumnus and a former assistant head coach under Schafer for many years. As such, the Knights’ style closely resembles that of Cornell.
“Casey does a tremendous job with that program,” Schafer said of his former assistant. “They were picked to be near the top of the league, and they’ve fulfilled that so far.”
Clarkson is particularly strong on both the power play and the penalty kill — its combined special teams are currently ranked first in the nation. But the Red has found its stride in that department too. Cornell’s penalty kill ranks first in all of college hockey, having allowed just one goal in 30 man-down situations.
“[Associate head coach] Ben Syer does a great job with the penalty kill,” Schafer said. “He’s got the guys well prepared. They go into the weekend, and typically there’s no surprises.”
Starrett, an active member of the Red’s penalty kill, gave credit to Cornell’s freshman goaltender Matt Galajda.
“Your best penalty killer has got to be your goalie,” Starrett said. “You need them to stop the pucks. But another big factor is everyone buying in. It really comes down to heart and blocking shots.”
Galajda — recently named Goalie of the Week for his contributions in last weekend’s sweep of Dartmouth and Harvard — has excelled in net this season after being named the opening-night starter. Galajda has looked like a seasoned veteran from game one, and save for one rough outing at Princeton, he has done everything asked of him and more. He also has a .942 save percentage and a 1.32 goals against average to show for it — both top five in the nation.
“He has this calmness about him in the net,” Schafer said of his starting goalie. “He doesn’t overplay things, he doesn’t get himself out of position.”
After knocking off Harvard, the Red had reason to celebrate, but Schafer is not worried the excitement will result in any sort of emotional letdown this weekend — certainly not Galajda.
“You let them be excited. It was a huge, emotional win,” Schafer said, “But when we get back into the facility Monday, it’s the same routine. We want to have a fixed mindset. We want improvement. … Sure, we want to appreciate what we’ve done, but we want to grow and to get better.”
Each game is set for 7 p.m. at Lynah.