This post has been updated.
Saturday night’s most valuable player was not even supposed to see the ice. Senior goalie Hayden Stewart seemed to have the starting job firm in his grasp after stopping 74 of the past 77 shots he’s faced for three-straight Cornell men’s hockey wins, including 21 saves in Friday night’s 7-1 thrashing of Princeton.
But after getting the surprise nod, Matt Galajda, the starter for the team’s first 11 games of the season, didn’t need the whole day to prepare for one of the best starts of his young career. The freshman, playing for an injured Stewart, made 28 saves in Cornell’s 1-0 victory over Quinnipiac for his third shutout of the season and the Red’s first regular-season sweep of the Bobcats since 2011-12.
“I didn’t know until 4:45 today,” Galajda said after his ninth win of the season in his first start in the past four games. “But I was ready to go. I did my same routine before the game. When I had my name called there I was pretty excited and ready to go, and I just tried to compete for the whole game.”
Twenty-eight saves is impressive, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of Galajda’s night. A day removed from blasting past Princeton, Cornell came out flat against the Bobcats, and Quinnipiac hit the post behind Galajda four times before third-period puck drop. The Bobcats outshot Cornell 9-4 after the first 20 minutes and ultimately 28-20 by the final buzzer.
“We got away with one tonight,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “They came out and had two or three pipes on the power play. We just weren’t sharp all over the ice. They played well, they played a team game tonight. We didn’t have the same bite to our game. We didn’t have the same energy, the same poise.”
Pretty or not, Cornell has been able to grind out a win seemingly every night. The team attributes its remarkable 13-2 record to its depth, knowing that as soon as anyone loses a step on the ice or goes down with an injury, as was the case with Stewart’s undisclosed ailment Saturday night, there will be someone just as capable waiting in the wings.
Galajda’s performance on Saturday night was a manifestation of that belief. He and Stewart have continually faced off in what has been described as stiff competition throughout each and every practice. Each time one starts over the other, it’s extra motivation to take their game up a notch.
“It’s amazing how not being in the lineup makes you hungry to play well,” Schafer said. “We had a lot of guys who sat out tonight who are good hockey players. Effort is what we reward and gauge ourselves for [whoever is] going to be in the lineup.”
“It is for sure,” Galajda added when asked if the daily competition is beneficial. “In practice we all battle. We always try to outdo each other, but we always encourage each other when we make a big save.”
Cornell’s tight one-goal win, however, came 24 hours after the team’s highest goal output since a 2008 matchup with Rensselaer. Against the Bobcats Saturday, the nation’s fourth-best offense and second-best defense needed a single goal from its leading scorer, senior forward Trevor Yates, for a four-point weekend.
Chase Priskie is going to have nightmares of the nets at Lynah Rink. Thrice the Quinnipiac junior captain had the opportunity to put his team on the board first, but each time his shot rang off the posts behind Galajda.
It was the culmination of sharp play from the Bobcat offense, which entered the game with just one goal against Cornell in each of the two past matchups.
“Any time you get a win like [tonight], you have to give credit to the other team as far as the intensity in which they played,” Schafer said. “It forces you into some of that lull, it forces you into some of that lack of playing with poise.”
Cornell had its own fair share of chances as the game developed, but two wave-offs kept the game scoreless through the first half. Junior forward Beau Starrett had a goal overturned due to goaltender interference with 2:24 left in the first period, then a point shot hit freshman forward Brenden Locke’s facemask and a pipe of its own before bouncing away from danger.
By the midway point of the game, five posts were hit, two perceived goals were waved off, but zeros still highlighted the scoreboard.
That held true until Yates collected a rebound after a strong move to the net from junior defenseman Matt Nuttle 14:50 into the second period, and he sent the second chance past goalie Andrew Shortridge for the night’s only score. The goal was Yates’ team-leading 11th of the season, now just one short of the senior’s total a year ago.
Despite a plethora of scoring chances both ways, Galajda was able to stop all 28 shots he faced to lead Cornell to victory — no save bigger than a stop of Alex Whelan 2:27 into the third period while Cornell was on the power play.
“It was a good to get back in tonight and start the year off right,” Galajda said.