Yes, the playoffs were a disappointment. Yet overall, the 2017-18 Cornell men’s hockey season has to be considered a smashing success.
A season sweep over Harvard, just six defeats all season and impact freshman performances throughout the lineup were just some of the highlights. To prove this point, while some coaches rue season-ending defeats, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 was optimistic after the team fell to B.U. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He preferred to talk about the growth of the 10 freshmen and the feeling that next year could be an even better season than to talk about the disappointment of falling short of playoff expectations with his current group. Schafer’s next class will need to fill some holes on the roster created by the departure of seniors, so let’s analyze these areas of need for Cornell going into next season.
On offense, the team really settled on a few line combinations this year. The top line was Mitch Vanderlaan, Brendan Locke and Anthony Angello. This line could lead the team next year as well.
The second line, usually Morgan Barron, Trevor Yates and Cam Donaldson, will lose Yates, a senior. Jeff Malott seems a prime candidate to step up and join this line, as he has been one of Cornell’s best players in his first two seasons. Beyond that, Beau Starrett, Kyle Betts, Noah Bauld and Tristan Mullin were third and fourth-line forwards and should start when they are healthy in 2018-19. This leaves two everyday spots open for freshmen, or seldom-used center Connor Murphy. Schafer will continue to recruit smaller, quicker players to fill these holes, perhaps noting that Donaldson, who fits this profile, was Cornell’s most effective player against B.U. by leaps and bounds.
On defense, juniors Alec McCrea, Matt Nuttle and Brendan Smith will anchor this group as seniors. Yanni Kaldis, Alex Green and Cody Haiskanen also figure to see significant playing time, while Matt Cairns will be the first to fill in for any who are injured. Ryan Bliss is a question mark, but after two seasons out injured, he may have eligibility to step in next season and contribute. This leaves one or two spots for freshmen defensemen. The downside is that, unlike up front, these freshmen may not have as many opportunities to play right away, barring injuries. The flip side is that at least some point over the past three seasons, the Red have had a defensive injury crisis, so there will be at least some time to impress.
In goal, Matt Galajda will be the starter after his impressive freshman season. Austin McGrath made no appearances as a freshman, so the Lynah Faithful cannot really judge if McGrath is a capable backup or third goaltender. Schafer will almost certainly bring in one goalie to replace senior Hayden Stewart and perhaps judging the new goalie’s credentials will shine some light on McGrath’s status. A quality recruit to compete with Galajda surely would mean McGrath would remain the third netminder, but if the new freshman seems to be less experienced, Schafer may have higher expectations of McGrath in his sophomore campaign.
Cornell men’s hockey graduated a number of key contributors from their remarkable 2017-18 season. The Red’s forwards look well-placed to continue offensive success, while the defense will be the anchor of the team yet again. In goal, watch Schafer’s new recruit to ascertain how the goalie situation behind Galajda will shake out. Overall, Cornell men’s hockey looks capable of another top-four finish in the ECAC when it takes the ice in the fall.