Read all about the upcoming Cornell men’s hockey season in our 2018-19 Men’s Hockey Preview Supplement.
It has been more than 200 days since Cornell men’s hockey was eliminated from the NCAA tournament. The journey back begins now.
Cornell will host Michigan State (1-1, 0-0 Big Ten) this weekend in two games at Lynah Rink that will provide the team its first chance to step on the ice in a game that counts since its postseason shortcomings last March. The Spartans represent a strong out-of-conference program that is sure to test Cornell right at the start of its season.
“They’ve got some of the best players in the country,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “But we’re going to play good teams all year long. … We’re looking forward to starting the season.”
MSU sports a dangerous top line with all three forwards picked on the Big Ten hockey preseason watch list, including unanimous selection Taro Hirose alongside Patrick Khodorenko and Mitch Lewandowski. Khodorenko was honored last season as the Big Ten freshman of the year. The trio has already combined for eight points in the Spartan’s first two games.
“Just like any top line we face, we just got to be prepared for it, know when those guys are on the ice,” said senior defenseman and alternate captain Matt Nuttle. “We’ll have our matchups ready up front and on the back end.”
As Cornell prepares to face some top-level offensive talent, it will benefit from the services of all six starting defensemen from last season, a unit that was the nation’s leading statistical defense. Also returning is star sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda, who last year cemented himself as one of the country’s premiere netminders.
“The thing with [Galajda] is when we’re playing defense it gives us some added confidence that we know he’s behind us,” Nuttle said. “So it’s nice that we know if we screw up he’s going to be there to make the save.”
The chance to play against a talented team early will allow Cornell to evaluate itself ahead of its conference season.
“I think it’ll show us where we are right away, what we need to work on,” said junior defenseman Yanni Kaldis. “It’s obviously going to be a challenge … I think it’ll be a good weekend for us, see where we are.”
It’s unusual for Cornell to start the season against a team from a strong conference such as the Big Ten. Last year, the Red opened up against Alabama Huntsville, the only Division I team from the American southeast. The Chargers ended up winning roughly a third of their games.
With the Big Ten sporting a long list of potential tournament teams, playing the Spartans early allows Cornell to size up the opponent’s conference as a whole.
“You get a chance to play against Michigan State, then by the end of the year you get to find out how they matched up in their conference,” Schafer said. “Later on, that’s where your benefit happens for your program.”
Just as the Red gets some added value, so too do the Lynah Faithful, who will be able to enjoy quality, exciting hockey right from the get go. Conveniently enough, it’s often said that Cornell is an Ivy League school with a Big Ten heart.
“I’m sure the crowd’s going to be into this one,” Kaldis said. “It helps so much to play in front of the Lynah Faithful … it really gets you going right from the start. I know, speaking with friends on other teams, they love to play in this building, and they say it’s one of the hardest places to play because the crowd’s always on them.”
The puck drops at Lynah at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.