This post has been updated.
It was a game that saw overwhelming rust, throwaway power plays and the pulling of an All-American goalie.
It wasn’t how Cornell men’s hockey wanted to start its 2018-19 campaign.
After spending months waiting following a second consecutive first-round NCAA Tournament exit, Cornell could not wait to get back in front of the Lynah Faithful. But Michigan State slowly but surely turned the eager smiles of 3,840 of the Faithful into frowns as the Spartans ran away with a 5-2 victory powered by four third-period goals to hand the Red a loss in the season-opener.
“Not unusual for the first game regardless of who you are playing to play the way we played tonight,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “But there were some areas of the game I thought were a little surprising. [There was a] lack of poise in some guys who were in a lot of games last year.”
By the fourth Spartan goal, when Michigan State temporarily extended its lead to three with under five minutes to play, sophomore goalie Matt Galajda’s night was over and classmate Austin McGrath was put in net for his first taste of regular-season action to try and rally the troops.
The first blemish on Galajda came glove side on a breakaway in the first period after the Cornell power play broke down. The second — and first of three on Galajda in the third period — was another glove side shot he couldn’t get to in time. The third was a close-quarters five-hole after another turnover. The fourth was a puck Galajda simply lost, also glove side.
McGrath would allow one more goal on the penalty kill when a cross-ice pass deflected off a Cornell skater and in.
“Their goalie made some huge saves for them, and our goalie didn’t,” Schafer said of Galajda, who last year was a finalist for country-wide MVP. “He didn’t come up with a big save when we needed it. I told him, if you’re going to produce the same numbers as last year, it’s virtually impossible. But you have to come out and make the saves you did last year when we need them. Tonight he didn’t.”
Cornell did not allow five goals in a game all of last season.
“I’ve played this game my whole life. One game doesn’t define who I am or anything like that,” Galajda said. “Just have to forget about it and know I’m better than that.”
Despite outshooting the Spartans in each period and 34-22 in the game, Cornell was outmuscled in both the first and final frames. Rust was a cause, and an easy excuse, for the play that sandwiched a dominant second period, but Michigan State also played like it was the nationally-ranked team for the first and final 20 minutes.
“Hockey can be like that,” Schafer said.
The Spartans came out hitting, shooting and scoring. A blue line blunder handed Michigan State the first goal of the night 11:33 into the contest. Senior defenseman and alternate captain Alec McCrea was teeing up for a point shot when Sam Saliba just got his stick in the way to earn himself a shorthanded breakaway. The Michigan State junior went glove side on Galajda to put the Spartans on the board first.
Cornell wouldn’t get many more chances until a shorthanded opportunity of its own in the second period. Senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan picked a Michigan State defender’s pocket on the blue line but sent a decent chance high off the end glass.
After the Vanderlaan opportunity — and when the teams weren’t bashing each others’ skulls in during post-whistle scrums — Cornell played a much crisper game, capped off by freshman center Max Andreev’s first collegiate goal to tie things up at one apiece.
“I was waiting for a long time to get out there,” Andreev said. “Right now I feel really sad because [even though] I scored, we didn’t win the game. Just a flow of frustration right now.”
In the middle frame, Cornell held Michigan State to just six shots while tallying up 12 of its own. But the effort was too short-lived to salvage a victory.
But the deciding factor for Cornell was the power play. Cornell went to the man-advantage five times on Saturday but let more goals score while a man up than it scored itself.
“The power play bit us in the ass tonight,” Schafer said.
“We just have to do a better job of moving them side to side tomorrow and try to fake shots and move it across and find guys on the back side,” Andreev added of the power play. “We just have to play more greasy, too, and get in front of the net.”
Sophomore defenseman Matt Cairns would rip a shot high in the zone to get Cornell within three, but the last-ditch effort fell short,, and the Spartans were able to spoil the Lynah premiere.
Looking to give East Hill something to cheer for and inject a boost of confidence ahead of ECAC play, Cornell will look to salvage a series split with the Spartans at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“I don’t think we were any nervous, just ready to go and excited,” Andreev said. “Everyone knows the expectations are high for this team, but we are not worried about it.”