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In 2017-18, Cornell men’s hockey did not endure its first losing streak until a couple of elimination losses in the playoffs. In 2018-19, it came in the first two games.
Now after two upset losses to visiting Big Ten opponent Michigan State, it’s now time for the Red to shake off its disappointment and turn to improving going forward.
“First week is a tough weekend,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “I think the biggest thing is the physicality of the game that you need to get into. … Playing simple at certain times of the game wasn’t there.”
Cornell (0-2, 0-0 ECAC) gave up nine goals to the Spartans over the weekend — a number that stands in contrast to the success that the Red’s defensive unit displayed all throughout last season. In part, the relatively poor performance of sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda, who was pulled from both games, did not exactly set the team up for success.
“For all the times that Matty saved us and did things last year for us to have success, I didn’t think he had a great weekend,” Schafer said. “I think he knows that.”
But Galajda was far from the only issue in the pair of defeats. Cornell’s power play was dismal on Friday, and although the Red bounced back on Saturday and recorded two goals in eight tries, the success of that unit remains a question. The man-up advantage was one of the weaker points for Cornell in an otherwise successful 2017-18.
The start to the season represented some significant adversity for the Red — something this group is no stranger to. Last season, Cornell endured a handful of come-from-behind victories, including one against the Bulldogs, and always seemed to come out strong after its regular season defeats.
“It’s going to be a real big test for our character as a team,” said senior defenseman Alec McCrea. “We still have a young group. … For us, we [face] adversity early on, and now we can see how we can deal with it.”
The earlier timing of this season’s challenges could present an opportunity for the team to grow, with eight freshmen on the roster who did not experience last season, when Cornell rattled off seven straight wins to start. For the sophomore class, this sort of start to the season is something rather foreign in their young collegiate careers.
“It’s definitely a big change from last year,” said sophomore forward Brenden Locke. “I think the biggest thing is it’s good that we got those games out of the way earlier in the season … so we see that we can’t take any days off.”
As for the opponents who present the opportunity for Cornell to bounce back, the Bulldogs (1-0, 1-0) and Bears (0-2, 0-1) will travel to East Hill having just competed against each other, with Yale emerging victorious last Saturday in Providence by a score of 3-2.
“Obviously, they’re well coached,” Schafer said of the Bulldogs. “They’re great in transition and they push the envelope as far as getting up and down the ice. But they’re also a good defensive team. … You need to be patient against them.”
The Bulldogs have represented a challenge for Cornell at times in recent history. Although the Red hasn’t lost that matchup since 2015-16, there have been a pair of ties since, in addition to the comeback win for Cornell in New Haven last season. In particular, Yale boasts first-team All-ECAC forward Joe Snively, who is one of the premiere offensive players in the conference and the country.
“Joe Snively, you know, we’ve been playing against him for four years now,” McCrea said. “So we know some of his tendencies and we know his line is going to bring it. … We’re not going to dictate our play just because he’s on the ice. We’re going to bring it to them.”
As for Brown, the Bears have not emerged victorious over the Red since January 2013 — when Cornell was in the midst of one of just four losing seasons under Schafer.
Having been crowned the ECAC regular season champions a season ago, the Red’s journey back to that position begins now, with the opportunity to earn some conference points early could provide exactly the confidence boost it needs coming off two devastating losses.
“You earn your stripes this year, and you earn what we’re going to get this year,” Schafer said. “And that’s a long process.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday against the Bulldogs and Saturday against the Bears.