This post has been updated.
Comfort for Matt Galajda comes when the prospect of comfortability is at an all-time low, such as when there is the pressure of downing archrival Harvard in front the eyes of 4,267 at a sold-out Lynah Rink, which he and Cornell men’s hockey did, 2-0, on Saturday night.
And it comes when the sophomore goalie’s starting job is most on the line, such as it is now, with close friend and backup Austin McGrath breathing down his neck and battling vigorously to earn the starting spot.
“Something that we want as a coaching staff is competition at that position,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said after Galajda’s 25-save shutout — his first blanking of the season. “And every time Matt has had competition he has risen to the challenge and plays better and better. Austin has played really, really well, and it is good to have two guys back there who will push each other.”
And McGrath has seemingly earned himself another chance to start against Dartmouth on Saturday.
“It’s still game-by-game,” Schafer said of his starting goalie decisions. “We’ll see how it progresses and see which one rises to really kind of claim it and run with it. Austin needs a chance to come back tomorrow night and play. … He needs an opportunity to come back tomorrow, and then we approach the following week differently.”
While Schafer appears to have uncharacteristically already named his starting goalie for Saturday’s pushed-up game against Dartmouth — a game in which a win will give the Red a stranglehold in the race for its second consecutive Ivy League title — Friday for Galajda felt like it could be a fresh start after a down first half by the standard he’s set for himself.
“I definitely think it’s a turning point for me,” Galajda said after his second game back from a month-plus injury. “Personally, I feel a lot more confident and I think my six or eight weeks off helped my mental side a bit.”
Last season, Galajda thrived when he and Hayden Stewart ’18 were in the midst of yet another intense goalie battle and seemed to lock up the job after a 1-0 shutout his first game back as the starter.
Friday against Harvard, history seems to be replicating itself as the goalie looked more like his self from a Hobey Baker finalist and All-American 2017-18 season. There was confidence tracking pucks, eagerness showing off in front of the home crowd and little to do for a Crimson team scraping for anything they could get.
“Nothing compares to the atmosphere. It’s just amazing,” Galajda said of playing Harvard at home. “We played such a hard game tonight, and to get rewarded like that, it’s definitely something pretty special.”
After the last fish from the student sections was collected, Cornell and Harvard battled to as entertaining a scoreless first period as they come with the Crimson riding emotions built from last year’s dramatic win in favor of Cornell and the Red’s win in Cambridge this past December. The tide changed quickly into the second period, however.
Out come the fish 🐠🐡🐟 pic.twitter.com/QJqOmXASHc
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) January 18, 2019
Sophomore center Brenden Locke, a sparkplug who has brought stability to the Cornell lineup since his return out of the break, got the Friday night party started 2:07 into the second period. Cutting to the net, Locke slid a pass from classmate Morgan Barron past Harvard netminder Michael Lackey for the Cornell forward’s third goal in five games since returning from a lengthy injury.
“I just yelled at the top of my lungs. Just such a great feeling” said Locke, who has three goals in five games since returning from injury. He added of his injury: “It was a challenge, mentally, just trying to stay positive at all times and seeing how I could work on my game with the injury. … Make sure when you come back you are ready to go and dialed in at all times.”
In the waning minutes of the same frame, Cornell public address announcer Arthur Mintz ’71 couldn’t finish reading off the awarded penalty against Harvard before a decibel outburst from Lynah drowned him out. Just six seconds of Cornell’s first power play of the night were all Barron needed to send the Lynah crowd back into a frenzy. Barron’s eighth goal of the season pushes him to first on the team in power play tallies with four.
What’s more, the all-sophomore line of Locke, Barron and Cam Donaldson is responsible for the last 10 of Cornell’s 15 goals.
Cornell could not convert on an abbreviated power play to open the third period but was awarded a bittersweet chance on the man-advantage moments later. Highly-productive freshman center Max Andreev absorbed a brutal hit from Harvard’s Adam Baughman. Andreev immediately left the ice holding his right shoulder/collarbone area and did not return to the game.
Early prognosis on Andreev is that it will be a lengthy injury, Schafer said, and with it comes the loss of yet another center. Schafer said freshman Michael Regush will slot back in the middle Saturday against Dartmouth after doing so earlier in the season, and without the availability of junior forward Jeff Malott, freshman Zach Bramwell will most likely re-enter the lineup at wing. Sophomore defenseman Alex Green will also not be available to return on Saturday, Schafer said.
“We know that with Max out now guys are going to have to step up and guys are going to get chances,” Locke said. “I am confident in our team that guys are going to rise to that occasion and fill that spot. … It sucks to lose him.”
After Baughman was sent off the ice with a game misconduct, Cornell couldn’t convert on the five-minute man-advantage, “but at the same time that five-minute major takes a lot out of their opportunities to get anything going either. After that I thought our guys did a great job playing really solid hockey,” Schafer said.
Despite over three minutes of Harvard pulling its goalie, the Red bore down for all that was left in the 2,000th game in program history to extend its unbeaten streak to six before a quick turnaround against Dartmouth at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“Have to wake up earlier and make sure we get to bed right away — as soon as we get home, basically,” Locke laughed.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Cornell could clinch the Ivy Title with a Saturday win against Dartmouth. Actually, Cornell will put a stranglehold on the Title race but cannot clinch just yet.