This post has been updated.
Cornell men’s hockey starting goalie Matt Galajda — a reigning All-American and current third-team All-ECAC selection — has been ruled out for the upcoming East Regional slate, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 confirmed Friday.
Austin McGrath — a first-team All-Ivy selection in his own right — will start in his classmate’s place after a season of temporary back-and-forth between the two netminders.
Cornell plays Northeastern in the first round 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and should it win, the Red will play the winner of Minnesota State-Providence 4 p.m. Sunday. Galajda will be unavailable for both contests, however.
Galajda was originally deemed “doubtful” for the weekend by Schafer on Tuesday, but the head coach one-upped the earlier assessment by telling reporters in Providence Friday that “there’s no question that he’s not going to play this weekend.”
“Right now he’d be doubtful for the weekend,” Schafer said Tuesday. “We’re working hard with Austin and [freshman Nate McDonald], both getting ready for the weekend.
ICYMI, here’s the sequence that left Galajda injured: net tipped forward on its moorings, skate got caught in the netting and he tweaked his knee trying to get free. He remained in the game for a few mins before taking himself out. pic.twitter.com/eeYLDe9YyQ
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) March 26, 2019
“Unless things change dramatically between [Tuesday] and probably Thursday,” Schafer said at the time. “He’s gotta practice, he has to get confidence in himself that he can play, so that’s why I say he’s doubtful.”
As it has become clear, things did not change.
Galajda injured his knee in a bizarre sequence just under 10 minutes into the overtime period Saturday. With junior defenseman Yanni Kaldis and a Clarkson forward fighting for possession behind Galajda’s net, the two collided with the back of the goal, tipping its weight onto the netminder and pinning him in an awkward position with his skate caught in the netting.
Without play stopping, Kaldis and Clarkson forward Devin Brosseau proceeded to try and pry the net off Galajda’s body, but the goalie appeared to tweak his knee as he yanked his leg loose while the puck was still in the Cornell zone.
“That was the frustrating aspect of it, it shouldn’t have happened, it was preventable,” Schafer said Tuesday after expressing disdain for the officials’ handling of the sequence on the ice after the game Saturday. “But otherwise, it’s an injury no different than when he was injured back in November, and as a team we need to overcome it.”
In the midst of a championship game in overtime, McGrath came in cold and proceeded to see the ice for just 3:47 before Clarkson forward Chris Klack sent a backdoor shot into a wide-open net for the game-winner in a sequence probably not many goalies could have corralled.
“It was definitely an interesting situation, one that not a lot of people have been in before,” McGrath said Tuesday. “I was less nervous than you think I was going in, and I just wanted to do what I could to help us. An unfortunate bounce at the end, but that’s hockey, I guess.”
“I felt bad for Austin, and I mean this time he has an opportunity to prepare,” Schafer said Friday. “Last time he’s going in, with seven minutes to go into overtime period in an ECAC championship and not warmed up and it was kind of shocking, just had to kick myself in the butt for not just throwing a bucket of pucks out there, doing something to get the kid warmed up at Lake Placid. He had to just come off the bench, we didn’t even know why Matty was coming over to the bench and so, it was a tough experience.”
But in McGrath, Cornell sees a battle-tested backup who filled in swimmingly when called upon after an injury to Galajda earlier in the season. After coming in for relief in both of the season-opening games against Michigan State, McGrath went on to make five straight starts when Galajda went down with an injury in the Red’s Nov. 24 loss to Harvard at Madison Square Garden.
“All the guys and coaching staff all have Austin’s back, and Austin knows it,” Schafer said Tuesday. “[The Clarkson game-winning goal] was just one of those hockey plays. … Austin played everything right and did everything he was supposed to do and so did a couple other guys.”
“We have full confidence in him, both of them,” senior defenseman Brendan Smith told reporters Friday. “It’s great to see Austin step in and play as well as he did, like [sophomore forward Kyle Betts] said that [Dec. 1] Harvard game was huge for us as a team. The way he played in that game was huge and it really showed us that he can win big games for us and step in if needed and like I said we have all the confidence in the world in him.”
McGrath made a couple of additional starts as the season progressed for a mini goalie battle — one Galajda eventually won and ran away with. But McGrath did make one more relief appearance in a Feb. 16 game at Yale before Schafer pulled his goalie again and returned Galajda to the net.
In 11 appearances so far this year, McGrath is 4-2-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .919 save percentage — numbers a tad deflated by taking a loss and allowing a goal on just two shots faced against Clarkson.
Galajda’s numbers, meanwhile, sit at 16-8-3 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
“He was outstanding at Harvard, he was outstanding in the games that he played and he went down to Princeton and Quinnipiac, two tough places to play, on the road,” Schafer said of McGrath Tuesday. “He did a great job when he came in, it’s just that Matty got going so well that he kind of claimed that spot. But our guys have full confidence in him, they’re ready for him to be in the net and it’s no different when you have to switch pieces around with other guys. Austin will get the job done.”
Malott injury update
Junior forward Jeff Malott, meanwhile, is looking at a much longer recovery for a knee ailment than Galajda.
A collision with Clarkson forward Nico Sturm in the first period Saturday — one that drew a power play for Clarkson which eventually made the score 2-1 — has resulted in a serious left knee injury that will keep Malott off the ice for an extended period of time.
Schafer said after the loss on Saturday that recovery time could be seven to eight months, but on Tuesday he expressed optimism that Malott — after surgery and rehab — could be back by the first few weeks next season.
“We hope we’ll get him back at the start of the year next year, he’ll go through surgery and rehab and everything else but we hope that he’ll be back,” Schafer said.
Bad looking knee injury for Jeff Malott, who needed assistance getting off the ice and went directly to the locker room. Was grimacing on the ice. Does not look promising. pic.twitter.com/OoXQz2WeUG
— Zachary Silver (@zachsilver) March 24, 2019
Malott is in a similar boat that now-senior defenseman Brendan Smith was two years ago. In the 2017 regular season finale against Union, Smith endured a torn ACL but was back in the lineup by game one of the ensuing season, giving Schafer and the program optimism that a similar fate could follow the junior forward.
“Brendan Smith hurt himself very similarly maybe a week earlier, two weeks earlier, and Brendan was back ready to go at the start of the season,” Schafer said. “Hopefully Jeff follows the same kind of rehab that Brendan was on.”