Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

For the third straight year, Cornell will face a red-hot Hockey East champion — in New England — in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

March 27, 2019

Tourney Time: Sans Star Goalie, Cornell Readies for Skilled Northeastern Team in NCAAs

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Correction: A previous version of this story misstated in which NCAA Tournament regional Cornell will play. It will compete in the east — not northeast —regional.

If you’re a Cornell men’s hockey fan, the 2018-19 season was some combination of promising, puzzling and — perhaps most of all — frustrating. But it’s late March, and Cornell is in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season, once again two wins from the Frozen Four.

Here are notes about how to watch, playoff storylines, thoughts from the team and more heading into Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game against Northeastern:

Who, what, when, where:
No. 3 seed Cornell faces No. 2 seed Northeastern in the East regional in Providence on Saturday. Faceoff at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center is set for 4:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNews.

The east regional:
The winner of the Red’s and Huskies’ matchup will take on the winner between No. 1 seed Minnesota State (No. 3 overall) and No. 4 seed Providence for a spot in the Frozen Four.

“We’ve got Northeastern who’s ranked No. 5 in the country right now [in media polls] and you’ve got Providence who’s ranked 11th and we’re 10th,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86. “You got four teams that are basically in the top 11 in the country in one bracket, so it’s a very difficult [regional].”

Bouncing back from a heartbreaking ECAC championship game:
Overcoming adversity has been the theme of the 2018-19 season for Cornell, whether it be dealing with injuries to top players, tough home losses or — most recently — blown calls in overtime of the league championship game.

A fluky play in overtime of the ECAC championship game at Lake Placid left sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda injured; he is unlikely to play this weekend. Sophomore Austin McGrath will make the start assuming Galajda can’t suit up.

Cornell doesn’t have to bounce back from a poor performance: it outplayed Clarkson in the second and third periods and is confident heading into NCAAs.

Schafer: “It’s hard to put things behind you if you didn’t play well or if you left something on the table or you didn’t come ready to play as an individual or you played poorly as an individual but I don’t think any of our guys have any of those kinds of regrets. They’ve been able to be disappointed and upset and angry that things didn’t work out but I think that guys have moved on.”

Cornell suffered a heartbreaking loss at Lake Placid, but is happy with the way it played.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell suffered a heartbreaking loss at Lake Placid, but is happy with the way it played.

McGrath: “A lot of people could look at the outcome and say we lost the game and everybody’s pretty disappointed, obviously, but we’re happy with a lot of the things we did in that game, we played really well. For the majority of the last two periods we really took it to them and pushed hard and did a lot of the things that we want to be doing and you look at that and you take the positives from the game and take that into next weekend.”

Sophomore forward Cam Donaldson: “I think everybody’s kind of turned the page since the championship game. I thought we played really well that game, it just didn’t go our way. If we play the same way we played last weekend this weekend I think we’re in good shape.”

Despite entering the ECAC playoffs at nearly full health, Cornell’s lack of ailments didn’t last long. Junior forward Jeff Malott suffered a knee injury after a collision with Clarkson forward Nico Sturm in the first period of the league championship game. Schafer hopes the top-six forward and physical presence is back for the start of 2019-20.

Time for McGrath to step up (again):
With all the trials of the 2018-19 season, it seems fitting that Cornell enters the national tournament without its star goaltender. McGrath, though, is a more than serviceable backup, as he showed in late 2018 substituting for an injured Galajda and into 2019, when he created a brief position battle with the reigning All-American.

McGrath’s numbers — a 2.15 goals against average and .919 save percentage — are solid. He stepped in for the Red against Dartmouth and Harvard the final weekend before winter break; after making four consecutive starts, McGrath split time with Galajda for two weekends before being relegated to the No. 2 role.

McGrath: “It’s nice to get on a stage like [the NCAA Tournament] and have an opportunity to play and we’re just gonna approach it like another game, try not to get too worked up about it or anything, just be calm and go out there and do what I can.”

Austin McGrath is the likely starting goaltender for Cornell in the NCAA Tournament.

Jose Covarrubias / Sun Staff Photographer

Austin McGrath is the likely starting goaltender for Cornell in the NCAA Tournament.

Schafer: “He played against Harvard which has got a lethal power play and 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. He did a great job when he came in, it’s just 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.”

Donaldson: “Having a good goalie back there is really good for our team and Austin definitely did prove to us that he’s a very, very good goaltender and we’re really happy that he’s gonna be back there.”

Déjà vu?:
For the third straight season, Cornell’s first-round tournament opponent is a red-hot Hockey East champion. Also for the third straight year, the game will take place in New England.

Two seasons ago, UMass-Lowell downed Cornell 5-0 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Last year, No. 1 seed Cornell lost to Boston University, 3-1, in Worcester, Massachusetts. While making the NCAA Tournament is no accomplishment to be sneezed at — and the one-and-done format leaves a lot to chance — Cornell has been here before. Like UMass-Lowell in 2016-17, Northeastern has won 11 of its last 12 games. Last season, the Hockey East champion Terriers had won seven in a row entering the tournament.

Cornell lost to B.U. in last year's NCAA Tournament, but the game marked an improvement from its first-round loss in 2017.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell lost to B.U. in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the game marked an improvement from its first-round loss in 2017.

Schafer: “Every year presents its new challenges and yeah they’ve won 11 out of 12, but everything’s a one-game set right now so we need to come out and be prepared for them and play our hockey. That was the lesson we learned from Lowell to B.U. is that we came against B.U. and we brought our game rather than worrying a lot about Lowell. And I hope that that experience against B.U. last year will carry over into this year.”

Scouting Northeastern:
Record: 27-10-1 (15-8-1 Hockey East)

Hardware: Beanpot championship, Hockey East championship

Key players:
—Goaltender Cayden Primeau (2.00 goals against average, .936 save percentage)
—Defenseman Jeremy Davies (35 points, 56 blocked shots)

Notes and stats:
-The Huskies have six players with double-digit goals and five players with four power-play goals.
-Northeastern surrenders an average of two goals per game, the exact same mark as Cornell.

Schafer: “[Defenseman Jeremy Davies] is outstanding, I’ve kind of compared him to our guys, he’s the Adam Fox or Chase Priskie of our league for Northeastern and Hockey East. … You get to this level, everybody’s got a couple of really good players and they’ve got a really good complement of skill players and usually their special teams are really good, because you don’t get to this level at this time of year without having that combination.”

Series against the Huskies:
Cornell owns a lopsided 14-2 edge in the 16 all-time meetings against Northeastern. The teams have met just six times since 1984, when what is now Hockey East split from the ECAC, and Cornell is 5-1 in those matchups.

What they’re saying in Boston:
Head coach Jim Madigan: “I don’t think we’re playing our best hockey. And that’s a good thing for our club, that there’s still more there. We’re going to need that in our next round of the NCAA Tournament.”

Madigan: “There were times this year where we didn’t score as many goals as we like but we’ve got a goalie who can keep us in the game and we’ve got five defensemen who know how to defend.”

Numbers and notes:
—For the first time since 1970, none of Boston University, Boston College, Michigan, Minnesota or North Dakota is in the NCAA Tournament.

Schafer: “[It] tells you how difficult it is to even get there with such tremendous programs like B.C., B.U., North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota. They’re all not in the tournament [for the] first time since 1970. Maybe that’s a good omen because we won [the national championship] in ’70, so we’ll see what happens.”

—Cornell is one of six teams in the NCAA Tournament that was also in the field each of the last two seasons. The others are Providence, Minnesota-Duluth, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Denver.

—This is the first time under Schafer that Cornell has made three straight NCAA Tournaments.

—Last time Cornell went to Providence in the NCAA Tournament, it won two games en route to the 2003 Frozen Four in Buffalo, New York. The 2019 Frozen Four will take place April 11 and 13 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

—The last time Cornell faced Northeastern was in the 2009 Midwest Regional semifinal, when Evan Barlow ’09 scored with 18 seconds left to propel the Red past the Huskies.

A look at the bracket
The full tournament bracket is available here, or below.

Here are a few tournament primers:
College Hockey News