Sunday afternoon’s game against Nipissing offered a first look at the No. 5 2019-20 Cornell men’s hockey squad in action. The final 6-2 tally marked the team’s 15th exhibition victory across 17 games in the last decade.
With each of those six goals scored by a different player — and four of them coming on the power-play — the Red showed strength throughout the lineup against its opponent, who had a 4-0 record coming into the contest.
But some shaky plays and missed opportunities also demonstrated room for improvement. Here are some takeaways from the tilt.
Lineup and Injury Report
It’s an exhibition game day at Lynah Rink. Here’s how Cornell lines up against Nipissing: pic.twitter.com/u1gIN36NWu
— Raphy Gendler (@raphy_gendler) October 20, 2019
Six players were listed as scratches going into Sunday’s game. Among forwards, freshman Matt Stienburg, junior Cam Donaldson and senior Jeff Malott didn’t suit up. Also scratched were defensemen senior Yanni Kaldis, junior Cody Haiskanen and sophomore Joe Leahy.
“Some of them, it’s just nagging stuff,” Schafer said. “So we just didn’t need to play them early in the season. I don’t think anybody’s [out] long-term right now.”
Haiskanen and Malott both had season-ending injuries last season, with Haiskanen suffering an arm laceration in a 5-0 win over Clarkson in February and Malott tearing his ACL against the Golden Knights in the ECAC Championship game. Malott is still waiting to be cleared for game action, Schafer said.
Malott has been skating and wore a yellow no-contact sweater in Friday’s Red-White game. Kaldis, Donaldson, Stienburg and Leahy didn’t play in Red-White; Haiskanen did suit up.
Flurry of Freshmen
Eight of Cornell’s nine freshmen saw ice time in the match; forward Matt Stienburg was a pregame scratch.
“They’re great,” sophomore forward Michael Regush said of the newcomers. “We have a really strong group. We’re looking for them to contribute a lot.”
Forward Jack Malone — who, along with his classmate Stienburg, was selected in the 2019 NHL Draft — had an assist and a power-play goal.
“Even though it’s an exhibition game, it’s special when you’re wearing the jersey to put your first goal in,” Malone said. “It’s something I’ll remember.”
Injuries throughout the lineup last year, some of which seem to still be nagging some players, gave the freshmen playing time, limiting the damage that could be done to the veterans.
“Things got chippy out there; it’s another reason to keep guys on the bench,” Schafer said.
Power-Play Pros and Cons
The power-play went 4-for-12 on the day, but that 33 percent conversion rate didn’t tell the full story. Even with those four goals, the team wasn’t totally dominant on the man advantage — Nipissing even scored two shorthanded goals.
“We’re just really trying to find chemistry,” Schafer said. “We’ll figure it out, but I was encouraged. We made some good plays. I think we must’ve hit — I don’t know how many — goalposts tonight, but it was a good start. Keep working on that chemistry.”
Also of note is that Kaldis, a captain and a stronghold on the power-play unit, was out on Sunday. Schafer put forth various line combinations throughout the match, none of which are likely to be the one he will use come Nov. 1, when Kaldis is likely to return.
Early in Sunday’s game, the No. 1 power-play unit that emerged featured Regush, junior captain and forward Morgan Barron, junior forward Brenden Locke, sophomore forward Max Andreev and freshman defenseman Sam Malinski.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re out there with your normal linemates that you play with most of the game or someone you’ve never played with before,” Malone said. “You want to go out there with the same mentality every shift.”
Going into Sunday, the Red had only practiced together five times.
“Like many exhibition games, I thought: rusty. In a lot of different areas,” Schafer said.
Throughout the game, communication seemed to be a weak point as players missed passes and couldn’t find one another.
“There’s things in the forecheck, you know, being out of position, being sure that we’re moving away from the puck,” Malone said. “Those are two big ones that [Schafer] said in between periods, we’ve got to improve on — being more intense within the pocket, that’s something that you’ve got to be wary of.”
A New D Pair?
Malinski and junior Matt Cairns were paired up on the blue line for much of the game, and both contributed offensively while looking good as a unit on defense. Malinski had two assists, and Cairns’ second-period goal gave the Red the lead back for good after the Lakers tied the game 2-2.
With Kaldis, Haiskanen and junior Alex Green certain to play top-four minutes and a handful of freshmen hoping to make a splash right away, Cairns worked to make his case to earn some playing time after failing to crack the everyday top-six during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
The Red will take to the ice next Saturday at 7 p.m. to play the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team.