After two exhibition contests, Cornell will kick off its regular season against Michigan State on the road.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

After two exhibition contests, Cornell will kick off its regular season against Michigan State on the road.

October 28, 2019

Men’s Hockey Season Forecast: Key Players, Storylines, Predictions and More

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No. 4 Cornell men’s hockey starts its season at Michigan State on Nov. 1. Here’s what our beat writers think is in store for the 2019-20 season:

With expectations high following an NCAA quarterfinal appearance, what does the team need to do for us to consider it a successful season?

Raphy Gendler, Sun Sports Editor: Get back to the NCAA Tournament

As a one-and-done format, the NCAA Tournament is a bit of a crapshoot once there, so it’s hard to call a season when a team gets to the tournament anything less than a success. A fourth straight trip to the tournament will give the Red another crack at a Frozen Four appearance. In a competitive ECAC, Cornell should also be back at Lake Placid for the conference semifinals.

Christina Bulkeley, Sun Assistant Sports Editor: Win the Whitelaw Cup

Not having won the Cup since 2010, Cornell is overdue for the ECAC championship. Just earning the Cleary Cup won’t cut it this season — and sharing it will definitely leave a sour taste in the mouths of both the team and its fans again. The Whitelaw should be a tangible goal that will bring a level of prestige back to East Hill that Cornell hockey has been missing.

Luke Pichini, Sun Assistant Sports Editor: Make it to the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals

Yes, the NCAA Tournament is inherently unpredictable, but Cornell should be able to match its result from last year given the bevy of returning players it boasts. Even with a number of injuries hampering the team, the Red still made it to the quarterfinals, where it was bested by Providence. Ranked No. 4 in the country in the lead-up to the 2019-2020 season, Cornell certainly has the capacity to reach the NCAA quarterfinals.

Who will be the team MVP?

C.B.: Morgan Barron

With some speculating that this could be Barron’s last season with the team, it will also be his most impactful thus far. Barron, who entered Cornell as a true freshman in the fall of 2017, will again lead the offense, this year as one of three captains. Last season’s numbers — 15 goals, seven power-play goals and 34 total points — demonstrated that Barron is the most integral part of this team. Given that defense is consistently strong for the Red, Barron’s offensive prowess will be key to Cornell’s success.

R.G.: Yanni Kaldis

While Barron is the Red’s biggest name and most dangerous offensive weapon, its key senior blueliner has been a crucial part of the team in past seasons, and 2019-20 doesn’t figure to be any different. Kaldis will almost certainly lead the team in ice time, be among the leaders in assists and will man the point on the top power-play unit. If Kaldis can anchor a successful defensive unit — one that will likely have multiple freshmen logging big minutes — while using his speed and distribution abilities on offense, he’ll be the team’s go-to guy in the biggest moments.

L.P.: Matt Galajda

Head coach Mike Schafer’s ’86 teams are known for their stout defenses, and this upcoming year will be no different. The heart of the defense is junior goaltender Matt Galajda. During his freshman year, Galajda led the nation with a 1.51 goals against average. He regressed in that department as that number jumped to 1.85, but he was still one of the best netminders in the country. In his third year on East Hill, expect Galajda to come close to replicating his freshman numbers while shutting down opponents in the process.

Junior Matt Galajda has established himself as one of the best goalies in the nation.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Junior Matt Galajda has established himself as one of the best goalies in the nation.

Who’s a breakout player candidate?

L.P.: Brenden Locke

Locke performed quite well last year, totaling 18 points on seven goals and 11 assists. Last season, Locke only took 34 shots, and he converted 20.6 percent of them. If the junior takes more shots on goal, he could emerge as a premier offensive threat. In exhibition play, he displayed his promise, scoring a second-period goal against the U.S. NTDP Under-18 team.

C.B.: Max Andreev

Even while he missed significant playing time in his freshman campaign due to a broken finger and clavicle, Andreev posted promising numbers with eight points across his first six contests in 2018. He scored in the team’s last exhibition against the U.S. National Team Develop Program team and is looking as fresh as ever to start off this season. Expect the forward to break out this year, assuming he stays healthy.

R.G.: Kyle Betts

The junior center has been one of the team’s best defensive forwards since his freshman year, and he went on a mini scoring streak at the tail end of last season. If Betts — like senior Noah Bauld and junior Tristan Mullin, his two linemates late last year — can continue to provide secondary scoring while shutting down opponents’ dangerous forwards, he’ll garner some more attention and take some pressure off the Red’s offensive stars.

What will be the team’s X-factor?

R.G.: Special teams

Cornell returns two all-league goaltenders and most of its best forwards, so defense will be the question early in the season. But with some incoming freshmen likely to make immediate impacts and Schafer’s history of having dominant blue lines, it’s hard to worry about any of the three position groups as a whole. Instead, I’ll be watching what Cornell’s special teams can do, especially early in the season while trying to feel out who will play what roles.

L.P.: Health

After limping down the stretch with several injuries last season, the Red will need to maintain its health if it wants to make a deep postseason run. A year ago, Cornell suffered numerous injuries at the end of the year — including one to Galajda. Fast forward to this upcoming season, and six players were absent from the starting lineup against Nipissing, but that number dropped to four in the following exhibition game. Luckily, Schafer said that none of his players are out “long-term right now.” Still, if Cornell is to achieve success, it must have health on its side.

C.B.: Defense

Going into this year, there are some questions on the Red’s blue line, with three of the team’s defensive strongholds gone after last season. Even while Schafer is known for producing shut-down defenses, this is a unit that will merit extra attention as different players — including some combination of the four freshman defensemen — will need to try and fill in the holes left by the Class of 2019.

While Cornell has been known for its dominant bluelines, there are several holes that will need to be filled on defense.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

While Cornell has been known for its dominant blue lines, there are several holes that will need to be filled on defense.

Which freshman will make the biggest impact?

L.P.: Jack Malone

Hailing from Madison, New Jersey, the freshman forward was drafted in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks after notching 59 points in his second year of USHL play. Malone has also looked promising in exhibition play. Against Nipissing, he tallied a goal and an assist in Cornell’s 6-2 victory. The freshman will likely make a big impact in his first year as both a facilitator and a goal-scorer.

C.B.: Matt Stienburg

Taken at No. 63 in the NHL Draft in June, there is someone in the Colorado Avalanche front office that sees something really valuable in the 18-year-old forward. While he missed Cornell’s two exhibition games due to injury, Schafer said that he will likely be cleared to play come time for the season opener Friday night in Lansing. Stienburg is coming to Cornell straight from St. Andrew’s College in Ontario — if that storyline for a Cornell forward sounds familiar to you, that’s because it should: Barron took the exact same route.

R.G.: Sam Malinski

With the graduations of Matt Nuttle ’19, Alec McCrea ’19 and Brendan Smith ’19, there’s an opportunity for a rookie blueliner to earn top-four minutes alongside Kaldis, Green and junior Cody Haiskanen. While playing time will depend on what’s asked of junior Matt Cairns and sophomore Joe Leahy, Malinski could break out as a go-to defenseman. The State of Hockey native picked up a pretty assist in the team’s first exhibition game, sending Andreev a nice stretch pass, and he and Cairns looked like a legit defensive pairing. Malinski recorded 45 points and had a plus-20 rating with the Bismarck Bobcats last season.

Give us your prediction — record, ECAC finish, NCAA Tournament?

R.G.: 20-6-3, first in ECAC, NCAA quarterfinals

Cornell has all the pieces in place to win the ECAC and contend for a spot in the Frozen Four. While the defensive unit will be a question early on, I expect the team to quickly sort things out and be one of the best teams in the country in February and March. With several core players in their junior seasons and a handful of freshmen likely to turn heads, the Red will fall just short of a Frozen Four.

C.B.: 22-4-3, first in ECAC, NCAA first round

This year’s team has all the capabilities to be dominant throughout the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of deterioration come time for the NCAAs. Last year’s team was plagued with injury, leading a beat-up Red to struggle at times down the stretch. While nobody can predict whether the same misfortune will befall the team this year, I see the Red falling in the first round of the tournament; after all, despite being the better team last March, they fell to Providence, who had home-ice advantage, in the quarterfinals.

L.P.: 22-5-2, second in ECAC, NCAA semifinals

The Red is one of the best teams in both its conference and in the nation. Still, Cornell has not claimed a Whitelaw Cup since 2010, and I predict that it will fall short once more. But Schafer and co. will make the necessary adjustments heading into the NCAA Tournament. Once it reaches that stage, Cornell will make a run that culminates in its first Frozen Four appearance since 2003.

Thoughts on the new scoreboard recently installed at Lynah Rink?

C.B.: Much needed

Though Lynah’s antiquity offers a certain charm, the video boards add some extra flair to the arena. They’ll enhance spirit while also offering fans information throughout the game.

R.G.: Big fan

In a changing sports market, Cornell hockey is smart to find new ways to engage fans. The video board adds a nice modern touch to Lynah Rink’s historic charm.

L.P.: Nice touch

I think it’s a great addition that doesn’t change Lynah Rink in any negative way — rather, it will enhance the experience for Cornell fans.