Sporting a perfect record and with one of the season’s toughest games in the rearview, Cornell men’s hockey returns to Lynah Rink this weekend for the last time until mid-January.
Coming off a North Country sweep that included a 4-2 victory over nationally-ranked Clarkson, the Red — now the No. 2 team in the country — hosts Quinnipiac and Princeton this weekend in its third set of ECAC contests.
Behind Cornell’s 6-0 start is the team’s ability to wear down its opponents by beating them in different ways. In two games last weekend, Cornell’s 10 total goals were scored by 10 different players. The weekend before, the Red won behind the star power of Morgan Barron. In several games this season, it’s been special teams success, in others classic defensive efforts fans have come to expect under head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
“We showed we got some guys that can put up big nights but we also can get balance from a lot of different people and that’s always been the strength of Cornell hockey and it always will be, and I think that was never more true than this weekend,” Schafer said.
Thanks to good early-season health and a strong crop of freshmen, the Red has confidently rolled four lines. A team historically known for its defense is scoring 4.83 goals per game — second-best in the ECAC only to Harvard’s whopping 5.4 — and allowing just 1.67, also second to the Crimson. The Red’s power play is operating at an excellent 42.3% clip.
Meanwhile, a freshman-heavy defensive corps has looked solid in front of junior goaltender Matt Galajda, who has allowed two or fewer goals in every game. The Red has allowed just four even-strength goals through six games.
And then there are the stars like Barron — the junior captain whose hat trick powered Cornell to a dominant win in its most recent home game — and seven other players who have two or more goals through six games. 16 skaters have scored a goal so far this season for Cornell.
“Cornell’s usually known as a really defensive team. And obviously I think we’re still a good defensive team [and] it starts with a great goalie in Galajda, but you can see we have a lot of guys who can score,” said sophomore forward Michael Regush. “You can see we have a lot of guys that can chip in and that kind of makes teams have to pick and choose their matchups so it opens it up for us.”
Among the two-goal scorers is sophomore forward Liam Motley, who has played in only two games. On the fringe of the lineup, Motley is one of a handful of forwards who has to earn every minute of playing time. The team’s impressive depth has created a culture of internal competition.
Motley said that although it can be discouraging to not know whether he’ll be in the lineup, the competition in practice makes him and his teammates better.
“Nobody wants to feel like they have to have that uncertainty of ‘I feel like I’m a bottom player on the team.’ It’s tough but that’s just how it is,” Motley said. “Coach Schafer talked about how this is why we wanted to come to Cornell, because of how great the players are, how great our program is. We want that competition, that’s why we want to be here.”
Quinnipiac and Princeton come to Ithaca this weekend looking to put an end to Cornell’s hot start. Coming off a Capital District sweep, the Bobcats are 2-1-1 in ECAC play. The Tigers started the season with a win and a tie on the road at then-No.16 St. Cloud State, but have struggled since, posting an 0-3-1 mark in conference games.
With the Quinnipiac matchup set for Friday, the Red gets the weekend’s higher-profile game out of the way first. Cornell settled for a share of the Cleary Cup last season, tying the Bobcats in the regular season standings. Quinnipiac was picked third in the ECAC preseason poll, behind Cornell and Clarkson.
Like last weekend, when Cornell faced Clarkson on Friday and lowly St. Lawrence on Saturday, the series’ second game is against a lesser opponent, at least on paper. The Tigers were picked 11th in the preseason poll and, after losing a few star players to graduation and the NHL, have fallen a long way since beating the Red at Lake Placid en route to a league championship two seasons ago.
While the season seems to have just gotten started — Cornell has played just six of its 29 regular-season games — the Red is nearing the home stretch leading up to its winter hiatus. After this weekend, Cornell will prepare for a Red Hot Hockey matchup with Boston University set for Nov. 30 in New York City, followed by a road trip to Harvard and Dartmouth to close out 2019 and the unofficial first half of the season.
Face off is set for 7 p.m. Friday against Quinnipiac and 7 p.m. Saturday against Princeton.
—Junior defenseman Cody Haiskanen, who hasn’t played yet this season, is questionable for the weekend, Schafer said on Tuesday. Haiskanen is cleared to practice but just recently got back on the ice.
—After his team jumped up to the No. 2 spot in both national polls, garnering a handful of first-place votes, Schafer said his team’s mindset is better than it was when the Red climbed to No. 1 during the 2017-18 season.
“I think they’re in a better mindset this year than they were [two years ago]. I think as soon as we got to No. 1 there was so much talk about it … that I felt that they were distracted … This year it just seems to be different. We’re a long way away from the end of the year. No. 2, No. 1, No. 5 doesn’t make a difference right now.”