Last year, Cornell men’s hockey limped its into matchup against Harvard at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center in desperate need of a win.
A week earlier, the Red had suffered a debilitating 4-1 loss to the Crimson at Madison Square Garden, a game in which then-sophomore goaltender Matt Galajda was forced out of the game due to injury.
Despite playing in hostile territory, Cornell ground out a 2-1 victory with then-sophomore goaltender Austin McGrath in net to go above .500 and enter the break on a high note.
This time around, the Red came into the game playing some of its best hockey. Cornell was sporting a perfect 9-0 record and had largely lived up to its preseason billing as a national contender.
Playing at Lynah East, No. 2 Cornell continued its perfect start, notching its 10th straight win with a 3-1 victory over No. 12 Harvard.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 noted last year’s key victory.
“That was one of my biggest wins I have ever had as a college coach here last year,” Schafer said. “I look back at the video and at our lineup, and I’m like, ‘How the heck did that ever happen?’ Our guys remember that. As we always say, it’s never easy. Even this game tonight, it wasn’t an easy game — a grind to the very end.”
Despite their status as the nation’s last undefeated team, the pressure has not yet cracked the Red.
“We’re over the tipping point where we were 6-0 or 4-0 and the polls and the winning streak and all that stuff,” Schafer said. “I think our guys are over that now — they’re hunkered in, and they’re playing.”
The Red entered Friday’s contest as a strong second-period team, having scored 22 of its 38 goals in the middle period. But in its past few games, Cornell has struggled to generate much offensive production in the opening frame. That was not the case on Friday night.
Just five minutes into the game, the Red earned the first tally as senior forward Jeff Malott picked up his own rebound and whipped a backhanded shot past Harvard goaltender Mitchell Gibson.
Prior to that shot, Harvard killed Cornell’s first power-play chance of the night mere seconds earlier. The Red had already tallied six shots on goal compared to the Crimson’s mark of zero.
From there, Cornell continued to dominate in the first, hogging the puck and not allowing Harvard to escape its own zone. In the waning minutes of the first frame, junior forward Brenden Locke gave the Red another tally as he scored from the top of the crease.
By the end of the period, the Red led, 2-0, and held a significant 17-4 edge in shots on goal. Harvard struggled to generate much offense while Cornell continually applied pressure on Gibson.
“That’s pretty much an ideal first 20 minutes,” said junior captain and forward Morgan Barron. “I mean, there were a few mental lapses, but other than that, it was a good start for us.”
This trend continued early in the next frame. After peppering Gibson with more shots, the Red broke through once again thanks to a pair of first-year players.
Freshman forward Jack Malone and freshman defenseman Travis Mitchell collaborated on the Red’s third goal. Malone set up Mitchell with a nice feed, and from the right circle, Mitchell’s one-timer hit its mark, further extending Cornell’s lead.
“Travis Mitchell had a great goal tonight,” Schafer said. “He kind of slid down and slid out backdoor, finding space backside. It was another freshman — Jack Malone — who found him.”
It was not smooth sailing from there on out. Despite staring at a three-goal deficit, the Crimson did not break. Harvard finally got its first real chance on offense after freshman Sam Malinski was sent to the penalty box for a big hit he levied on a Crimson skater.
Having scored a power-play goal in six straight games, the Crimson had a chance to narrow the gap with a one-man advantage. On the power play, Harvard finally got on the scoreboard as Nick Abruzzese beat Galajda on a snipe from the right circle.
The Red and the Crimson alternated shots before Harvard earned another power-play opportunity following a tripping infraction by sophomore forward Max Andreev.
This time, though, Cornell’s penalty-kill unit came through, denying the Crimson to preserve its two-goal lead.
During the early minutes of the final period, Harvard started to achieve consistent pressure on Galajda, but to no avail. The junior was there to stop every shot he faced from the Crimson.
Meanwhile, the Red soon regained control and went on the man-advantage on its second power-play chance. Despite a near goal by senior defenseman Yanni Kaldis on the doorstep, Harvard denied Cornell’s power-play unit once more.
“I thought we got going again in the third where we kind of controlled things and had some long shifts in our zone,” Schafer said.
With 3:33 left in the contest, Harvard’s Jack Drury was whistled for slashing on Kaldis, all but sealing the Crimson’s fate. The Red played keepaway for two minutes, and Harvard opted for an empty net in desperation, but it could not get the puck past Galajda, who wound up with 23 saves by the end of the night.
“We kept making them go back to the perimeter out to the blue line,” Schafer said. “Our guys did a good job blocking shots or picking up around net, and when they did, Matt [Galadja] was there, as he has been all year.”
“I think the rest of the season is just going to be about maintaining [the good start] a little bit better,” Barron said. “We fell asleep there a bit for the second and third — it’s just going to be about trying to figure out how to play that way for the full 60.”
Schafer attributed the team’s success to depth and practice.
“We got guys that are chomping at the bit to get into the lineup, so when practice hits on Monday, it’s a battle,” Schafer said. “At the same time, they’re great kids — they’re not moping. They know that we’re off to a good start, and they continue to try to make themselves better, which in turn, makes us more consistent and our team better.”
Cornell will attempt to maintain its perfect record on Saturday night at Dartmouth.