With No. 3 Cornell men’s hockey in the midst of its four-week midseason break, the Red is 10-1, in first place in the ECAC and looking like one of the best teams in the country.
Cornell doesn’t take the ice again until the Fortress Invitational in Las Vegas in early January, but here are some answers to readers’ questions with 11 regular-season games down and 18 to go:
I remember [junior goaltender Matt] Galajda’s brilliance in his freshman campaign and am thrilled to see him returning to that form this year. Do you have any insight as to why he’s had such a bounce-back season? I know he was plagued by injuries a little last year, but it definitely seemed like that wasn’t the only reason for his play slipping.
–Josh Gershenfeld ’21
R.G.: It seems that Galajda is back to All-American form, a welcome sight for a Cornell team that looks like a national championship contender. That Galajda was an all-league goaltender last season and we consider it a down year tells us all we need to know about how good he was as a rookie and how good he’s been to start the 2019-20 season.
Last year’s sophomore slump was exacerbated by injuries: Galajda got hurt in the team’s ugly loss to Harvard at Madison Square Garden and was hurt again in the ECAC championship game just a few weeks after it looked like he was back at 100 percent. He never quite climbed all the way back from the ugly start to the season, when he was pulled from two straight games against Michigan State.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said last season that Galajda is at his best when facing some competition. After an impressive freshman campaign, Galajda came crashing back down to earth a bit to start his second season before improving as the year went on. I think his health — and ability to spend the summer taking it slow and recovering from the injury in March — is reason No. 1 that he’s again among the nation’s best goaltenders. But a second reason might be a change in mindset and a year of growth — Galajda knows that he can’t take a great season like his rookie year for granted. He also knows he has a competent and proven backup in classmate Austin McGrath pushing him in practice. The ability to put a tough season behind him and knowing that he can’t get complacent have helped Galajda bounce back this year.
“His freshman year, [Galajda] won all kinds of awards, and he came back last year and just thought it was going to happen again,” Schafer recently told College Hockey News. “He was [feeling] a little bit entitled, that it was going to be that easy again. He addressed it — he got off to a slow start, and he rectified that.”
WHY can’t these men score on power plays? There must be a weakness somewhere? Or….something technical?
R.G.: For a team that’s 10-1, the power play has been the clear statistical weakness over the past several games. It’s the answer nobody wants to hear, but the primary reasons are small sample size and that special teams conversion rates just tend to ebb and flow. The power play is an ugly 0 for its last 18 and hasn’t found the back of the net in five games, but Cornell has had chances: Against Dartmouth in the team’s first loss of the season, the Red had 10 shots in five power-play opportunities, including five during a third-period man advantage. That might be a good sign going forward, and I’d expect the power play to be a big point of emphasis over winter break heading into the Las Vegas tournament.
But here are two potential reasons for the recent struggles, both just possibilities that I haven’t looked at in-depth enough to say with authority that they’re the reasons for the five-game dry spell:
1. Teams are figuring out that Morgan Barron is dangerous from the right circle
On a number of occasions last season, Barron used his NHL-caliber shot on the power play, winding up from the right circle, receiving an easy pass and beating goaltenders who had no chance. It’s possible that teams are starting to turn more of their attention toward Barron, who has emerged as one of the ECAC’s best weapons in his sophomore season. Two of Barron’s seven goals this year are on the power play — both during the season’s second weekend — and neither were with the team squarely set up in the offensive zone; they instead came on zone entries, against Brown and Yale.
Putting your best player wide open in his favorite spot, moving the puck around and having the defenseman at the point pass it to Barron is a strategy that’s hard to argue with. But it’s possible that teams see the play on video and are trying to force Cornell into plan B.
See below for a look at a Barron power-play goal from last season to illustrate what I’m talking about. Teams might have figured out that they should keep an eye on No. 27. Also check out the fourth goal here.
Morgan Barron from the right circle on the power play: rinse, wash, repeat. His team-leading 12th of the season gives Cornell an early 2-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/xCE4tTLR4Z
— Raphy Gendler (@raphy_gendler) February 10, 2019
2. Yanni Kaldis has gone a bit cold offensively
The senior forward and tri-captain has assists in three of his last five games, but hasn’t scored a goal in five games and has just two on the season. Five of Kaldis’ nine points this came in the season’s first four games. A fixture of Cornell’s top power-play unit, Kaldis takes a lot of pride in the man advantage and his ability to man the point when Cornell is up a skater makes the whole machine work. He has looked just fine, but an uptick in offensive production from Kaldis might give the entire top power-play unit the jump-start it needs.
I know Cornell recruits heavily from Canada but I was wondering if they would consider looking more into Europe. I think teams like Quinnipiac had quite a bit of success recruiting players from Europe.
—@Blackwi90595619 on Twitter
R.G.: Good question. They’ve had success with a couple European players recently — Moscow native Max Andreev (who had a U.S. connection before moving here at age 16) being the latest, and Justin Krueger ’10 at the end of the previous decade being the two best examples. I only can sort of answer the question, but I think Cornell’s reasons for limited interest in international recruiting include:
—Ivy League rules, specifically that the team can’t give athletic scholarships, make things much more complicated. I don’t know much about recruiting rules, but the team also has limited resources to fly across the world to meet with teenage recruits. I’m guessing the Ivy League holds Cornell back from getting super involved in international recruiting. Quinnipiac, for example, whose current roster includes players from the Netherlands, Sweden and Latvia, recruits much differently. I don’t know enough to go into detail, but Quinnipiac builds its program differently than Cornell does.
—Cornell has never been the type of program that looks for really young recruits. Instead, they’ve had success finding kids from juniors, especially in Canada. It’s what Schafer and his team know best, and it’s a process that has helped make Cornell one of the top destinations for Canadian and American players.
Augsburg, Germany, native Nico Sturm, now with the Minnesota Wild, is an example of a successful international recruit. The former Clarkson captain left the Golden Knights after his junior season last year, and was one of the best players in the ECAC. As one of the country’s best defensive forwards for former Schafer protege Casey Jones’ ’90 Golden Knights, Sturm is probably the type of player Schafer would target if he jumped in more to the international recruiting scene. Juho Jokiharju, who definitely had one of the coolest names in college hockey, is another example of Clarkson’s success finding players from Europe.