Despite riding an eight-game unbeaten streak into last weekend, then-No. 1 Cornell men’s hockey was not playing its best. That weakness was fully exposed in a shocking 5-0 setback to Quinnipiac on Friday.
The Red, however, did return to form with a 5-3 victory over Princeton the next day. Cornell (15-2-4, 10-2-2 ECAC) — now ranked No. 2 in the country — will square off against Colgate (9-11-6, 7-4-3) in a home-and-home series this weekend.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 believed that the team’s anemic performance on Friday had been brewing for a while.
“Friday night was really, really disappointing,” Schafer said. “It’s been building for quite some time. We haven’t been playing with the passion, energy, enthusiasm — whatever word you want to use for it.”
Junior goaltender Matt Galajda had an uncharacteristically poor performance at Quinnipiac — getting pulled from the game for the first time of the season after letting up five goals. Prior to that, Galajada had only given up three goals once all season.
Still, Galajda maintained his confidence.
“I haven’t really changed anything,” Galajda said. “You have your bad weekends, it doesn’t really affect you or anything you’re doing. You just have to come ready to play.”
Schafer believed that the rest of the team wasn’t happy with its performance either.
“I think the guys were embarrassed,” Schafer said. “They realized after watching the video how poor they were playing — a lot of those were effort areas. You’re a lot more open-minded to coaching when you lose. When you win, you can make excuses for your performance internally.”
The players responded well to Schafer’s coaching, as the Red rebounded against Princeton. Led by junior forward Tristan Mullin’s two power-play goals, Cornell returned to the win column.
“Saturday was a big game for us just to regroup and get back to basics — the stuff that made us successful to start the year,” Mullin said. “I was fortunate with the goals, but I guess sometimes those bounces just go in for you.”
During the contest, though, Cornell let up three goals for only the third time all season. All of the scores came on the penalty kill.
“It was weird,” Schafer said. “For all of those, you see pucks heading toward the net through a maze of bodies, it just seemed that night every time it went through a maze of bodies, it found the back of the net.”
While Princeton did find the back of the net three times, Cornell led throughout the game and dominated the final count in shots, 36-15.
Heading into its matchup against Colgate, the Red trails Clarkson by only two points in the ECAC standings.
The Raiders currently sit at fifth in the ECAC standings with seven conference victories. In 2020, the Colgate picked up ties against Dartmouth and Harvard, but only notched two wins over Union and Princeton — two conference bottom-feeders.
This weekend’s pair of games represents a prime opportunity for the Red to make up ground against the Golden Knights and perhaps overtake them in the standings.
Those prospects would be boosted by the return of junior defenseman Kyle Betts, who has been injured since the Northern Michigan series, leaving a significant gap in the Red’s lineup.
“He went and saw a specialist last week,” Schafer said. “We’re hoping that as long as he progresses and doesn’t get more sore this week, he’ll probably get a chance to get back in the lineup.”
Though Betts doesn’t stuff the stat sheet, he more than makes up for it with his hustle and intensity.
“We missed him — his intensity and the pace that he plays with is phenomenal,” Schafer said. “It’s more than just goals and assists, his impact on the game is huge. When he’s in our lineup, he can kick it into a gear that no else can.”
With sophomore forward Max Andreev back in the lineup and a possible return for Betts in store, the Red — now fully awake after its Friday loss — could also be back at full strength at a pivotal point in the season.
Cornell will first host Colgate at 7 p.m. Friday before venturing up to face the Raiders again in Hamilton, New York at 7 p.m. Saturday.