Cornell men’s hockey was labeled the No. 6 team in the country in the USCHO preseason poll on Monday. The Red fell five spots since the last poll, when the icers were declared the top team in the nation in the final round of polling for the 2019-20 season.
Though the Ivy League prohibited varsity athletic competition for the duration of the fall semester, the possibility remains that Cornell hockey could resume play after Dec. 21 — the college’s last day of final exams. Polling includes teams, like Cornell, that do not yet have plans to return to the ice, just as football AP polling continues to include Big Ten and Pac-12 teams before their return to competition.
Cornell, however, is not unique among NCAA men’s hockey teams in its uncertainty for the upcoming season’s schedule: Only one conference, Atlantic Hockey, has released what seems to be a certain schedule for 2020-21. Its first game is scheduled for Nov. 14.
While some schools outside of Atlantic Hockey, like Cornell, offer no sort of schedule for this year on their site, others show a slate in which almost every game is marked as either canceled or postponed.
University of North Dakota, which is No. 1 in the preseason poll, unsurprisingly labels a pair of Halloween weekend games in Lynah Rink as canceled. The two-game set between the Red and the Fighting Hawks was highly anticipated given that the two teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 last season.
North Dakota will instead start its campaign in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s bubble in December. The eight teams will spend December in Omaha in an effort to play hockey safely amid the pandemic.
The Red not only lost three players to graduation, but also seniors forward Morgan Barron and defenseman Alex Green, who signed NHL contracts this year. Barron was Cornell’s top point scorer and Green was the ECAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. All three of the Red’s captains from last year’s championship-caliber squad — Barron, defenseman Yanni Kaldis ’20 and forward Jeff Malott ’20 — are gone.
But, even down several key players prior to the potential upcoming season, Cornell is regarded as a top-10 squad. Depth across the board and the return of a goaltender who’s started for the better part of his last three years on East Hill in senior Matt Galajda means that the Red is still intimidating to the competition.
Cornell, who received four first place votes in the poll, is the highest-ranked ECAC team. Clarkson and Quinnipiac are the only other two teams representing the conference in the top 20, coming in at No. 8 and No. 13, respectively.
While Ivy League schools make up half of the ECAC, it remains unknown whether the rest of the conference will resume play before the Ancient Eight takes the ice. With the Ivy League making COVID-19-related athletic decisions to this point independent of the ECAC’s rulings, it is difficult to predict whether the entire conference will resume play at the same time, if at all.
Currently sitting above Cornell in the rankings are No. 1 North Dakota, No. 2 Boston College, No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 4 Minnesota State and No. 5 Denver.