COVID-19 cut seasons short for most college athletes. For Cornell men’s hockey Jeff Malott ’20 and Yanni Kaldis ’20, the end to their season also marked an abrupt end of their college athletic careers.
The end of their tenure with the Red was devastating as the senior class was hoping to cap their collegiate career with their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament and a run at a league and national championship.
Despite an unceremonious end to their time in Ithaca, the two both moved on to play on professional teams in the American Hockey League, Malott for the Manitoba Moose and Kaldis for the Bakersfield Condors.
Even as a rookie, Malott has already impressed on the Moose, having scored seven goals in his first 12 games. Malott is adjusting to his new team, and beginning to put more trust in them.
“In hockey, a lot of times people say you’re gripping your stick too tight,” Malott said. “It kind of allowed me to not grip my stick too tight and just play our systems and find success through our team’s structure, which has been nice.”
Malott attributes some of his performance so far to what he learned from Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86, who Malott said instilled a strong work ethic in his players and emphasized working hard in practice and over the summer in addition to during games.
“He’s really helped mold who I am as a player,” Malott said. “Everything I’ve learned at Cornell has just helped me get the most out of my potential here as well.”
Watching the older players on the Moose has also shown Malott just how important it is to always work hard.
“You realize that their work ethic is the same every night, nobody takes any nights off . . . so that’s been really cool to learn from them and try to incorporate some of that as well,” Malott said.
Like Malott, Kaldis credited the coaching staff at Cornell with helping him build his whole game and teaching him how to be a good leader. In his time in the Red, the team helped him grow from a shy freshman to an outgoing leader as a senior.
Kaldis has always put a lot of pressure on himself, but similar to his former teammate he has been learning from more veteran players on the Condors to ease the stress. They remind him that one game does not shape his career or who he is and that there is no time to dwell on one loss.
As a player who was used to playing 25 to 30 minutes per game played at Cornell, a reduction in minutes during Kaldis’s rookie year has taken a toll on his confidence.
“Here, the margin of error is a lot smaller,” Kaldis said. “I don’t want to get out there and make a mistake and get benched.”
Malott is unsure where his professional career is headed in the future, but he is excited to continue to work as hard as he can to make the most out of the opportunities he has been given.
“It really is a privilege that we’re able to play this season,” he said. “I don’t really know what [the future] will look like but in terms of the present I’m just extremely grateful for the opportunity so I think I’m just looking to make the most of that.”
Kaldis began his year with a loan to the Dornbirn Bulldogs in Austria, where he played 35 games from September to January before returning to Bakersfield, California for the Condors season.
He hopes to get a shot in the NHL one day, but he could also see himself playing overseas too. No matter what, Kaldis wants hockey to be part of his life.
“I think the biggest thing I took away from being a part of the team at Cornell is just that we’re a team and a family where year after year season after season guys are just putting the team first and making sacrifices and really putting the team ahead of themselves and it really makes you appreciate everything that goes into a successful year.” Malott said.