With the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the 2020 postseason for Cornell men’s hockey along with the entire 2020-21 season, many of the team’s seniors may not skate for the Red ever again, including goaltender Matt Galajda.
In an announcement by Notre Dame, Galajda will be joining the Fighting Irish next season for his final year of eligibility. Though the Ivy League granted a one-time waiver for seniors to play as graduate students next season, Galajda ultimately opted to play for a different squad in his last season of collegiate hockey.
Galajda departs from the program as one of Cornell’s most talented goaltenders in program history. He made an immediate impact upon joining the team, claiming the starting role and racking up 21 victories — the most in the nation for a freshman that year.
He was particularly stout in net, only yielding a 1.51 goals against average and a .939 save percentage, which was the third-lowest mark in the country. He led the country with nine shutouts that year, including three consecutive shutouts that blanked opponents for over 227 minutes.
Bolstered by Galajda’s strong play, the Red achieved the No. 1 ranking midway through the 2017-18 season and hoped to carry that success into the postseason. Unfortunately, a loss to Princeton in the ECAC semifinals and a defeat at the hands of Boston University in the NCAA Tournament prevented Cornell from achieving postseason success.
During his sophomore year, Galajda struggled with injuries but still maintained top-notch play. In 27 games, Galajda posted a .921 save percentage and ranked fifth in the nation with a 1.85 goals against average. Galajda’s season came to an unfortunate end in the ECAC Championship when he was trapped under his own net and injured as a result.
Despite the adversity in 2018-19, Galajda bounced back in a major way the following year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the season short, the Red occupied the top spot in the USCHO.com standings for a solid portion of 2020, much of which can be attributed to Galajda’s presence in the net.
In a return to his freshman-year form, Galajda ranked second in the country with a 1.56 goals against average. The goaltender specifically excelled in even-strength situations — or 5-on-5 hockey — only yielding 24 even-strength goals over the course of 29 games. He also notched five shutouts and was lights out in February, leading the Red to a 9-0 record while posting a 1.34 goals against average and concluded with three shutouts during the final month of play.
During his tenure with the Red, Galajda accumulated a number of accolades. He was named Ivy League Player of the Year twice and was a two-time finalist for the Mike Richter Award, an honor bestowed upon the top goaltender in the country. He was also a consistent presence on the All-ECAC and All-Ivy League teams.
Whichever goaltenders steps into the starting role will have large shoes to fill. Aside from Galajda, there are only two other goaltenders listed on Cornell’s roster — senior Austin McGrath and junior Nate McDonald.
McGrath made 13 appearances as a sophomore, including two contests in the NCAA Tournament. He was named an All-Ivy League first teamer for posting a .925 save percentage against Ivy opponents. McGrath has demonstrated an ability to fill Galajda’s stead, but his return next season remains up in the air as seniors mull whether or not to play as graduate student-athletes.
Meanwhile, McDonald has not appeared in any regular-season games yet as a third-stringer. Though Cornell has not announced its recruiting class yet, the Red figures to bring in several new netminders to compete for the starting role.