Cameron Pollack/Sun File Photo

Saturday night's Senior Night ceremony will honor six players for their contributions to the team.

February 18, 2022

A Hard-Earned Farewell Lap for Men’s Hockey’s Seniors

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After Saturday night’s game against Clarkson, men’s hockey will honor six seniors on Senior Night. 

The group has seen the program through a tumultuous era. They experienced the heartbreak of a postseason cancellation in 2020, navigated the challenges of not playing last year and led a group of 14 new players into this season.

The group includes three fifth-years who overcame obstacles to return to Cornell and serve as tri-captains this year. Cody Haiskanen, Kyle Betts and Brenden Locke weathered disruptions to their academic careers and came back to lead this team through a season they had no guarantee would occur.

“We really had to decide between a much easier route and coming back without even having a guarantee we’d play this year,” Betts said. “But the love of this program we all have made it worth it.”

“I treat this program as my family,” Haiskanen said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else because I didn’t want to win with any other group, I want to win here with this group.”

A number of common themes emerged in the seniors’ reflections of their careers. All six of Saturday’s honorees expressed appreciation for the lifelong bonds they formed with their teammates and gratitude for their time at Cornell.

“I’m forever grateful for everything that Cornell has done for me,” Locke said. “Looking back I just appreciate all the memories and all the people I got to share those memories with.”

“I think the bonds I created with my teammates are going to last a lifetime,” Liam Motley said.

They all also expressed their affection for the Lynah Faithful and their gratitude for the community’s support. Many credited the students’ and townies’ enthusiasm for their decision to come to Cornell.

“There’s no student section like it. It’s the biggest home ice advantage ever,” Nate McDonald said. “There’s no place we’d rather be than Lynah Rink on a Friday or Saturday night. We’re so thankful for everybody that shows up to support us.”

“If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure I’d be here at Cornell. During my recruiting visit I felt the energy of the Lynah Faithful and that was a huge part of why I chose to come here. I wouldn’t be where I am academically and athletically if it weren’t for them,” Betts said. “It’s not just the student section, but the townies too. There are families that have us over for meals and treat us like their own. It’s really special.”

All six anticipated mixed emotions on Senior Night.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Zach Bramwell said. “Four years have gone by so fast.”

“It’ll be a mix of emotions for sure,” Locke said. “It’s a very proud moment for families, and it’s sure to be an emotional night.”

#3 Cody Haiskanen –– Defenseman

(Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo)

After serving as a reliable presence in the defensive corps for his first three seasons, Haiskanen stepped up as the leader of Cornell’s historically emphasized position group this season. 

“When I came in, the older guys did a great job teaching us and showing us the ropes, so I just want to do the same,” Haiskanen said before the season. “Pass it down to these guys and show them what it means to be a Cornell hockey player and defenseman.”

Haiskanen knew not to measure his contributions in goals –– he’s only scored four –– and as a result he has served as a dependable defenseman who skillfully used his length to block shots and clear pucks. He has posted a plus-22 rating over his career thus far and has served as one of the team’s go-to penalty killers.

“It’s not necessarily my role, but it’s always exciting and fun to score,” Haiskanen said after his first goal of the season last weekend.

In addition to the canceled postseason and the challenges of coming back for a fifth year, Haiskanen’s journey to his farewell lap included recovering from a frightening season-ending injury in the February of his sophomore year.

“We’ve definitely had to battle a little more than other guys have in previous years to get to their Senior Night,” Haiskanen said. “But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Everything happens for a reason.” 

After committing to Cornell in 2016, Haiskanen told The Sun that he chose Cornell because he liked the coaches and players he had met and because he’d receive a great education. Revisiting that thought process ahead of Senior Night and reflecting on what he’d tell a younger version of himself, Haiskanen reaffirmed his decision.

“I’d say you won’t regret it,” Haiskanen said. “It’s the best decision you’ll ever make.”

#11 Kyle Betts –– Forward

(Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo)

He has consistently put up prolific numbers over four seasons on the ice, but Betts’ accomplishments in the classroom may be equally impressive. Betts has managed to rank in the top one percent of his class in the College of Engineering. For his accomplishments on the ice and in the classroom, Betts was named the 2020-2021 ECAC Student-Athlete of the Year. 

“The adversity you go through and the challenges you face as a student-athlete, especially at a school like Cornell, are really unique,” Betts said. “I think you see the character growth, and people over four years here really become mature adults. I think we’ve all experienced that growth, and we’ll be forever grateful to Cornell for fostering that.”

As a player, Betts’ career has been defined by his consistency as a producer and his versatility as a center who could slot in with any wingers and who was prone to wreak havoc on the forecheck. Betts notched 12 points in 33 games as a freshman, eight points in 36 games as a sophomore and 10 points in 24 games as a junior. He has recorded 13 points in 25 games so far in his fourth season. 

In his final year, Betts took on the responsibilities of a role model and a leader, a role he prided himself on.

“We’ve had our ups and downs this year, and I think the effect that’s had on my leadership skills and how I view what it means to be a leader has dramatically changed,” Betts said. “I hope to carry those traits of leadership and things I’ve learned with me. Whether it’s through hockey or in my career eventually, it’s just invaluable experience.” 

#17 Zach Bramwell –– Forward

(Aaron Snyder/Sun Assistant Sports Editor)

Bramwell played sporadically during his career at Cornell, appearing in 11 games his freshman year and two games earlier this month. Despite not spending much time on the ice, Bramwell understood the importance of his role on the roster and embraced the responsibility of staying prepared in case he was needed.

“That’s the reason we have to have extra guys in the lineup and on the team because at any moment somebody is going to be in or out of the lineup,” Bramwell said. “You have to be able to jump in and play a role and be an impact player on the team and on the ice.”

When he was called on, including for the home-and-home series with Colgate this year, he did not take his opportunity for granted.

“I definitely haven’t gotten as much ice time as I would have loved to have had over the past few years,” Bramwell said. “Getting an opportunity to be in the lineup [that] weekend really does mean a lot to me. Having an opportunity to be on the ice with the guys and contribute to the team, it means a lot.”

#23 Liam Motley –– Forward

(Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer)

Ask anyone in the men’s hockey program about Motley, and they’ll probably use the same few words to describe him.

“He’s such a character guy,” freshman defenseman Hank Kempf said of Motley after a 3-0 victory over Yale in November, in which Motley notched his first goal at Lynah.

“Guys like Liam Motley just bring a lot of character and enthusiasm,” said Associate Head Coach Ben Syer.

Motley played in 35 games his freshman year and has played sparingly since, but his biggest contributions have come off the ice. 

“It sucks not playing, but I think it’s been a blessing in disguise in teaching me the importance of being a person of high character,” Motley said. “Hockey of course is important, but the bigger things in life that you take from this game are not on the ice but off it, just learning to be somebody who’s going to make a difference in the world.”

Motley, who has played in 16 games this season, has embraced his role as a mentor and leader during his senior campaign.

“I knew coming into my senior year that this was probably going to be my last year playing hockey. I kind of took a different attitude, just looking at the young guys and helping them adapt to Cornell hockey,” Motley said. “I was so thankful my freshman year for the seniors I had. Trying to pay that back and make an impact is something I’m really proud of myself for doing in my time here.”

#28 Brenden Locke –– Forward

(Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo)

A dangerous offensive threat for four seasons, Locke has posted a remarkable +48 rating and 78 points so far during his career. Locke has been Cornell’s Iron Man, having played in 116 games heading into this weekend. 

Locke seemed to have an uncanny ability to create opportunities for his teammates, piling up 45 assists. For every Cornell goal in the past four years, there’s been a good chance the student section would echo Locke’s name when the PA announced the goal credit.

The ultimate competitor, Locke cited “unfinished business” for his decision to come back for a fifth year. 

Like Haiskanen and Betts, Locke embraced his role as a captain and leader this season.

“I think it’s taught me that being a leader is about constant growth and just continuing to try to better yourself and those around you,” he said.

“Locker,” as his teammates and coaches call him, leads with his positive attitude.

“The COVID season and not playing for a full year kind of put things into perspective,” Locke said. “One of the biggest things I’m going to take away is just enjoying the moment. Don’t take everything too seriously all the time and try to stay positive. There’s a lot of people who wish they could be in a position like this.”

#33 Nate McDonald –– Goaltender

(Ben Parker/Sun Senior Editor)

Regardless of who’s in net, a defenseman’s job is to have their goaltender’s back. But when Nate McDonald is between the pipes, his teammates seem to rally around him with extra enthusiasm.

“The guys love him; they play their tails off for him,” Syer said.

For three years, McDonald was blocked at his position by All-American Matt Galajda and Austin McGrath. McDonald’s patience and persistence paid off when he made his debut as a senior earlier this season. McDonald has gone 6-1-1 in eight starts this season with a .903 SV%. 

“Sticking to the process and trying to work my butt off in practice, I was confident that at some point I would get an opportunity,” McDonald said.

McDonald’s lasting contribution to the program will be his mentorship and guidance of the team’s two freshman netminders. As the senior in the goalie room, McDonald bridged the gap between the Galajda era and what could become the Ian Shane and Joe Howe era. 

“I had a great opportunity to learn from [Galajda] for three seasons and see how he plays and pick his brain,” McDonald said. “If I can cheer [Shane and Howe] on and kind of leave them in the right spot, just leave a piece of me with them and show them work ethic and be there to support them, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”