With just over a minute left in the first period of men’s hockey’s Jan. 2 game against Arizona State last season, senior goaltender Nate McDonald made his way to the bench and an unfamiliar face hopped over the boards and made his way to the net. The substitution was so unexpected that Arizona State’s announcers did not seem to notice that a new goalie was in the net for Cornell.
Men’s hockey was in the midst of its winter break road trip to Arizona and North Dakota. Cornell had played 12 games, and freshman Ian Shane had not been much of a factor in a wide open goalie battle.
The departure of star goaltender Matt Galajda to use his last year of eligibility at Notre Dame left Cornell with an experience vacuum at the position at the start of the 2021-2022 season. Shane and fellow freshman Joe Howe were new to college hockey, and McDonald had yet to see the ice during his college career.
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 and his staff evaluated the position week-to-week, but for the first two months of the season, Shane was left out of the equation as McDonald and Howe took turns in net.
Shane and Schafer described that first semester as an adjustment period. After two years away from school in junior hockey, it took Shane time to acclimate to college hockey while balancing academics.
“I had never visited campus before. I hadn’t met the whole staff and a lot of the guys in person,” Shane said. “It was a lot of new experiences, a lot of new faces and on top of that, adding academics back into my life… I guess it kind of caught me in sort of a weird mental space and I think it kind of lingered in my game.”
After a difficult first semester, perhaps it’s not surprising that Shane broke out during winter break, when life for members of the men’s hockey team resembles their time in juniors – all about hockey.
“[Winter break] definitely benefited me. It took away 50 percent of my stress and allowed me to just focus on hockey,” Shane said. “It’s such a fun time of year…you’re really bonding with all the guys. I think that did help a lot with my confidence.”
Arizona State’s rink and its 700 person seating capacity is the closest Division-I rink to Shane’s hometown of Manhattan Beach, California. Shane had traveled to Tempe to play games there as a kid. When he finally got his chance in a familiar environment, he did not disappoint. Shane stopped all 23 shots that he saw in an impressive and surprising debut.
“[Shane] was a great goaltender in junior hockey. He showed a lot of promise,” Shafer said. “I think it just took him a long time to transition to college hockey. It’s a jump. Once he figured it out, he gained confidence in himself to continue to go and adjust his game.”
The performance earned him the starting nod in the team’s next game. Five days after his debut, Shane led his teammates onto the ice in North Dakota’s 11,000 seat Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“It was intimidating,” Shane said. “You always hear [Cornell fans chant] ‘red’ during the national anthem. At North Dakota it was dead silent. That was when everyone was like, ‘Oh, we’re really in enemy territory.’”
Shane made 23 saves on night one and 32 saves on night two to lead Cornell to a sweep of No. 5 North Dakota. Two weeks later, Shane made 33 saves to snap No. 1 Quinnipiac’s 17 game unbeaten streak.
Big moments don’t rattle Shane. After making 33 saves on 34 shots against the nation’s top team, Shane emerged from the locker room, removed his top hat and said that watching Quinnipiac put up nine goals against Princeton earlier that week didn’t concern him and just made him think they hadn’t faced Cornell.
Confidence is key for Shane, and as much as he struggled in his first semester, that winter break put him in a groove that he was able to build on. After four road games to start his career, Shane made his regular season debut at Lynah just as students returned to campus for the Spring semester.
“It makes you comfortable, playing in front of these fans, playing in front of the band and the Lynah Faithful,” Shane said. “You know that everyone there wants you to succeed, they want the best for you. When you start playing more and more they kind of expect the best from you, but it just kind of gives you that little confidence boost.”
Shane never looked back after his breakthrough. Aside from a weekend in February when he was sick and Senior Night, when he gave way to McDonald, he started the rest of Cornell’s games and finished the year with a .933 save percentage.
His hot start put him on the watch list for the Mike Richter Award, which goes to the best goaltender in college hockey.
“It would be dishonest to say it [wasn’t] a confidence boost,” Shane said. “But it definitely wasn’t a main goal of mine or a focus point.”
Shane’s ability to navigate a challenging start to his time at Cornell came from his experience dealing with other difficult transitions in his hockey career. In juniors, he moved in the middle of the season from the USHL’s Chicago Steel to the NAHL’s Bismarck Bobcats, a change he said he struggled with.
“[Bismarck] was a place that really forced me to kind of dig deep into who I am,” Shane said. “I didn’t have the same resources or the same support group around me in Bismarck that I did in Chicago.”
Shane turned to mindfulness techniques to help cope with the change.
“I started reading a lot, and I picked up things from that. I started journaling a bit,” Shane said. “It probably took a few weeks, but I definitely noticed the results.”
Those same techniques helped him make the adjustment to Cornell, and help him stay locked in on the ice.
“It was something that helped me last year, just getting adjusted to everything,” Shane said. “Sometimes you kind of have to compartmentalize and push things to the side. Once you practice that mindfulness it makes it a lot easier to compartmentalize.”
Part of finding success as a goaltender means being able to forget about the last play and focus on the next one. Shane said that reading, journaling and meditation have helped him let go of distracting thoughts and get into what he describes as a flow state when he’s on the ice.
“I think that’s part of the reason you can brush stuff off as a goaltender,” Shane said. “You’ve gotta have that mental ability to just stay level headed regardless of what’s happening.”
Attentive fans will notice Shane engaging in techniques to refocus himself in the net. During stoppages of play he’ll skate to the boards and back to the net. Ahead of big moments, like when Cornell goes on a penalty kill, Shane lifts his mask and squirts his water bottle in the air before taking a sip.
“I’ll do the water bottle toss and kind of just watch one water drop come down and hit the ice and do some breathing techniques to clear my head,” Shane said. “Most of the games I’m not really thinking. Personally I don’t think I can think and play at the same time. I just like to play.”
Despite his growing confidence on the ice, Shane doesn’t feel established as the team’s starting goaltender this season. He’s the lone returner from last season, but the team has added highly touted prospect Remington Keopple, who was on Team USA’s roster for the World Juniors.
“You’re never going to be — especially here — you’re not going to be established going into the year,” Shane said. “Our big motto this year is ‘earn it,’ and that’s for everybody.”
Schafer would not tip his hand as to who his starter will be, but Shane started both of the team’s exhibition games.
“Oh, there’s still a competition,” Schafer said. “All our guys have to earn their spots. Just because [Shane] was here last year, he knows, it’s not given that he’s the guy. He works hard and so does [Keopple].”
Even if he doesn’t think of himself as the team’s established starter, Shane knows that the team is relying on him. Last season, Shane’s elite play in net carried the team during a difficult stretch of second half injuries. Going into his second season, the prospect of Shane replicating the success he had as a rookie is a reason for optimism for Cornell’s 2022-2023 season.
“I just take it one day at a time,” Shane said. “I just want to be the guy that our team can rely on in the next game.”