It was the first time since 1992 the Cornell men's hockey team had so many newcomers in its lineup on opening night – but just like that night 27 years ago, those newcomers helped deliver a Big Red victory. Cornell fought off the early jitters and a pair of one-goal deficits on Friday night to storm back for a 3-2 victory over Michigan State at Munn Ice Arena.
"We were obviously shaky early on. You look out there and you see eight freshmen in the lineup, and I'm wondering how we ever got picked fourth in the country with so many young faces," said Mike Schafer '86, the Jay R. Bloom '77 Head Coach of Men's Hockey at Cornell. "But I think those young faces played really well, and the older crew knocked off the rust."
It's an annual rite of passage for the Big Red and the other five Ivy League schools that have hockey programs to play their first games of the season several weeks after the rest of the country. But this season saw an added pressure – both from the pure volume of new faces and from the fact that this very same Michigan State (2-3) team handed Cornell two shocking losses to start last season.
Special teams once again helped spur the Spartans. Both of their goals Friday came on the power play, bookending a strike from freshman forward Jack Malone. His power-play goal in the first period marked the second straight year that Cornell got its first strike of the year from a freshman.
The Big Red then got its last two goals from players who scored against the Spartans last year in a two-game series at Lynah Rink. Senior defenseman Yanni Kaldis got the first to clean up a scrum off a broken play on the rush to tie it.
The winner then came – in many steps – from sophomore forward Max Andreev. A verbal tussle after a whistle preceded a play in which Andreev was hit from behind to draw a Big Red power play. Andreev then took advantage himself, sniping a shot from the right faceoff circle past the glove of Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon, off the near post and over the goal line with 5:29 left in the second.
That set the stage for a third period full of possibility for redemption. The Spartans scored four times early in the third in last year's season opener for Cornell to skate away with a 5-1 win en route to a shocking weekend sweep. To keep history from repeating itself, the Big Red turned to new guard – in large part because it had to.
"There was no choice. There's eight of them, so they're going to be out on the ice," said Schafer, who coached from the press box while recovering from surgery earlier in the week. "Give credit to them. I think, for the most part, they got rid of the nerves and got it going. They made poised plays."
While Michigan State's goals in the opening 22 minutes both came on the power play, Cornell stopped the bleeding with two big penalty kills in the third period. On the last, junior forward Kyle Betts had a big blocked shot from the center point, and Galajda made three saves.
"We got into some really good Cornell hockey. We were strong and won a lot of battles," Schafer said. "We played well defensively. I don't think we gave up many chances, so we've just got to get ready for tomorrow night and shore up our special teams a little bit."
Leading up to these games against the Spartans, the Big Red emphasized being more prepared for battle instead of just being sound in its systems. It worked in spades – and without much sacrifice to the Xs-and-Os.
"I think tactically, we were pretty sound," Schafer said. "Especially, I thought we were really sound in our defensive zone. I don't remember guys losing their checks very often – and if they did, they got lots of help. … But overall, our compete and will to win was pretty good."
The Big Red's Lineup
• Cornell and Michigan State will tussle one last time in a rematch at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Ice Arena before embarking on their respective league schedules. For the Big Red, the ECAC Hockey and Ivy League slate get started simultaneously with home games against Brown on Friday, Nov. 8 and Yale on Saturday, Nov. 9 at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, New York.