Anyone in a carnelian and white jersey who steps into the goal creases of Lynah Rink immediately has sky-high expectations thrust upon them. With the likes of Mitch Gillam ’17, Andy Illes ’14, Ben Scrivens ’10 and, certainly not least, pro hockey hall-of-famer Ken Dryden ’69 all gracing the blue paint on East Hill, the bar is high for any iteration of a Cornell men’s hockey goalie.
Thursday night, with an injury to senior goalie Hayden Stewart, freshman Matt Galajda, received the news he would get the start in the team’s home-opener against Alabama-Huntsville.
“When I got the text, I definitely had a smile on my face knowing that I was going to start my first game,” Galajda said.
After a solid preseason, appearing and impressing in both exhibition games, Galajda more than lived up to the hype Friday, carrying a shutout bid into the final minutes, stopping all but one of the 29 shots he faced en route to a 5-1 season-opening win for Cornell over Alabama-Huntsville.
“He’s played that way in practice,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said of his young goalie. “He has been getting better and better as the fall has gone on.”
“To be able to see him go out and stand on his head like that was awesome,” added Galajda’s classmate forward Morgan Barron, who attended the same high school as Galajda and netted his first collegiate goal Friday. “He made some unbelievable saves.”
Galajda was tested early, as the Chargers unleashed 16 shots on him in the first period, but the freshman out of Ontario turned all he faced aside.
A majority of Galajda’s first-period shots came while Cornell was busy nursing penalty kill after penalty kill. With Cornell only facing one five-on-three all of last year, the Red had to kill two off alone in the opening period of the 2017-18 season.
Sophomore forward Noah Bauld’s season debut was cut short after he sent UAH forward Brennan Saulnier, brother of Cornell women’s hockey alumna Jill Saulnier ’15, awkwardly into the boards. Bauld was assessed a 10-minute game misconduct, sending him to the showers and Cornell to kill a five-minute major just 42 seconds into killing a slashing minor by senior captain and forward Alex Rauter.
Upon killing the Rauter minor and getting back to five-on-four, sophomore defenseman Yanni Kaldis was called for a hook with 53 seconds left in the first period, sending Cornell back on a five-on-three kill.
But Galajda was able to stand on his head, stymying not just those two five-on-threes but all six shots he faced on as many power plays on the night.
“Matt saved us [on those kills],” Schafer said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Luckily for Cornell, the team was able to fight through the penalty-killing palooza with a one-goal lead off the stick of junior defenseman Alec McCrea. Four seconds after Cornell drew a power play of its own 4:35 into the game, McCrea collected a pass off the faceoff from classmate forward Beau Starrett and sent a bouncing puck past UAH goalie Jordan Uhelski’s far side to get Cornell on top first.
McCrea matched his goal production from last year just 4:39 into the 2017-18 season.
“It’s mind-boggling that he only had one [last year],” Schafer said. “We [couldn’t] believe it as a coaching staff, he shoots the puck so hard.”
Senior alternate captain and forward Trevor Yates doubled Cornell’s lead after the penalty festival with five minutes played in the first period, and then Barron netted the first of his career to make it 3-0.
“They can tell us about it as much as they want, but I don’t think anything is going to prepare you for what it was,” Barron said about the Lynah environment. “To be able to bury one and … to help the team get started on the right foot was a lot of fun.”
Sophomore forward Jeff Malott notched a pair of goals in the third, and the younger Saulnier ended Galajda’s shutout bid with 3:08 left in the game to leave Lynah with a 5-1 final score.
Joining Galajda in making collegiate debuts Friday were six freshmen skaters, who combined for four points on the night. In addition to Barron’s tally, Brenden Locke earned his first career point with an assist on the first Malott goal, and Cam Donaldson added two helpers of his own before leaving the game after taking a low, nasty hit late in the third period.
“If that was the NHL, we would be fighting still,” Schafer said after the game in reference to the Donaldson hit, adding that he believes the freshman will be ok. “[The refs] said [the UAH player] hit him on the hip, but don’t know what they were watching on that particular play.”
Galajda, however, quickly stood out to endear himself to the Lynah Faithful and reaffirm that no matter who Cornell throws in net, that person seemingly finds a way to impress.
“It means a lot to me knowing all the goalies who have played here over the years,” Galajda said. “Hopefully I can be one of them too.”
Cornell and UAH get right back at it Saturday at 7 p.m. from Lynah.