The Ithaca area doesn’t have too much going on in terms of sports outside of IHS. The nearest major league teams are far off in Buffalo and New York City, and even the closest minor league baseball teams (the Auburn Doubledays and my personal favorites, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies) are 45- and 65-minute drives away, respectively. Cornell and Ithaca College may have sizable lineups of varsity athletic teams, but many of those are not exactly competitive—take Cornell’s basketball team, which struggled to an 8-21 record last season, or their football team, which finished 4-6. Attendance at these events is rather lackluster these days, and it’s not hard to see why; college students have better things to do than watch sports teams fail to perform on a consistent basis.
However, there’s one collegiate sports team in Ithaca that is not only perennially competitive but creates a fun and entertaining atmosphere for both students and us “townies” alike: Cornell’s hockey team. After a few years of frustration and missed potential, Cornell finally broke through to the NCAA hockey tournament last year for the first time since 2012. Despite a disappointing loss to UMass Lowell in the first round of that tournament, Cornell looks to have convincing potential heading into next season.
The team returns their top three goal-scorers from last year, most notably Mitch Vanderlaan and fifth-round NHL draft pick Anthony Angello. Meanwhile, the Big Red’s defensive core will stay strong, with the dynamic Alec McCrea leading the group. Returning defenseman Yanni Kaldis should also be able to provide some offensive firepower from that position. Perhaps the most interesting and significant question remaining to be answered, though, is at the position of goalie. The only returning goaltender on the roster for Cornell this year is Hayden Stewart, who is the presumptive starter after the graduation of three-year starter Mitch Gillam. Stewart will be challenged by freshmen Matthew Galajda and Austin McGrath, who both have shown considerable talent on their previous junior hockey teams. Though this forces a difficult decision onto the shoulders of coach Mike Schafer as he enters his twenty-third season, it is always better to have too much goaltending talent than too little. The solid combination of talent and experience for the Big Red at just about every position could very well get them a return to the NCAA tournament in the spring of 2018.
The important thing to note, however, is that the entertainment value of Cornell hockey is not limited to the high probability of the team’s success. Just about everyone can find something to love about the experience of attending a game, whether it’s the fast-paced and competitive play, listening to the absurd chants of the student section, or just having an excuse to eat overpriced junk food. Therefore, I recommend that everyone tries to make it out to at least one game this year for a sports experience that anybody can enjoy.