NEW YORK — Saturday night’s Frozen Apple matchup between Cornell and Penn State was the second time the two programs had ever met.
The last time they met, Franklin Roosevelt was the President of the United States and all of Cornell’s home games were played outdoors at Beebe Lake. The Big Red came away with a 7-1 victory in that matchup in February of 1944. Cornell took a 3-1 win Saturday night.
Needless to say, a lot of things have changed since that cold afternoon on the Ithaca pond. Penn State has revived their varsity program in the past three years, while the Big Red has seen two national title banners rise to the rafters of Lynah Rink.
One thing that required some serious change for the Big Red this season was their goaltending, something they did not need to address for the past three seasons. Andy Iles was the man for Cornell during most of his time with Cornell. He holds the all-time record for career saves at the school, and his absence left a glaring hole at the position, as the twosome slated to replace him only had one collegiate start to their names.
The departure of two of Cornell’s top-six defensemen from last season, and an injury to defensive leader Joakim Ryan, just added to the uncertainty at the beginning of the new campaign, but the inexperienced goaltending duo of sophomore Mitch Gillam and freshman Hayden Stewart has answered the bell for the Big Red.
“I’m shocked,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer when asked about the play of his team’s young goalies. “Not having Joakim Ryan on the blue line and having all of those new defensemen to go along with two new goaltenders, then looking at our defensive performance leaves me shocked.”
Gillam’s standout play has landed him a place amongst the national leaders in goaltending. Following Saturday’s action, Gillam finds himself in the eighth spot in the nation in terms of goals against average, while his .949 save percentage puts him in a tie for third with Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Massa.
“I’m just keeping it simple right now and trusting my defensemen,” said Gillam. “Our defensemen are doing a great job getting the puck up to our forwards so they can get to work on the other end.”
While the sophomore ‘tender has been racking up the big numbers early on for Cornell, the Big Red has an ace in the hole, who has made quite the impact in his two starts so far this season.
Just last weekend, Stewart became the first Big Red freshman goalie to earn a shutout since current Edmonton Oiler Ben Scrivens did it back in 2006. The strong outing did not come as a surprise to those who know Stewart’s hockey background, as his strong play in net lifted his Indiana Ice to a Clark Cup title last season in the USHL.
Having such a strong presence in the backup role has created a strong competition between the two goaltenders.
“Mitch is looking over his shoulder at Hayden during practice, and Hayden is a really nice goaltender,” said Schafer.
Competition in net was something that the Big Red had lacked, as the past two seasons saw no real threat to Iles’ playing time. With two young goalies between the pipes now, a heated competition for the important minutes has sparked Cornell’s defensive performance.