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The enduring connection between the BCHL and Cornell University


Dating back to 1901, Cornell University has been building the foundation for successful student-athletes to develop their academic and athletic abilities. As it is with many other programs across the US, the BCHL is an active primer for athletes before they make their way into the college ranks.

A two-time NCAA champion in Division I men’s hockey to pair with 12 Eastern College Athletic Conference titles, Cornell has a history of not only winning but also preparing their student-athletes for the next steps in their respective careers.

Based in Ithica, New York, Cornell is yet another phenomenal school not only on the ice but in the classroom as well.

The school challenges its students to get involved, both with their learning, within the community, and in their sports.

As I mentioned already, the history digs deep within Cornell Athletics and specifically the men’s ice hockey program, where the school has seen many successful pro hockey talents make their way through and find a career in the game they adore.

Big Red NCAA hockey

To find out what the sport of hockey means to this school, all one must do is go take a look at the “History” tab on the program’s website. For over 120 years, the Cornell Big Red hockey program has become a household name in NCAA hockey.

Perhaps the most integral part of the operation of the entire program is the longstanding tenure of legendary head coach Mike Schafer.

Schafer, a Cornell grad in 1986, returned to his alma mater as the bench boss in 1995. Since then, he has taken hockey to new heights by introducing structure, culture, and overall winning prowess to an already stout school.

The winningest coach in Cornell history by a country mile, Schafer and his all-time record of 481-261-99 has him at the top of the Cornell men’s hockey record books in every coaching category.

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Under Schafer, Cornell is a perennial top team in college hockey, and in 2019-20, the USA Hockey end-of-season polls had Cornell as the top team in the nation. For his coaching efforts, Schafer took home the ECAC Hockey Coach of the Year award for the fifth time in his career.

For players leaving the BCHL and taking on the fresh challenge of life as an NCAA hockey player, having a mentor and one of the all-time great head coaches behind you every step of the way is essential to the success and development these players hope to take at Cornell.

Current and committed BCHL alum at Cornell

The BCHL and Cornell have a connection like not many others do. With six current roster players from the BCHL and three committed to continuing their playing careers at the school over the next two seasons, it goes without saying that these two go hand-in-hand when it comes to developing players for the sport.

Michael Regush (Merritt, 2015-17), Ben Berard (Powell River, 2016-19), and starting goaltender Matthew Galajda (Victoria, 2015-17) all had key roles for Cornell during their 2019-20 campaign.

Berard and Regush combined for 18 goals and 35 points last season, and Galajda backstopped the Big Red to a 23-2-4 overall record with an insane 1.56 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.

Other former BCHLers on Cornell’s roster in 2020-21 include Kyle Betts (Powell River, 2015-17), Joe Leahy (Penticton/Salmon Arm, 2016-18), and Jack Lagerstrom (Penticton, 2018-19).

As for commitments in 2021-22, the BCHL will provide two bright young prospects to the Big Red program.

Center Shaun Mahoney (Nanaimo) from St-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Quebec, is an interesting addition who can put the puck in the net. He put up 60 points in 56 games in 2019-20 for Stanstead College in the CAHS.

The other addition for next season is Chilliwack Chiefs centre Kyle Penney from Coal Harbour, Nova Scotia. A veteran of two seasons in the BCHL, Penney has been rock-solid for the Chiefs. Averaging .67 points per game should see Penney make a seamless step into college hockey and the ability to play at a very high level.

In 2022-23, defenseman Jack O’Brien (Nanaimo) from White Rock, BC, will step into the college game after committing to a long BCHL tenure, as well. O’Brien is a steady, defensively sound player who will have four BCHL seasons under his belt by the time he heads off to play NCAA hockey.

BCHL and Cornell alumni

For a program that has been on the ice since 1901, the list of prestigious alum comes as no surprise. Salmon Arm Silverbacks great Riley Nash is preparing to make an almighty run at the Stanley Cup in his new home of Toronto with the Leafs.

In 2006-07, Nash had one of the greatest seasons in Silverbacks history, posting 84 points. He then went on to Cornell where he was a point per game player for the Big Red from 2007-10.

Other alumni include but are definitely not limited to Colin Greening, David LeNeveu, and Byron Bitz, all very quality NHL performers at the peaks of their respective careers – and all passing through by way of the BCHL and Cornell University hockey.

As the relationship continues to blossom, and after all of the historic success between these two developmental stepping stones for young hockey players, there is continued hope for more BCHL products to make their way through the NCAA.

With the pandemic soon to be in the rear-view and the ability to access full scouting capabilities once again, the chances of seeing an even larger amount of Cornell commits is likely, and there are plenty of stories still to be written.