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Three Cornell hockey players join alums in NHL system

Cole Bardreau watches his teammates at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms game in Scranton, P.A. on April 4, 2015.

Three Cornell seniors stepped into the in world of post-collegiate hockey as each signed entry-level contracts with NHL teams, joining 26 other Cornell alumni currently playing professionally.

Along with the six Cornell alums actively playing in the NHL, there are nine players at NHL affiliate programs and 11 playing hockey professionally outside the U.S.

In March, forward Cole Bardreau, and defensemen Joakim Ryan and Jacob MacDonald, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Buffalo Sabres, respectively.

MacDonald said he is honored to be a part of the Cornell’s history in professional leagues, but for the time being wants to focus his attention on his new start with the Elmira Jackals.

“There are a lot of guys who get to keep playing, and the NHL is kind of the end goal…” he said. “There have been so many Cornellians that have done that in the past, but I’m trying not to think about that…Right now, being one of the youngest guys on the team, I need to learn from the older guys.”

Ryan agreed this was an important aspect as a new member to the Worcester Sharks because of the change in the style of play.

“In the few games I’ve seen since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that everyone is way smarter,” Ryan said. “Everything happens a little quicker, and the guys are bigger, stronger and faster so it’s going to be tough to transition in.”

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Between 1965 and 2015, 189 Big Red players joined an NHL or affiliate team for at least one season. Perhaps most famous is Ken Dryden, an ex-Cornell goalie who went on to play for the Montreal Canadiens from 1971-1979. After his service to the team, his No. 29 jersey was hung in the Canadien’s home venue and Dryden was entered into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Many collegiate players are drafted in their first few years in school and in some cases can be drafted even earlier. College Hockey Inc. reported that the past 12 NHL Drafts have featured at least 60 current or future college players, seven of whom were a part Cornell’s 2014-2015 roster.

In addition to this, the number of NCAA players who are making it into the NHL is on the rise. In the 2013-2014 NHL season 31% of the players came from collegiate hockey programs, an 11% increase since the turn of the century.

While the collegiate route used to be less popular, today it is one that many players tend to lean towards because of the options it provides. Bardreau, who is playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, said this was something that impacted his decision on Cornell.

“I went to Cornell mainly because of the academics. I know that hockey isn’t something that’s going to go on forever so it was the perfect mix,” he said. “I really think I became a more complete player there, which will help me with my versatility moving forward.”

There are two other players from Cornell’s 2014-2015 roster who were both drafted by the time they were 18-years-old, but have yet to sign contracts with an NHL team.

Forward Joel Lowry was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2011 and forward John McCarron was drafted in 2012 by the Edmonton Oilers. According to Cornell’s head coach Mike Schafer, these two players will likely be signed before the end of the school year.

Along with this, Schafer said the program prides itself on bringing in athletes who have already shown great potential prior to arriving on campus.

“All of these players have different talents, but all of them will have an opportunity to play [professionally],” Schafer said. “We have two more kids coming in next year who are draft picks so it’s something that we can continue good players end up NHL players and we’re hoping we can continue bringing those good players to campus.”

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