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FRESHMAN SENSATION

Flames impressed with goaltender Galajda after banner season at Cornell

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

This wasn't merely a season for the ol' scrapbook.

More along the lines of one for the ages.

"It was an unbelievable year,'' agrees Matthew Galajda, after getting off the ice at the Flames' development camp out at Winsport.

"Didn't really know what to expect when I got there but everything turned out beyond what I could've ever imagined.

"I had a great team in front of me. We have a great defensive system.

"I was definitely No. 2 at the start but got to play right off the start, in the very first game, when our senior goalie (Hayden Stewart) was injured two weeks before.

"So I knew there was a possibility I'd play and just prepared as best I could. Turned out to be a great first weekend for me and I just kept rolling from there."

The 20-year-old Galajda's numbers at Cornell were positively Original Six-ish. Why, Ken Dryden, a Big Red puck-repelling alumnus, would be pea-green with envy:

*A 21-5-2 record.

*A .950 save percentage.

*A 1.51 GAA.

*A shutout streak that went 227 minutes and 11 seconds.

*Nine blank sheets.

*Ivy League Player of the Year, All-Ivy League First Team Star, All-ECAC First Team All-Star, Mike Richter Award semi-finalist and Hobey Bakey Award finalist.

As a freshman, nonetheless.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder hailing from Aurora, Ont., is here in Calgary becoming acclimatized to the pro game on an amateur contract agreement.

"It's nice, my first development camp; nice to see what the NHL is all about,'' says Galadja. "But going into the next year at Cornell, I still have to have the same mindset as I did a year ago.

"I can't look at the end of the last season, sit around now and project what my stats might be. I just gotta keep working hard and prepare for every game as if it might be my last.

"If I do that, I think I'll do pretty well."

The Flames are obviously high on the undrafted Galajda.

"This is a kid that had just an unreal freshman college year,'' says goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet. "I remember following him a little bit when he was back in Victoria (BCHL). I played with Salsa back in the day, so I always still follow that team and that league.

"I think he's a guy always overlooked because of the size of goalies in today's NHL. You see the guys now all at 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.

"Now you're starting to see guys like Raanta, Grubauer, Hutton, have some success. As long as they're smart, read the play well, know how to make themselves look big and play big, they can have success at the pro level.

"Today's the first day I've seen him live on the ice and he's really impressive."

Attitude, in Gadajda's view, is crucial in playing his position.

"I grew up watching (Roberto) Luongo, but I really like Marc-Andre Fleury's demeanour,'' he says. "He's always having a good time on the ice. I try to do the same. I'm really calm in the net. I don't let anything bother me.

"I like to have a couple laughs during games.

"Having a little fun takes your mind off the … pressure, I guess. You see Fleury, he's always laughing on the ice, having fun.

"I think that's a huge thing."

This fall, Galadja heads back to Ithica, N.Y., to continue his studies in hotel administration, majoring in financial real-estate planning, with an eye towards real estate development down the line.

"I'm just taking it year by year," he says. "I like where I'm at right now. It'd take something really big to pull me out of Cornell. I love the place. I love school and I love my program.

"My end goal after school is to play professional hockey, though. For sure. I think if I keep up the work, I think I'll have an opportunity."

Well, if the 2017-2018 season is any indication …

 "To go in as a freshman and put up those types of numbers and play that many games?'' says Sigalet, with an admiring head shake.

 "Hard to do, believe me.

"The transition from junior to college is huge. I didn't play much my first year and boy I struggled when I did.

"For him to do that … this is a guy we're going to keep tabs on."

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