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  • Emma Garcia

Avalanches and Islanders

Photography by Matt Dewkett, Cornell Athletics

Travis Mitchell (Left) and Sam Malinski (Right)

Many names have graced the ice at Lynah Rink. We know their names, jersey numbers, and perhaps some of the “Faithful” even know their statistics. For the most part, our understanding of these athletes stops right at the edge of the ice, not extending any further. Yet, we chant their names and applaud them one by one as they skate to the line. We see the end of chapters and the starts of new ones as their time at Cornell fades, but their journeys to this point are far deeper than we can even begin to fathom. Cornell hockey’s co-captains, Sam Malinski '23 and Travis Mitchell '23, both signed their first NHL contracts this March with the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Islanders respectively. Giving blood, sweat, and tears to the sport, they have both without a doubt made a lasting impression on the hockey culture at Cornell and all that have had the opportunity to watch them on the ice.

Crediting a large influence in starting the sport to his family, Travis Mitchell has felt immense support throughout every stage of his career, even at a young age. Having moved between Ohio and Michigan during his dad’s time in the pros, Mitchell has always had some part of hockey surrounding him. Sharing that as a child he would be fully decked out in hockey gear, and would have family members announce his name as if he had just been called up to the starting line. Having skated since he was two years old, Mitchell mentioned that “the joke in our family was that I was skating before I was walking.”

Image Provided by The Mitchell Family

Mitchell’s father, Jeff Mitchell, had played professionally for ten years. Having played a little bit in the NHL with the Dallas Stars as well, Mitchell naturally looked up to his father as he started a hockey journey of his own. He notably recalled the role his father played during his early years of hockey: “ He coached me from the age of around four or five until I was fourteen. When I was ten years old, he coached our team to a state championship. Being able to win with him was a cool thing to do, especially since he had gone through the whole process of making it to that next level. To be his kid and win something with him was a feeling like no other. It made me realize at a young age that this was what I wanted to do.”

Image Provided by The Mitchell Family

From playing with community and recreation leagues, to travel teams, and eventually ending up at Honeybaked, a AAA/Tier 1 program, Mitchell would continue to build this foundation to fuel what was to come next. At sixteen, he would get drafted into the USHL, the nation’s top junior ice hockey league, where during what would be his junior year of high school, he would end up in Muskegon, Michigan with the Lumberjacks.

Describing how his time at Muskegon shaped his mentality, he explained, “You always hope that you will be able to talk to schools and play college hockey. But that is when you start to have those conversations and begin to realize if you will be able to live that dream out. Once I made that team, it gave me the confidence and hope that I was going to be able to do something like that.”

Talking about his own hockey journey, Sam Malinski shares every moment and memory with a smile and often a laugh. You can see the light in his eyes when discussing his family and friends and their influence on his life and hockey career. Hailing from Lakeville, Minnesota, a state with a hockey culture that stands on its own, it is not surprising that Malinski started skating at a very early age. Coming from a wrestling family, pursuing hockey is credited to his father teaching him at three years old how to skate. He loved it right away.

Image Provided by The Malinski Family

For Malinski, his focus was not solely on hockey growing up. Hockey was more of a hobby, something that he enjoyed doing with family and friends: “Growing up, being a kid from Minnesota, playing outdoor hockey was something that I loved to do. My parents would drop me off at the rink in the mornings or after school, and I pretty much spent the entire day there with my buddies just playing some pick-up pond hockey. It was a great opportunity for me to work on my skills, but also just to play for fun and enjoy time with my buddies.”

“For a couple of years, my dad actually built a rink in my front yard. So, I got to go out there and play hockey with my two brothers. We were obviously extremely competitive with it, but honestly I just have a lot of great memories with me and my brothers out on the ice.”

In Malinski’s junior year of high school, a coach would tell him that he could possibly take the sport further and perhaps even play college. This was when the shift from hobby to passion occurred, prompting him to stop playing high school football and focus more on hockey.

Image Provided by The Malinski Family

Playing three years of high school hockey, Malinski shared the magnitude of being able to play in the state tournament his senior year: “Minnesota lives and breathes hockey, so growing up that was a big deal. I will always remember my dad taking me out of class to go watch the high school state tournament: it is a cool environment and atmosphere. Every year they sell out the Xcel Energy Center, where 18,000 people watch a high school tournament. That was something that I dreamed of playing in growing up.”

Having excellent junior and senior year performances on the ice, junior teams began to reach out to Malinski. However without a ton of interest from colleges, he opted to take the junior route in hopes to elevate and further develop himself. With every step of this process, Malinski would continue to commit himself to focus on his development.

Photography by Hope Magelky, Bismarck Bobcats

He would play half a year with the Cedar Rapid RoughRiders before playing for the Bismarck Bobcats for a year and a half. Malinski regards Bismarck as a key point in development, stating, “Playing in Bismarck gave me the opportunity to prove myself to Division I teams, which eventually led me to Cornell. They call it [the NAHL] ‘The League of Opportunity’ for a reason, and at that point in my career, that was exactly what I needed. The coaches did a great job of developing me as a player so that I would be ready to play at the next level. A lot of credit goes to them for my early success at Cornell.”

In the November of his second year of juniors, Malinski would commit to Cornell, recalling: “The whole recruiting process had been a little stressful when sorting through the schools. But as soon as Cornell reached out to me, I immediately knew that Cornell was the place where I wanted to be. I knew that they had a strong hockey program and heard a lot of great things about Coach Schafer. With the strength of the coaching staff, hockey program, and Ivy League academics, it was a no-brainer for me.”

Much like Malinski, Mitchell’s years during juniors were crucial to getting him ready to join the Big Red. After Mitchell’s first year at Muskegon, he would then get traded to the Omaha Lancers where his development would elevate to another level. Mitchell played under Coach Dave Wilkie, where he noted that Coach Wilkie “put a lot of trust and gave me a lot of opportunities to be myself and play the game the way I wanted to play, he taught me a lot and helped me get ready to play college.”

Image Provided by The Mitchell Family

At age seventeen, Mitchell would commit to Cornell. Recalling this moment, he described, “I had visits for two other schools as well, and I think my Cornell one was maybe a Tuesday. I had one on Wednesday and another on Friday. I took my visit with Coach Syer, Coach Flanagan, and Coach Schafer. I remember seeing the rink for the first time and walking around campus. I could see how much the coaches cared and wanted to see you develop, you could feel that from them when they spoke with you. I remember sitting down with my parents in Coach Schafer’s office and him saying, ‘If you want to come to Cornell, we would love to have you here.’ I committed right on the spot, without telling or discussing it with my parents. Needless to say, they were just as surprised as anyone else. It was just one of those things, where you know it is the place you want to be.”

Taking a gap year before joining the Big Red at nineteen years old, Mitchell felt that his gap year helped him “focus on my development, and I also wanted to make sure that when I came to Cornell, I was going to be ready to play and make an impact as a freshman. I did not just want to come in too young and not be able to play or be strong enough to make an impact.”

Coming to Cornell, the hockey program gave Mitchell the platform to continue his development. He highlighted how the coaching staff that initially drew him to Cornell have believed in him throughout it all and have made lasting contributions on his play and overall development.

Photography by Rick Wilson (

With a new phase in his journey, as he makes the shift from college hockey to the professional leagues, Mitchell spoke about how “right now, I am looking forward to any type of opportunity and way that I can get better. Our season ended not too long ago, so right now it’s all about learning how to train like a pro in the summer and what I have to do to get my body ready to play a season that is going to have 80 games, as opposed to college where you’re playing only 34/35 games. Making those little adjustments and seeing how well I can adapt to this next level is both new and exciting. I am excited to see what the future holds and how I can continue to improve my own game so I can play at the highest level possible.”

Sharing his thoughts regarding professional hockey during his years at Cornell, Malinski remarked, “I had a good freshman year, and I started to get a little interest from pro teams, and it started to seem real that I might have a shot at playing pro. Then with the pandemic, we did not end up playing my sophomore year, that was a tough and unfortunate situation. With that, I wasn’t too sure if I could go back and have a good junior and senior year. I did not think I had the opportunity to play pro anymore, having taken a full year off. Then my junior and senior year went well, and I had some options coming out of my last year. I am lucky enough to be here in Colorado now.”

Reflecting back on his first and last games at Lynah, Malinski described that “I heard a lot of great things about Lynah and the electric atmosphere before I committed. But, I still remember being shocked during my first game by how loud and into the game the student section was. Then with my last game, it was definitely emotional. As a group of seniors, we were excited to beat Clarkson and punch our ticket to Lake Placid. But, it was also the realization that it was our last game in Lynah. That was a very special game and the best way to end our college careers at Lynah. I am incredibly thankful for my time over the last four years at Cornell, I would not trade it for the world. I have met incredible people and have played with awesome teammates.”

The first and last games of an athlete's collegiate career are ones that they will cherish and recall vividly years later. The interaction that Jack O’Brien ’26 had with Sam prior to his first game at Cornell was not only noteworthy but also impactful on his performance on the ice that night. “Prior to hitting the ice before my first college game, Sam had noticed that my legs were shaking quite a bit. He turned to me to ask, ‘Are you nervous?’ I looked back at him, thinking to myself, ‘Well of course I am,’” O’Brien noted. “He picked up on the smallest detail and by looking out for me, he had helped me take a mountain of stress off my shoulders. Rather than being completely nervous, I was actually excited to get out there.”

O’Brien went on to say that “Sam’s accomplishments on the ice speak for themselves, but where he separates himself from the pack is his personality. Sam is the hardest-working player on and off the ice. He tackles every day with a smile on his face. His energy and wit encourages everyone to do their best whenever they are around him. I am a strong believer that Sam’s journey is just getting started. He is a fantastic player, but an unbelievable person.”

Photography by Rick Wilson (

Much like O’Brien, Remington Keopple ’26 described his teammates as brothers more than anything else: “Travis was the one who showed me around campus during my visit. During my first year at Cornell, I have seen him as a leader and am lucky enough to have him as a friend. He brings out the best in everyone by simply caring about every one of us.”

The commitment of striving to become better is shared between both Malinski and Mitchell. They both continue to embody and convey this when demonstrating leadership on and off the ice. Throughout my time of attempting to go further than just #10 and #24, and hearing the remarks on them as students, athletes, friends, and teammates, it is evident that their impact goes further than they realize. Treating everyone they encounter with kindness and respect, they are also some of the humblest individuals out there. Both hope to leave an impact on Cornell, but it is evident that they have already done so.

Sebastian Dirven ’23 remarked on Travis’ presence on the team as a caring leader. “One thing that is noticeable to everyone is the passion Travis has for the game and his willingness to help his friends, both on and off the ice,” Dirven mentioned. “What most people do not see is how detailed he is in everything that he does. Travis is by far the most organized player on the Men’s Hockey team. Whether it is for school or hockey, he does not miss a single detail. This is one of the reasons that everyone on our team goes to him for advice and why he will continue to be successful in the next stages of his career.”

Dirven also shared that “Sam is a person that is always happy to be at the rink. You’ll never catch him on a bad day in the locker room. One aspect of Sam that many guys find contagious is his drive to grow as a player. He leads by example and continues to push the envelope on development. This translates to both his game and his impact on many of the guys on the team. He is always trying to help others with individual skill. There is no doubt in my mind that these attributes will help him excel on future teams.”

Likewise, Zach Tupker ’23 said, “Sam Malinski and Travis Mitchell embody what it means to be a Cornell hockey player. Their play on the ice has contributed to the success of the program, and has led the way for underclassmen to follow in their path. Rooming with Sam Malinski in the townhouses freshman year was one of the most fun experiences of my life. He is one of the most easygoing and fun teammates I have ever been around. I also think that he may have spent all of his BRBs on Eggos at Nastys in the first semester. Travis is one of the most well-respected leaders I have been around in any locker room. His work ethic and will to push guys around him to be better are reasons that he found success at Cornell and will continue to find success.”

The time that Malinski and Mitchell have left at Cornell is coming to an end, but the legacies they leave will continue to extend beyond their physical presence here. As they shift into the new world of professional hockey, they continue to harness the support of an entire community that will always root for them as they continue to make Cornell proud on and off the ice. Until next time, #10 and #24.


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