Edmonton Oilers 2016 third-round NHL Draft pick Matt Cairns has transferred to Minnesota Duluth after three seasons at Cornell.
The 22-year-old defenseman from Mississauga, Ontario — who would have been a senior this year on a Big Red team that finished the abbreviated 2019-20 season at No. 1 in the polls — is a graduate transfer, so he’ll be eligible to play for the Bulldogs in 2020-21, whenever that happens.
“We were looking for someone that can come in — a lefty — that brings experience,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “He brings us some leadership. He’s an experienced guy.
“He’s an outstanding kid. I’m glad he’s here. I like the fact that he comes from a really successful program. He knows what it takes to win. Cornell is really successful and sometimes guys just need a change.”
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Cairns played in 61 games over three seasons for the Big Red from 2017-2020, totaling three goals and three assists. He had just a single assist a year ago when he dressed for just 19 of the Big Red’s 29 games. Defensively he finished with a plus-4 rating and was plus-3 for his career at Cornell.
Cairns was drafted by the Oilers in 2016 after posting 12 goals and 40 assists in 68 games with the Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. He then split the 2016-17 season with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League and Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League before enrolling at Cornell.
Cairns graduated from Cornell over the summer after completing his bachelor’s degree in applied economics and management with a focus in finance. That allowed him to take advantage of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule and be eligible to play for a new team right away in 2020-21 instead of sitting out a season.
Looking for a fresh start after being out of the lineup for the final six games of last season before everything was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cairns said he decided he wanted to transfer back in the spring. UMD was the first school to reach out once he entered the transfer portal after graduation and the Bulldogs were the perfect fit, he said.
“The biggest thing for me was the coaching staff’s mindset of wanting to win, while at the same time wanting to develop their players to play at the next level,” Cairns said. “I think those two things definitely go hand-in-hand. If you're developing your guys to play the next level and you want them to play the next level, you're going to have winning seasons, you're gonna have teams that win. You’re also going to have more guys that are going to want to come into your team.”
The Bulldogs are in the process of reloading their blue line after losing seniors Nick Wolff and Jarod Hilderman to graduation and juniors Scott Perunovich and Dylan Samberg to the National Hockey League.
UMD returns seniors Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl and juniors Jake Rosenbaum and Hunter Lellig. They’ve brought in three freshmen in Darian Gotz and Blake Biondi of Hermantown and Wyatt Kaiser of Andover. Both Biondi and Kaiser — who could go in next month’s delayed NHL Entry Draft — are right out of high school.
Cairns gets UMD back to eight defensemen for 2020-21, which as of now won’t begin until Nov. 20 or after in the NCHC. The earliest Ivy League schools, like Cornell, will begin play is Jan. 1, 2021.
Cairns is the third senior to leave the Cornell program in recent months after forward Morgan Barron signed with the New York Rangers and Alex Green signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This story was updated at 5:46 p.m. on Sept. 23 with comments from Matt Cairns. It was originally posted at 4:13 p.m. on Sept. 23.