Saturday, November 24, 2007

College Hockey Special

Tonight, if you'll indulge me, I bring you coverage of a special event. Yes, I cheated on the Islanders. Instead of being in the Blog Box to watch the Isles and Bruins conclude their home-and-home, I was at MSG for another New York-Boston matchup: Cornell vs. Boston University. Billed as "Red Hot Hockey," the game rekindled an old rivalry that had been reduced to a few glowing embers since BU defected to Hockey East from the ECAC for the 1984-85 season. Since then, the teams had met only 8 times, the last coming in 2002-03. Cornell entered tonight's contest with a three-game winning streak against BU and a 23-16-1 advantage in the series overall.

Cornell and BU first battled in 1925. Back then, the Big Red played its home games on Beebe Lake on the school's Ithaca, NY campus, which it continued to do until 1948 when warmer weather put the outdoor sheet out of commission. The Cornell hockey program stayed dormant until the fabled Lynah Rink opened in 1957. That storied arena remains an extremely difficult venue for opponents to succeed in to this day.

The rivalry between the two schools ignited in the 1960s thanks to the leadership of legendary coaches Ned Harkness (Cornell) and Jack Kelley (BU). For a comprehensive look at the games that carried the rivalry through the 1970s and into the 1980s, please visit Milestone Games of the BU-Cornell Series. You will see that the series features a pantheon of hockey greats, including names like Dryden, Hughes, Eruzione, Silk, and O'Callahan, as well as some Islander-centric names like Stirling and Bates. If you go back through the historical rosters of both schools, you will find many more familiar names.

I am proud to report that Red Hot Hockey was a smashing success. 18,200 students and alumni of both universities filled the Garden. And, no, this wasn't your usual MSG sellout where 18,200 tickets may be sold, but several thousand of them remain in the desk drawers of Manhattan executives. There were no empty seats. The scalpers along Seventh Avenue were doing a brisk business and, in some cases, even arguing with each other over rights to customers.

The arena was divided in half with one end designated for Cornell fans and the other for BU. It looked like the Cornell end was solid Big Red supporters, whereas the BU side was sprinkled with pockets of Cornellians. Let's call it 60-40 Cornell on the attendance sheet. Everywhere you looked it was red and white, as both schools claim those colors as their own (although Cornell's is really "Carnellian" and white).

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Cornell hockey game, do not pass it up. The intricate and relentless participation of the Lynah Faithful, underscored by the Big Red Pep Band, is unlike anything you will ever experience at an NHL game. At an NHL-sized arena, with a vociferous and proud contingent of opposition fans, the effect is somewhat diluted. So your true goal should be to attend a Cornell game at Lynah. For an introduction and insight into what it's all about, visit ELynah, particularly the Other Pages section. And, to be fair, to explore all things Terrier, try The Terrier Hockey Fan Blog.

Much in the way that the Islanders hit all the right notes in honoring Al Arbour, the organizers of Red Hot Hockey were right on the ball. The two coaching legends, Harkness and Kelley, emerged from the penalty box area to participate in the ceremonial opening faceoff. During the first intermission, Cornell and NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk joined Harkness to welcome members of the 1967 and 1970 Big Red National Championship teams. This was followed by a video tribute to the great players and coaches of Cornell.

For the second intermission, the crowd was treated to an on-ice appearance by former BU players, and U.S. Olympic Hockey legends, Mike Eruzione, Dave Silk, and Jack O'Callahan. Fans from both teams stood and cheered that group, and rightfully so. The BU video tribute feted current Terrier coaching great Jack Parker.

And, yes, there was hockey played. When the event was first announced earlier this year, the matchup may have given Cornell reason for concern. In the early part of this decade, the Big Red returned to elite status in the NCAA behind the leadership of coach Mike Schafer and the stellar, and record-breaking, goaltending of David LeNevue and David McKee. However, despite achieving a #1 ranking for the first time, several berths in the NCAA tournament, and a trip to the Frozen Four, Cornell was unable to return to the top of the heap. In the last couple of years, Cornell has taken a few steps back toward mediocrity. Meanwhile, despite not having won an NCAA championship since 1995, BU is still more readily recognized as a modern hockey power.

As the beginning of the season unfolded, the matchup became more favorable for the Big Red. Cornell started off 4-3-0 (4-2-0 ECAC), while BU came out of the shoot 3-6-2 (3-3-1 Hockey East). Both teams have young rosters. Only four seniors dress for Cornell. On this night, it was apparent that the Red could use a little seasoning.

At times, watching Cornell tonight was a little like watching the Islanders go through their recent struggles, particularly on the power play, only without Rick DiPietro to back them up. Cornell finished the night 2-for-7 with the man advantage, but the second marker came too late to make a difference. BU erupted for 3 goals in just over three minutes in the middle of the first period. The power plays awarded to Cornell that could have produced an early lead or turned the momentum after the BU outburst were marred by point shots that sailed wide of the net or never made it through the wall of Terrier defenders protecting goalie Brett Bennett.

On the other side of the ice, the Terriers were peppering Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens with 42 shots, despite being shorthanded 7 times, including one brief and one lengthy 5-on-3. BU finished the night 1-for-3 on the power play. Even at equal strength, Cornell simply gave the BU skaters too much space and left Scrivens wide open to be beaten. The sophomore goalie also seemed to be fighting the puck a little, as there were too many rebounds to be had. Scrivens entered the game with a 1.85 GAA and a .933 save percentage. Cornell struggled to find open lanes to the net all night. Final score: BU 6, Cornell 3.

Thank you, Islanders fans, for permitting me this little departure. And how fitting that it should come on a night when DiPietro, former BU goalie, backstopped the Isles to a 2-1 victory over the Bruins. Score one for New York. (And Andy Hilbert!)

Tradition dictates that the Lynah Faithful announce their presence with authority.


7th Woman said...


Dominik said...

Very cool departure, you taught me a little something about a historic rivalry there. That sounds like a great evening.

Sort of related but completely tangential anecdote: Through an in-law who was a retired Cornell professor, I received a Cornell Hockey sweatshirt for Christmas one year when I was in high school. (They just knew I liked hockey; I had no other connection to Cornell).

The next fall, I'm flying back (to St. Louis) from Europe, wearing the sweatshirt during a layover at JFK, and in a deli line I overhear a guy say to his wife, "Look honey, there's a Cornell hockey player."

Took me a moment to realize what was happening (I'm just a student in grubby travel clothes on a layover), then he comes over and starts to ask me about the long-time coach (whose name escapes me).

My mischievous side wanted to B.S. him as if I was indeed a player, but instead I came clean and we exchanged stories. He told me about Cornell Hockey; he was really into it. It was a cool, completely random exchange.

Outsider said...

Thanks for the great story, Dominik. I'm not sure how old you are, but Dick Bertrand was there for a nice stretch after Harkness, but that may have been before you were in high school. Could be Brian McCutcheon? He's currently working under Lindy Ruff in Buffalo.

Dominik said...

That sounds right: looking at the dates, it must have been McCutcheon. This must have been a college trip in '96 (that sweatshirt lasted quite a while), and I remember the guy asking me about the new coach and if I played under the old one.

Outsider said...

Playing for McCutcheon and Schafer would have been a nice deal for you!