When you think of college hockey your mind immediately imagines the storied programs of Boston College, Boston University, Michigan, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Though there is one elite program in central New York that can claim to be the only school in NCAA history to achieve an unblemished record – Cornell. Back in the Ned Harkness days the Big Red completed the remarkable by going 29-0-0 in 1969-70. One of the biggest factors for Cornell’s success both young and old is the Quonset-shaped rink they call home in Lynah Rink. In fact the home ice advantage has been a common theme for over 50-plus seasons. The Big Red has lost less than twenty percent of their games played within the friendly confines of Lynah since 1957. Recently I decided to take on the sincere college hockey experience by attending the game versus Yale this past Friday – from a spectator’s view.
My last Lynah encounter occurred as a player back in the early 1990s in low-key preseason exhibition that was played during the week without much fanfare. A relatively simple journey up Route 13 of the southern tier in New York State. Thus, the game versus Ivy League and ECAC Hockey Conference foe, Yale, came to me in totally different perspective. This time I felt the true “Lynah Faithful” in full fashion as 4,267 jammed into the wooden stands to cheer on their home team. Although wedged might be an understatement. As the seats were without question designed some five decades ago giving fans very little room for movement. But that is what makes this rink a one-of-a-kind with its crammed quarters, lively viewers, and boisterous crowd.
Many college hockey folks talk about Yost, Mariucci, Ritter, Matthews, Engelstad, or Ingalls. They are all great venues with awesome traditions and their own uniqueness. Although on this night it was about the rituals from the blaring pep band to the customary pre-game routine to the chants of “Let’s go Red!”
When you walk down the hallway and see the photos of Stanley Cup Champions, Ken Dryden and Joe Nieuwendyk, you know the program is something special. Then as you gaze up at the rafters and see the plethora of banners signifying the ECAC, Ivy, and NCAA Championships and appearances.
In Lynah there are no luxury boxes, in fact the press box is well over capacity. It is even amazing that big time TV networks like NBC Sports are able to get their equipment within the boundaries of the arena and enough electrical outlets to power a production.
There are no enormous video boards and I was more astounded as well by the absence of a ruckus sound system for warm-ups and stoppages in play. One would think that this day in age all rinks would be pumping the techno beat through its speakers. Instead the red and white stripped clad band played or your ears were treated to the true sounds of hockey — the resonance of pucks slapping off the boards, glass, and posts.
The entire student section side endures the game on their feet as they stand watching the action at full attention, waiting for that possibility to chant against the opposition, especially the goalie, to give their team that intangible advantage. They even treat you to the school’s Alma Mater song during the second intermission showing their pride. Many who are dressed with their special red & white scarf as if they just stepped out a Dr. Seuss book.
The game itself was filled with great back-and-forth action and plenty of heckling of the refs though in good taste. As I peered around the crowd you could see many young fans of the game, dreaming to one day pull on the Cornell sweater. It was great to see the variety of spectators and that’s what makes Lynah one of the most famed arenas in NCAA hockey.
In the end, the visiting Bulldogs stole the show with an impressive overtime victory that quickly silenced the devoted crowd. Yet like how all home games end, the Cornell players gathered at center ice and saluted their loyal watchers, respectfully after the opposition had left the ice. An unadorned gesture of gratitude as the players know the hostile environment they love playing in front every night belongs solely in the hands and mouths of those Lynah Faithful — “Let’s Go Red!”
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