Just moments after the Cornell men’s hockey team clinched its spot in the ECAC semifinals in Lake Placid, the senior class gave the Lynah Faithful one last salute on home ice. As the sticks were raised and pointed to the retired jerseys and the numerous banners of ECAC and Ivy League Championships, NCAA tournament bids and, more prominently, two NCAA Championships, the team paid homage to the greatness that has come before. Regular season success and winning a few playoff games are important, but it just does not mean quite as much unless there’s a banner on the ceiling to cap off the season.
Fifty years ago this weekend, that was accomplished on the NCAA stage for the first time, as the program from Ithaca won a national championship. That team was a symbol that the work put into the program was worth every bit of it, and a reminder of where this team can and should be.
“Seeing the legacy of what we did 50 years ago, and the real life legacy of walking into Lynah and seeing it filled with 4,000 sounding like 40,000, it’s just quite remarkable,” legendary goaltender Ken Dryden ’69 said at the 1967 team reception during the home Dartmouth game this season. “What once was, what is now and imagining what will be — it’s been a treat.”
Cornell played its first hockey game on Feb. 28, 1901 and defeated Swarthmore 4-1 in Philadelphia. Beebe Lake was the Red’s home at the time, and there were a few dispersed seasons where seasons could not be play because the water did not freeze over. Then in 1948, the program was shut down due to a combination of no ice and little interest in the program.
The iconic Lynah Rink was constructed in 1957 and finally gave Cornell a permanent building to call home. The Red resurrected its program and played the first game in the modern era on Dec. 14 and defeated the Lehigh Hockey Club handedly, 16-3. The coach at the time was Paul Patten, whose tenure reigned from 1957 to 1963. Patten’s teams finished last in the Ivy League his first two seasons, posting losing league and overall records in his six-year tenure.
His successor, Ned Harkness — who would only spend seven years in Ithaca after 14 at RPI — would prove himself as arguably the most successful coach in program history, and a coach known for bringing the best out of his players.
“What [Harkness] gave me was a hell a lot of self-confidence,” said defender Walt Stanowski ’68. “When you’re coming here and you’re 18 years old, you think you have it, but you really don’t, it’s hidden inside, [and he] brought that out. He got me to be the fittest I’ve ever been, motivated the hell out of me to get better, he made me want to get better, and that’s hard to do.”
The Legend of Harkness
Harkness began his coaching career at RPI, and in 1941, he was a volunteer lacrosse coach for the Engineers. He became the head coach when the school established its varsity lacrosse program in 1945. Just three years later, the team came off an undefeated regular season and represented the United States at the London Olympic Games and tied Great Britain 5-5 at historic Wembley Stadium. Four years later, the team came out with another undefeated regular season, and this time, a national championship.
Harkness was also essential in reviving the RPI hockey team, which began play in 1950. In 1951, coming off a 4-6 season, Harkness led the Engineers to a 15-3 record and a Tri-State title, which was later revoked because the team used an ineligible player.
Nonetheless, the team officially won its first Tri-State championship in 1953, and placed third in the 1953 NCAA Tournament. Just one year later in 1954, the team won the Tri-State and NCAA Championships. Harkness’ ability to flat-out coach had been solidified.
Harkness finished his RPI career with a 147-27-2 lacrosse record and a 176-96-7 hockey record, and he would continue his dynamic success at Cornell. He led the Red with a 163-27-2 overall record in his seven years, and coached lacrosse to a 35-1 record and two Ivy League Championships — in 1966 and 1968 — in only his three years as the coach.
Harkness would be inducted into the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2001, but his stint at Cornell would be the last of his lacrosse career, as he went on to coach in the NHL — though did not find the same success — and then back to college hockey at Union.
A Postseason of Firsts
In 1966-67, for the second season in a row, Cornell finished atop the Ivy League, going 9-1-0 in the league, 18-1-1 in the ECAC and 27-1-1 overall. The Red would go on to win three more Ivy League regular season titles in a row, including the undefeated national championship run in the 1969-70 season. With the 1967 hockey championship, Harkness became the first coach to win a national championship in two different sports.
Throughout the 1966-67 season, Cornell’s lone loss came in a 4-3 overtime game against Yale, which followed a double-overtime tie against Boston University. The game went on long into the night, and after Harkness and BU coach Jack Kelly discussed, they agreed the game finish in a 3-3 tie. BU would go on to win the ECAC regular season title that year, and would be a rather familiar foe for the Red moving forward.
Cornell started the ECAC Tournament with two big wins — a 11-2 victory over Brown, and a 12-2 victory over Boston College — which was a nice set up for the first rematch against BU in the ECAC finals. This time, the Red would come out as winners, giving the team its first ECAC tournament title in program history.
The title also gave the Red an automatic bid to its first NCAA tournament, the 20th tournament in history at the time. At the time, the tournament only comprised of four teams, and the Red was the most inexperienced team in the tournament. ECAC runner-up BU made the tournament for the sixth time in program history with an at-large bid, and North Dakota and Michigan St. joined the field with their fifth and third appearances, respectively, after being crowned co-champions in their conference tournament.
For this Cornell team, however, no stage was too big, as the players and coaches relied on the week-by-week mentality that contributed to the team’s success.
“We knew had a good team, and obviously we had a good run,” said winger Andrew Crowley ’68. “Was our goal to be national champs? I don’t remember that being a goal — the goal was to win every game and go on every week and win that game, so we went week to week. I never remember anyone mentioning ‘we are going to be national champs,’ it just happened.”
Despite losing in the ECAC championship game, the Terriers came away with the better seeding because they had the better regular season conference record. Cornell took on North Dakota and scraped away with a 1-0 victory, while BU defeated Michigan St., 4-2, to set up a rematch yet again between the Red and the Terriers, with another title on the line.
“We just assumed were going to win the whole thing,” Stanowski said. “The only game we didn’t assume we were going to win was the ND game because we’ve never seen them before. We were going to beat BU, there was no question about that, but North Dakota was a coin flip.”
That confidence fared well for the team, as it came away with another victory against BU, with a final score of 4-1. The win secured Cornell’s first ever NCAA championship, as well as the first for the Ivy League as a whole.
Three Red players were named to the All-American team that year: Dryden, defender Harry Orr — who also won ECAC defenseman of the year — and forward Doug Ferguson, who won ECAC player of the year.
In addition, the Red placed four players on the ECAC all-Tournament first team, and two more on the second team, with Stanowski named as the most outstanding player. Despite the individual recognitions, everyone on the team made sure to keep its emotions even-keel.
“We had no egos — we had very good players, but no one had a super ego,” Stanowski said. “We all played from our heart, whether you were the best guy or the mediocre guy, we were all one team.”
The team undoubtedly created something special during its time at Cornell, and is something that players on the team will never forget.
“The ’67 team was my favorite team at Cornell,” Dryden said. “Cornell was a really important time in my life — I realized I was a better player than I thought and a better student than I thought, and those were important things to learn.”
When the players reminisce about their time in Ithaca, national accolades and recognition are not the first thing that pops up, but rather the times spent with their fellow teammates.
“[There are] more [memories] off the ice than on the ice for me,” Crowley said. “We lived together, we played together, we worked out together, from September to March. It was just a bunch of guys that really got to live together and had a wonderful four years here.”
This camaraderie can be seen in this year’s team — after a tough loss, players and coaches talked about pulling each other up, and after a good win like the series win from this past weekend, the team celebrates together.
When the 1967 team was honored during intermission of the Dartmouth game Jan. 28, and Cornell let the Green walk away with a 4-2 victory, current head coach Mike Schafer ’86 was especially disappointed in the effort his team with the legends from 50 years ago in attendance.
Part of that disappointment stems from the rich history this program lauds, never taking anything for granted and keeping up the proud tradition of Cornell hockey. Any lapse in play feels like a slap in the face to the legacy that precedes this team.
But with the ECAC championships and NCAA tournament on the horizon, this year’s team has the best chance to honor those who came half a century before them: a third championship.