Serving as the Sun’s sports editor for the 117th editorial board, Michael Sharp wrote this piece detailing the history of the famed Cornell-Harvard hockey rivalry. The article first appeared in the Sun on Nov. 12, 1999.
It began in 1910 with a simple hockey game. It escalated in 1962, when an upstart Cornell squad shocked a then-powerhouse Harvard. It reached new levels in 1973 with a chicken, a rope and a few fish.
And Friday night at 7 p.m., the Harvard-Cornell rivalry resumes once again when the Crimson visit a sold-out Lynah Rink.
“Over the course of the years, there’s been some tremendous games, both here and at Harvard,” head coach Mike Schafer ’86 said. “Regardless of what the other team’s record is, it’s always a great game.”
This year, Harvard comes in as one of the strongest teams in the ECAC. And while that means Friday’s game will have an impact on the conference standings, either team hardly needs a reason to get motivated.
“It’s electric, you can feel it on that night,” said Schafer, who played for the Red from 1982-86. “There’s no question. The fans know it. And the players and coaches all know it. It’s a different atmosphere.”
Harvard and Cornell was just another rivalry for much of the century. Besides the obvious intra-league implications and Ivy League pretensions, not much separated the rivalry from any other in sports.
That is, until 1973 – one truly strange year.
The ECAC had just banned Canadians from playing.
The Sun was running ads like the following, “A practice will be held at 8:00 this morning in Lynah Rink for any American student who feels qualified to try out for a spot on the hockey team.”
And the University of Pennsylvania still had a hockey team.
But in the midst of the controversy, the Harvard-Cornell rivalry intensified.
It all started in Cambridge on Jan. 6. Harvard was boasting the nation’s top-ranked team, but this day belonged to the streaky squad from Cornell. The Red defeated the Crimson 5-2, en route to a berth in the NCAA tournament.
But what was significant was not the score, or even the win. No, this game will be remembered most for what was tossed at Cornell goalie Dave Elenbaas. Sometime during the game, a Harvard fan walked over to the glass and tossed a dead chicken at Elenbaas.
The chicken was an obvious crack at Cornell’s agriculture college.
And the Lynah Faithful were not about to let it go unnoticed.
Later that month, Red fans pelted the Crimson with fish (in reference to Boston’s penchant for seafood) before the start of the second period. And before the start of the third, a live chicken was tied to the Harvard net.
A Sun article from 1982 detailed how the antics of that night quickly became tradition.
“As the decade wore on, the Harvard hockey program weakened and the game became a walkover for the Red, but Cornell fans failed to forget the 1973 incident and the annual game with the Crimson developed into the social highlight of the season.”
And now, 29 years later, Harvard hockey players are still assaulted with flying fish at the start of each contest. Tickets to “The Game” are still impossible to come by, and the atmosphere in Lynah when Harvard takes the ice still remains unparalleled in terms of Cornell school spirit, unabashed enthusiasm and, of course, pure noise.
Cornell officials have discouraged the flying fish since day one, reasoning with students about the possibility of costly penalties. But beyond searching students and the occasional ejection, officials have tried to look the other way when the fish come out.
“We [the administration] do not condone the fish,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic affairs. “There should not be fish thrown on the ice. The last thing we want to see is a player tripping over some of the residue and going head first into the boards.”
But for the most part, the fish fall right in with the night. Rink officials scrape up the carcasses in much the same way as they pick up the crumpled newspapers thrown onto the ice just after the visiting players are introduced.
“In the course of the game, it’s a distraction for both teams in the sense that you have to wait for the fish to be cleaned up and everything else,” Schafer said. “Everybody gets out there and they’re really charged up to go, and they know that there’s going to be a delay.”
Archived article by Sun Staff