December 5, 2003

Players Reflect on Big Rivalry

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Last March Cornell won its first ECAC title since 1997, but that’s only part of what makes the game memorable for senior captain Ryan Vesce. The other half of the celebration was because of who the Red beat — Harvard.

“The ECAC finals last year, that overtime when Sam [Paolini ’03] scored is my most memorable moment,” said Vesce. “Winning the ECAC championship, and beating your rival to do it — it doesn’t really get any better than that.”

While Cornell won’t have the opportunity to win the ECAC title this weekend, it will be able to butt horns with Harvard, and that has all the players ready to go.

“It’s a great rivalry, and it’s easy for our guys to get up for this game,” said assistant captain Ben Wallace. “When we play here, our fans are amazing, and when we go down to their rink it seems like a home game as well because the fans are all there.”

“It’s just a great atmosphere and I hope it will continue,” Wallace added.

Yet, according to the players and coaches, the electric atmosphere fans create is only part of what makes a great rivalry. There also has to be a strong history on the ice.

“I’ve always said that it’s so special because the teams have been so good. You get rivalries because the teams are good and the programs are outstanding,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.

“They’re obviously well ranked, and they’ve got a great team and we’ve got a great program,” said Schafer. “Over the history of time, that turns into a rivalry when the programs have been recognized that way.”

For Schafer, that history began as a student in the ’80s. His most memorable moment comes from a game many considered to be a lost cause.

“There’s so many of them in the games that have involved situations here where we’ve been way behind, and came back and won,” said Schafer. “The biggest memory was probably back in 1984 when we were down 4-0 in the game against a [Harvard] team that was ranked in the country, and we came back and won it 6-5.”

As a coach, however, Schafer’s most memorable Harvard game is a more recent affair, coming in his first season at the helm of the Red.

“When I first came here back in ’95, the team hadn’t beaten them in a long time,” he said. “To see the crowd be so excited, the players be so excited, to kind of get back on track and be a factor in the rivalry — that was probably one of the best coaching moments I’ve had as far as the rivalry.”

And the win was just the first of many against the Crimson. Cornell swept Harvard in all of its meetings last season, and has a two-year win streak at Lynah. For the coach, the series has become a blur.

“Overtime, they’ve been around so long now that the event just kind of rolled one into another, and it’s always special. Again, it’ll be just a great college game,” said Schafer.

“They’re a very successful program, just like us,” agreed Vesce. “Good games and good hockey makes good rivals.”

Archived article by Matt Janiga