April 26, 2005

Best Sports Moment For Outgoing Seniors

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Despite the hype, senior year of college feels a lot like senior year of high school. Even with all the nights out with friends and the total lack of work in classes, there isn’t one senior out there who doesn’t feel some mix of sadness and nervousness about finally moving out of childhood and into the real world. At least in high school, we all knew that everyone else would share this sentiment when we entered college. This time around, I have to admit — I’m a little scared.

Anyway, enough depression. Being in the sports department, some of the things I’m going to remember most about this place are the great sports moments that we, the class of 2005, got to witness in our time here. These were the moments that, for once, we weren’t just some random group of 16,000, but a group of 16,000 Cornellians. Us versus them. David versus Goliath, or, usually in the case of the hockey team, Goliath versus David. So, class of 2005, let’s give thanks (a quick Domo Arigato perhaps) for the single greatest sports moment in our time here.

It was February 9th, 2002. We were sophomores. Topher Scott was Ryan Vesce. Dave McKee was a little-known goalie by the name of David LeNeveu — also the nation’s top goaltender at the time (The Red knows defense). The Abbott twins were the McRae twins. The Bear still skated on the ice between periods. And Yale, believe it or not, had a good hockey team. It started out like any other game for No. 8 Cornell in that we scored first off of a Vesce rebound scooped up by winger Mark McRae at 6:16 of the second period. 1-0. The Red held this lead — as they would for most games that 2002 season –into the third period.

But then something weird happened. Stephen “Heeeyyyyyy, heeeyyyyyy Baby” Baby, a genuine enforcer (a fact well known by referees), got himself thrown in the box. This put the top-ranked Cornell penalty kill to work. But, the unit failed when the Bulldogs’ Ryan Steeves went top shelf on LeNeveu, and all of a sudden Yale was back in the game. 1-1. Our group in rows one and two in section E collectively grimaced.

Nonetheless, we’re Cornell. This is hockey. We’re the Yankees, not the Mets (sorry, Owen). We don’t choke in the final period. And with that, Ryan Vesce took a slapshot that Stephen Baby deflected into the twine. 2-1.

Now, I don’t know how many of you watch Cornell hockey (if you don’t, you’re stupid — sorry), but here’s the thing: we don’t lose after we’ve got a third period lead. We struggle, sure, but we don’t lose. But, on February 9th, 2002, Yale was out to break some rules.

At the nine-minute mark of the third period, stellar defenseman Doug Murray went to clear the puck out of Cornell’s zone, but Yale was able to garner an interception leading to a slot wrister from Yale forward Mike Klema that hit the back of the net — in addition to hitting every Cornellian in the gut. 2-2.

Now here’s the weird part. Our cocky group along the boards in section E were positive this second goal just didn’t matter. We always win. We’re Cornell. But, like I said, Yale was good in 2002 and it seemed like the defensive shell they were putting up was pretty impenetrable. Even the Red looked confused, as the team’s desperate attempts to garner the W were shut down, one by one. With one minute left in the third period (AND NO ONE SAID “THANK YOU” BECAUSE THAT’S STUPID AND NOT FUNNY), the crowd was entirely quiet. Even my mouth — which got me tossed out of two games in my Cornell hockey career in addition to getting me called “Mouthy” by an usher — was strangely shut.

With under a minute remaining, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 put in Cornell’s second line, which was analogous to our little group of freshmen in section E. They weren’t the “best” on the team, in the sense that they weren’t as highly regarded as the first unit (Section B), but damn it, they didn’t have to whine, cheat, and claw their way to the front of the hockey line to earn respect. The group that went on the ice, defensemen included, had hockey sense, and more importantly, it had heart.

And with that, Sam Paolini’s No. 25, Matt McRae’s No. 17, Denis LaDouceur’s No. 19, Mark McRae’s No. 29, and Doug Murray’s No. 6 flew onto the ice.

At this point, a friend of mine, tired and apparently somewhat confused, mumbled, “What period is it?” I don’t know why he said it, but it got me thinking — in hockey, a game in which 10 skaters and two goalies are in a constant battle to put a flat piece of vulcanized rubber into a net as many times as possible in 60 minutes, time can sometimes be irrelevant. I’ve been playing hockey since I was 10, and I’ve seen more than enough goals scored with single digits left on the clock to realize that sometimes, when someone wants to win badly enough, he can do things that defy any kind of logic, and a lot of time, physics.

With that, as the second line’s skates hit the ice, I heard a voice in the crowd scream out, “Let’s go Red!” and all of a sudden Lynah was alive. For anyone who has ever played a sport, schoolyard or organized, you know that tingling feeling you get when you know you’re going to win? That sense that you care about this too much to let them stop you? Well, I usually don’t get that feeling while I’m just a spectator. Usually.

With less than 30 seconds left in the final period, Murray stepped up to the blue line, and forced his way into Yale territory. I swear, the way I remember it, he had the entire Yale bench hanging on his back and their coach was trying to rip his helmet off, but Murray just knew he had no choice but to carry all those fools with him. As he crossed the blue line, he drew in the Yale defenders and passed the puck off to a waiting Paolini. And with 15.6 seconds frozen on the clock, Paolini scored. The crowd got even louder. My ears popped. In this regular season game with no real desperate consequences, we had all witnessed the greatest moment in Cornell athletics during my four years here. The Red had won, not because it was the best team on the ice, but because it was the team that wanted it more.

Three years later, this is still not only my favorite sports moment, but also one of my favorite memories at Cornell.

With that said, let me just give a thank you to all the people who I’ll remember long after I leave this cold hellhole of a school (just kidding … maybe). First, a big domo arigato to the entire Sun sports staff, who has tolerated my inability to get things in on time for much too long. A true Mr. Roboto domo arigato to Owen Bochner, former sports editor, who got me into this whole newspaper thing. But, a particularly big domo arigato to Jon Auerbach, my beat partner antithesis, who is always responsible and on time. You’ll make a great lawyer.

Domo arigato to all the coaches with whom I’ve celebrated and with whom I’ve suffered. Keep fighting the good fight.

Domo arigato to my ice hockey gym class, a group of guys who shared my passion for the sport. You made this last semester a lot more fun.

Domo arigato to my family, my girlfriend, Beki, and my friends, who never really liked my columns, and rightfully so. That’s why I’m not going into the news business.

Lastly, domo arigato to Cornell. It’s had its ups and downs, but overall, next year I’m going to be proud to say that I was once a part of it.

Michael Pandolfini is a Sun Staff Writer. Domo Arigato has appeared every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Michael Pandolfini