September 15, 2008

Singing Lynah's Praises

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Those of us who view summer as an opportunity to rebuild vocal cords before returning to the Lynah Rink stands have longed for this moment ever since Cornell defeated Colgate in the consolation game of the ECACHL finals in Albany, N.Y., last year. Today’s announcement of line procedures for men’s hockey season tickets commences the annual sprint to the first puck drop at the Red-White game. For the newcomers to East Hill, it presents the first chance to truly prove their commitment to the brethren of fan-hood. Yet before that moment can occur, it is crucial to understand and appreciate how Cornell hockey came to such enviable success and prominence. That story, dear faithful, starts and ends with Lynah Rink.
Stepping into this quonset-shaped structure is anything but charming. A quick scan reveals little more than wooden bleachers, an ice surface and an Iron Age scoreboard. Fading yellowish-white numbers decorate the worn-out bleachers, the boards are heavily bruised from a half-century of bombardment, and the insulation remains poorly hidden.
However, a glance at the rafters adorned with dozens of red and white banners provides a glimpse into the illustrious and well-documented history of something truly special.
What separates this building from the structures next door—what separates James Lynah Rink from Edmund Ezra Day Hall, White Hall, or Mary Donlon Hall—is that Lynah Rink has the rare combination of both having a history of character and being a character in history. It is Cornell hockey’s past, present, and future. It is a place of faith for those who worship the team. It is a home for both those who live and for those who play for the team. Lynah Rink, in short, is the gateway to the intergenerational tradition that defines Cornell hockey.
Cornell hockey was formed in 1901 by G. A. Smith, the team first competed on the ice of Beebe Lake. These were tumultuous years, however, as the administration refused to recognize the birth of Red hockey. After a couple decades of on-again, off-again hockey, head coach Nicholas Bawlf arrived on East Hill in 1920 and began cementing Cornell’s place in the intercollegiate hockey circuit.
However, despite Bawlf’s best attempts, Cornell hockey could not reach national prominence during his 27-year career because it lacked an indoor facility. While other schools regularly practiced, the mere hope of lacing up the skates depended on Beebe Lake freezing. After an 0-8 record from 1946-1948, during which Cornell lost by a combined score of 81-8, and without financial resources for an indoor rink, the team folded.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day 1954. Walter Carpenter ’10, then-chairman of the DuPont Company, approached Athletic Director Bob Kane with hopes of funding Cornell’s first indoor ice-hockey rink. While his money initially endowed the engineering library that bears his name, Carpenter held true to his word and arranged for the Carpenter Foundation to donate $500,000 for the construction of a hockey facility.
James Lynah Rink, named for Cornell’s athletic director from 1935-1943, officially opened on March 21, 1957 (though its name was not dedicated until April 6) featuring an exhibition match between the New York Rangers and my hometown Rochester Americans, who were playing in their inaugural season. Although the program was slow to take off, in the spring of 1963, under the helm of legendary coach Ned Harkness, Cornell hockey accelerated to national prominence and never looked back. Over his seven years behind the bench, Cornell went an unconscionable 163-27-2, with four ECAC league titles, two national championships, and in 1970, the only perfect season in the modern NCAA hockey era.
Since that first game in 1957, the team has won over 70 percent of its games played in Lynah, due in large part to the enormous home-ice advantage created by the “Lynah Faithful.” Names like Dryden, Nieuwendyk, Moulson, and McKee have all laced up their skates in this historic arena.
Every student should take a moment to fully appreciate the beauty, majesty, and peacefulness of an empty Lynah Rink. Few experience Lynah outside of times when the fabled and fearless Lynah Faithful pack the rink to unmercifully deliver verbal (and sometimes smelly) pain upon the opposition.
The best time to arrive is well before puck drop — before 4,266 other fans arrive and before the infamous pep-band refuses to allow even a moment of silence. Then, you can take a moment to absorb the character and history of Lynah. Feeling connected to generations of fans and teams of years past is a unique gift which sports, specifically Cornell hockey, affords. Steve Worona ’70 once eloquently described the hockey team’s hypnotization over East Hill by saying, “Cornell isn’t an organization. It’s a loose affiliation of independent fiefdoms united by a common hockey team.”
To me, there is no greater place on this campus than Lynah Rink, not even Catherwood Library. I hope each of you repeatedly experiences this true character of history while you spend your four short years here. The tradition that is Cornell hockey only survives because students carry it on. In that vein, the torch is now passed to the Class of 2012 to join the ranks of thousands who have come before them and to immerse themselves in the tradition of Lynah Rink and Cornell hockey.