November 24, 2008

Bringing Lynah Back

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Standing in the middle of Section B as the final minutes ticked off Lynah’s scoreboard on both Friday and Saturday night, I felt a nostalgic electricity reverberating through the student sections that seeped its way around the rink. I imagined that Lynah Rink once bore witness to this contemporary anomaly every evening its famed and feared ice hockey team laced up their skates. Scenes of students shuffling on the wooden bleachers before 7 p.m., of chest painted diehards who brave the tundra-like conditions, of 60 minutes of nonstop enthusiasm from the Faithful and townies alike, and of a domination of our Hahvahd and Dartmouth rivals flooded my mind amid visions of seasons past.
With the current seniors forming the only class to have witnessed Cornell’s last NCAA playoff berth, it comes as little surprise that we have witnessed a recent demise in enthusiasm. Yet for the first time in many home weekends at Lynah Rink, the atmosphere was truly festive as each person standing in the crowd passionately cheered from warmups to the Lynah Salute, with some “Pinball Wizard” dancing squeezed in between.
This is the Lynah Rink that every team in NCAA hockey fears entering, these are the energetic students whose vocal cords know no bounds. And here is the team that systematically wears down the opposition en route to a convincing victory.
I will not prematurely label 2008-09 The Return of King Cornell, yet as we turn toward Thanksgiving and two crucial games against North Dakota before a visit from our northern friends, Clarkson and St. Lawrence, I implore students to once again flock to Lynah Rink for more than just the Harvard game. One simply cannot doubt the connection between crowd enthusiasm and player performance; it has never been more evident for us students than on Friday night.
The 2008-09 Cornell men’s ice hockey team is the real deal. It has knocked off Princeton and Harvard, two of the biggest Ivy League and ECAC Hockey foes, in convincing fashion and every week this team gets better. It is now time for the Lynah Faithful, for those who were turned off by the convoluted ticketing process and prices, and for the Ithaca community to unite behind Cornell hockey. In my last column until next season, I beseech everyone reading this to make Cornell hockey and its tradition of winning a priority.
The last two seasons were a mere bump in the road; Cornell is back in business. As the team plays well and keeps on winning, fandom has never been more fun. Those who have never attended a game should give it a go, those who were disappointed by the Athletics Department ought to reconsider (but not forgive), and those who do come might want to arrive before Arthur Mintz ’71 announces, “Good evening hockey fans. Welcome to Lynah Rink, the home of Big Red Hockey.” Let’s return Lynah Rink to the glory days.
This winter awakening, however, is contingent upon continued Red success. While Cornell and Air Force are the only two remaining undefeated teams in all of D-1 hockey, complacency will only lead to failure. The difference in breakout plays, power play puck movement, net crashing and overall energy between the 2-2 tie to Colgate the previous Saturday and the two games this weekend was like night and day. Yet there is still work to be done.
Most notably, the team continues to struggle breaking out of its own zone and maintaining puck control through the neutral zone. The remarkable improvement from where this weakness stood two weeks ago is a testament to Coach Schafer’s work ethic in practice, yet for Cornell to compete against the Fighting Sioux in Grand Forks, N.D., more needs to happen. That starts and ends with our defensive leaders, Brendan Nash and Jared Seminoff. Nash especially has been disappointing to watch this season. One must wonder, is Nash’s lackluster effort the result of an unwillingness to read the play, a lingering injury, or is he downright oblivious? How many times must we see his one-timers from the point blocked, a turnover on our own blue line, a failure to hold the zone on the power play, or Tyler Roeszler forced to play defense while Nash gets back into position after a failed rush attempt?
On the other hand, the defense as a whole played an outstanding weekend. It speaks volumes about shot totals when your goaltender gives up one goal against Harvard, yet his save percentage decreases. Keir Ross, Justin Krueger and Mike Devin all played considerably more controlled styles.
Offensively, little needs to be written other than all four lines clicked superbly this weekend. With co-alternate captain Tyler Mugford injured, the checking line, now backboned by Joe Scali, came through with a clutch goal against Dartmouth. Scali’s four-foot jump illustrated just how much that goal meant, and his first star of the game honor was well deserved. Further, Evan Barlow and Blake Gallagher were flying around the ice with unmatched intensity. Despite an ungodly number of irons hit between them in the last two weeks of games, I’m confident both will cash in for many goals this season.
There’s a lot to look forward to this season. If we rebuild the energy in Lynah Rink on a consistent basis, you may very well find yourself watching Cornell play deep into March and early April.