February 4, 2016

A Weekend of Cornell Hockey as Seen From the Pep Band

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Unlike most Cornellians, on Friday I packed a bag full of clothes and snacks and prepared for a weekend away from Ithaca. At lunchtime on Friday, thirty members of the Big Red Pep Band, including yours truly, headed to New York’s North Country to cheer on Cornell men’s hockey. Three and a half hours later, we pulled into Potsdam, set up our instruments and invaded Clarkson’s Cheel Arena.

Now, most of the band was aware of the team’s recent struggles. I chronicled them last Wednesday; the team was winless in its past four games and had no recorded conference wins this calendar year. Yet, the band believed this weekend could prove a new dawn. Clarkson and Saint Lawrence have relatively even win-loss records, and one or two wins, even on the road, seemed possible. Optimism, as usual, was high within the band; after all, our job is to support Cornell’s teams through the good times and the bad.

Cheel Arena was decked out in the green and yellow of Clarkson, as always. While not approaching Lynah’s fervor, the Golden Knights’ fans and band made for an intimidating atmosphere. Pre-game, there was an unbelievable amount of noise, as both pep bands tried to out-do the other, while the arena staff blasted stadium rock over both musical groups. When the game began, we answered Clarkson’s familiar “Let’s Go Tech!” refrain with chants of “Let’s Go Red,” trying to inspire an early goal.

Clarkson came out flying in front of the partisan home crowd. Yet, the first goal of the game would not belong to the Golden Knights. Mitch Vanderlaan’s shot caromed off the back of Clarkson goaltender Greg Lewis and into the net, giving Cornell a key lead. Yet, the Red’s defense could not withstand Clarkson’s third-period efforts to tie the game, conceding an equalizing goal to James de Haas. With twenty seconds left in overtime, Clarkson’s Terrance Amorosa took advantage of a deflection to beat the unfortunate Mitch Gillam and give the Golden Knights a 2-1 win. As Clarkson skaters poured onto the ice and the Cheel Arena crowd went wild, Cornell players slunk back to the locker room and we shuffled off to the bus. Yet another winnable game that refused to go Cornell’s way. 40 minutes later, we arrived at the hotel and went to sleep, dreaming that tomorrow was the day Cornell would start a winning streak.

A bagel, a few pancakes and a new day. Saturday morning dawned on remote Ogdensburg, N.Y., and the Cornell band kids were as resolutely optimistic as ever. We spent the day walking on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River with Canada across the water and ice skating at a shopping mall. As the sun descended, we piled back on our mobile band room (read: the bus) and hit the road for Canton. Saint Lawrence’s Appleton Arena is a fantastic rink with character; the wooden benches are a nice touch. The band was placed directly behind Cornell’s bench, so we could see the team in action. Per band tradition for games against either North Country team, we play the fight song of their rival team when they take the ice. As a result, Saint Lawrence skated out to a rousing rendition of Clarkson’s fight song, “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” (Clarkson and Saint Lawrence, separated by a ten-minute drive, are huge rivals; Saint Lawrence fans saluted several PA announcements during the game by disparaging Clarkson with rather rude terminology.)

Back on the ice, Cornell again started the scoring through a Jake Weidner power play tally. However, the third-period home pressure proved too much and Red goalie Mitch Gillam, who was Cornell’s best player all weekend, conceded an unstoppable power play tally to Gavin Bayreuther. Cornell was unable to answer and the game proceeded to overtime. Saint Lawrence’s Joe Sullivan scooped up the puck on the half-boards, skated in from the right side and beat Mitch Gillam up high just twenty seconds into the extra stanza. History repeated itself; Saint Lawrence players flooded the ice and their fans went crazy, just as Clarkson’s did the night before.

With that goal, despite two decent efforts to snap the winless streak, Cornell continues to drop down the national rankings and ECAC standings. After the game, the instruments were packed up and the band kids took to the bus. At 12:30 a.m, the mobile band room returned to the Fischell Band Center, instruments were put back on shelves, and thirty sleepy and heartbroken Cornell students disappeared into the night.

At 12:45, I turned the key to my Collegetown apartment. I remembered how optimistic I had been only a day before. I anticipated a great weekend, both in terms of fun with friends and Cornell bouncing back on the ice. Well, the fun with friends part delivered, but the hockey left me wanting. The last thing I thought before turning out the light was that I needed to build up the band-kid enthusiasm for Friday. This is because Friday, the band will follow the team to Quinnipiac and Princeton. We will do it all over again, win or lose.