February 1, 2017

LINSEY | Cornell Hockey: A Missive to the “Faithful”

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Two and a half years ago, I pushed open the door to Lynah Rink. As I entered Cornell’s hallowed arena for the annual Red/White scrimmage, I unknowingly embarked on a journey that has already taken me to over one hundred Cornell hockey games, all 12 ECAC rinks and several other venues like Madison Square Garden. I have attended almost every Cornell men’s hockey game since, playing in the pep band and often writing this very column here in The Sun.

But over that time, I have noticed a major change in the behavior of the Lynah Faithful that needs to be addressed.

When the 2014-15 season started, I was a wide-eyed freshman, and the traditions of the Faithful impressed me. The band always showed up early — in the rink at 6:15 p.m. sharp for a 7 p.m. game. Some students and townies were already in their seats at 6:30 p.m. for warm-ups. By the time the players came out for introductions, the Faithful were all in place and ready to shake their newspapers. During the game, while I stood in the corner of the band and tried to keep up with the music, the Faithful cycled through cheer after cheer. Every play for two hours, they backed the Red in full voice. I had always been a sports fanatic, but at that moment, I saw the Lynah Faithful way. I decided I wanted to help keep that atmosphere in Lynah Rink — night after night, win or lose — for the next four years.

However, there has been a clear decline in the environment recently. Empty seats abound Lynah Rink nearly every weekend, which should gnaw at the soul of a true Lynah Faithful member. There are very few students present when the starting lineups are announced, let alone for warm-ups. The main cheers still echo in the Lynah rafters, but other taunts have vanished to the annals of Cornell hockey lore. If it is apparent Cornell will lose the game, fans start heading for the exits in the third period, and even when in attendance, students now increasingly use foul language to disagree with the officiating. Overall, the Lynah Faithful still get the job done as a student section, but head coach Mike Schafer ’86 is right to expect more of what he calls “the best fans in college hockey.”

Yet, all is not lost. This weekend, I was reminded of why I fell in love with Cornell hockey back in October 2014. Lynah Rink was sold out for both games because of the Harvard clash, and the student section was enthusiastic despite two tough losses. The fans showed up early and were ready for the Crimson, sending seafood soaring through the air. Against Dartmouth, the rink was once again sold out, and the fans were loud despite another tough loss to swallow against the Green. There were some disappointments, as was there a considerable amount of vulgar chanting at the officials. While that particular part was rather disgraceful, there were still a lot of positive signs this weekend.

What is most disappointing about student behavior is that this season, the Lynah Faithful have had the pleasure of cheering on a fantastic Cornell hockey team. Cornell has racked up a 12-6-2 record overall, and sports a 7-4-2 mark in ECAC play. Senior goalie Mitch Gillam has been outstanding in net, and the Red has had balanced scoring up front. Schafer has led a resurgence of sorts, deploying the sort of team that led opponents to fear trips to Ithaca’s East Hill.

No true fan should need a second reminder about the tradition of the Cornell men’s hockey program. The program boasts two national championships, the only undefeated season by any Division I team in 1970, two National Hockey League Hall of Famers — forward Joe Nieuwendyk ’88 and goaltender Ken Dryden ’69 — and a strong record of consistent success over the years.

During the Dartmouth game this weekend, Cornell honored the 50th anniversary of the 1967 national championship team. Dryden was in Ithaca for the event, and his presence should coincidentally serve as a timely reminder of the type of player and character that this program produces. So perhaps Dryden’s attendance inspired more students to attend this weekend’s games and future contests.

Despite historic successes on the ice, the results this weekend show that this team needs the Lynah Faithful more than ever. It was the first zero-point weekend of the season for the Red,  thereby the worst segment of its season to date. The team’s reaction to this weekend may prove crucial to the season. With five of the nine remaining games in Lynah Rink, the team can benefit from an improved effort by the Faithful.

My missive to the Faithful is this: show up, arrive early and be loud. Support the Red for the entire game in a respectful manner, win or lose, and respect the proud tradition of Cornell University and the men’s hockey program.