It’s an even year, which means Cornell men’s hockey is taking on a team other than Boston University in its annual Thanksgiving game at Madison Square Garden. This year’s foe is by far the most exciting as the Red is set to face off against its archrival Harvard at The World’s Most Famous Arena.
The Ivy League’s most bitter hockey rivalry belongs to Cornell, which owns a 76-65-11 record against Harvard. Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 is 36-18-6 in 60 games against the Crimson.
Cornell’s history at MSG:
Saturday will mark the 10th time since 2007 that Cornell will play a game at The Garden. In the nine games to date, Cornell holds a 4-3-2 record. The Red has played at The Garden each year since 2011, switching off against B.U. in Red Hot Hockey during the odd years and a different non-conference foe in the Frozen Apple during the even years. Past opponents in The Frozen Apple include New Hampshire (2016), Penn State (2014) and Michigan (2012).
Cornell is a perfect 3-0 in The Frozen Apple and 1-3-2 in Red Hot Hockey.
Cornell last time out:
The Red (5-3, 3-1 ECAC) welcomed higher-ranked Quinnipiac and Princeton to Lynah Rink last weekend, settling for a split series against its ECAC rivals. Cornell dropped the Friday game to the Bobcats, 4-2, before bouncing back in a big way to defeat the Tigers, 5-1, on Saturday.
Harvard last time out:
The Crimson (2-3-2, 1-2-1) split a series against a vivacious and high-flying Arizona State squad. Harvard took the first matchup against the then-No. 18 Sun Devils by a score of 4-1 before dropping game two in overtime, 3-2.
Scouting the Crimson:
Harvard last year was the top pick to win the ECAC, but a plethora of issues — a down year in net, briefly losing its top player to the Olympics and losing games it should have won — eventually derailed a 2017-18 campaign laden with expectations.
Things haven’t gotten much easier thus far in 2018-19. The Crimson sits at a humble 2-3-2 on the year, once again unaided by shaky performances so far in net. Michael Lackey has become the nightly netminder after the graduation of Merrick Madsen, but his 3.23 goal against average and .880 save percentage leaves Harvard in the cellar of ECAC defenses.
One thing that has remained stable, however, is Adam Fox. The junior defenseman, who is a top NHL prospect, paces his team in points (3-12—15) and is the heart and soul of the Crimson lineup. He and Reilly Walsh lead the Crimson’s blueline while captain Lewis Zerter-Gossage centers Harvard’s top line.
A trio of freshmen — Casey Dornbach, Jack Drury and Jack Rathbone — are the Crimson’s No. 2-4 point-getters, respectively. The first two have clicked well together on the second line.
“The biggest thing for us is knowing who’s on the ice for them and the situation,” said senior alternate captain and defenseman Alec McCrea. “As a defensive side, knowing the situation within the game and playing to our strengths. And our strengths are sticking to our system and focusing on the fundamentals and the details.”
Cornell beats Harvard if:
… it plays the classic Cornell game of low shots against, modest shots for. This will be contingent on the health of some key defensemen, but Cornell thrives when it controls the pace of play and keeps pucks away from sophomore goalie Matt Galajda.
In the first win on the trip to Northern Michigan — a win Schafer called the team’s most complete of the season — Cornell conceded only 13 shots on net. That will undoubtedly be hard to replicate against a fifth-ranked Harvard offense trying to prove itself on the big stage, but it’s always a good idea to stick to the basics amid what will be an emotional weekend in New York City.
What they’re saying in Ithaca:
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 on the rivalry taking place in NYC: “You have the duel, on an NHL rink, in New York City. This is a fantastic venue for our guys to play in. Top that with the excitement of playing your rival.”
McCrea on getting to play Harvard at The Garden: “When we first heard the rumor of [playing Harvard at MSG], the guys were like, ‘We need to make this happen. All the guys are so stoked especially because of the tradition that we have with them, and now it’s on a bigger stage with more people and that rivalry we have is going to be second to none.”
Sophomore forward and New York Rangers draft pick Morgan Barron: “This game is just as big as any other game for us. I’m sure there will be no love lost.”
What they’re saying in Cambridge:
Head coach Ted Donato on the rivalry’s new stage (The Crimson): “What do they refer to MSG as, the ‘world’s most famous arena’?. In the broadest sense, college is about having great experiences, and exposing yourself to different challenges, and opening your mind to different things. For our guys to have an opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden in [front of] what would most likely be an excellent crowd, I think, is a great life experience.”
Forward Michael Floodstrand on Harvard’s start to the season: “We might have had a rough start numbers-wise, but it’s a long season. We’re going to be one of those teams, I think, [that] in December, January, February really takes stride and gets hot going into playoffs. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made; we’ve definitely had a few tough games that we wish we could take back but that stuff’s behind you.”
Defenseman Reilly Walsh on Cornell: “They obviously have a really good goalie, and team defense in general is pretty strong. I think they play us very hard, as most teams do, but just especially ’cause it’s Harvard-Cornell…. But obviously they’re beatable. I think we’re pretty fired up because of what happened last year, not beating them at all. … It’s going to be a huge first period on Saturday, to get the first goal and get the lead, and I think with [the Big Red], once they get a lead they rarely give it up.”
Schafer was uncertain about Cornell’s quartet of injured players: junior forward Jeff Malott, sophomore defenseman Alex Green, sophomore forward Brenden Locke and senior defenseman Brendan Smith. Signs point to the four skaters being game-time decisions for Saturday.
The latter two — Locke and Smith — seemed to also be game-time decisions for last weekend’s tilts against Quinnipiac and Yale while Malott and Green have been more long-term. Regardless, none played in last weekend’s series split.
Green sustained an injury after hitting his head on the ice against Yale on Nov. 2, while Malott, Locke and Smith were all injured during the trip to Northern Michigan.
Wikipedia refers to four collegiate rivalries as “The Game”: Michigan vs. Ohio State in football; Harvard vs. Yale in football; Hampden–Sydney vs. Randolph–Macon in football; and Cornell vs. Harvard in men’s hockey.
All but the Hampden–Sydney vs. Randolph–Macon matchup will take place in a span of seven days: Harvard-Yale last Saturday, Nov. 17 and Cornell-Harvard and Michigan-Ohio State this Saturday, Nov. 24.
Schafer forever etched his place into the hearts of Cornell fans when, in 1983, he skated to center ice at Lynah Rink and broke a stick over his head that read “Harvard Sucks” to fire up his teammates and fans.
Dylan McDevitt ’19 contributed reporting to this article.