A rink attendant picks up fish in last season's meeting between Cornell and Harvard.

Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

A rink attendant picks up fish in last season's meeting between Cornell and Harvard.

November 23, 2018

Safety Schools, a Handshake Line and Plenty of Fish: A Brief History of Cornell-Harvard Hockey

Print More

When Cornell and Harvard first competed in men’s hockey in 1910, society looked a lot different than it does now. But the 153rd meeting of the Red and Crimson will have one similarity to the first — it’s taking place in New York City.

A historic rivalry that has spanned over a century but has been truly intense for about half that time gets its spot at the world’s most famous arena on Thanksgiving weekend. Here’s a look at the history between Cornell and its hated team from Cambridge:

January 8, 1910: The first meeting

Despite Cornell’s current advantage in the series of 76-65-11, Harvard won the first meeting between the two teams. Cornell stunk for a while in the in the first half of the 20th century — the Red played the Crimson 14 times from 1910 to 1962, going 1-13. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the rivalry really began.

1957: Beginning of the Lynah Rink era

There’s no college hockey venue quite like Lynah Rink, and there’s no game at Lynah Rink quite like Cornell-Harvard. Named for former Cornell athletic director James Lynah 1905, the brand new modest rink represented a step up from weather-dependent Beebe Lake and hosted Cornell’s upset 2-1 victory over the Crimson in front of a sold-out crowd in February 1962.

1963: O, Canada — Cornell hires Ned Harkness

Cornell hired Ned Harkness as its head coach in 1963. In leaving Rensselaer for Cornell, Harkness explained his decision by saying “Ithaca is exactly 90 miles closer to the Canadian border than Troy,” according to a 1967 Sports Illustrated article about the coach.

Harvard objected to Harkness’ teams being comprised primarily of Canadian players. The Red went 15-2 against the Crimson during Harkness’ tenure, earning Cornell the nickname of “the Canadians” from the Harvard Crimson and others. (At least the Crimson was sure to compliment the referees.) “O, Canada” is played along with the “Star Spangled Banner” at every Cornell home game and at many ECAC arenas.

“Canucks” would have been a better derogatory name for a team of mostly Canadians. Just sayin’.

1973: Fowl play and fishy beginnings

Much like during the Harkness era, academic-related animosity continued during the 1970s, with Harvard poking fun at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and whining about differing admission standards. On January 6, 1973, the rivalry heated up. A Harvard fan threw a chicken on the ice. In retaliation, when the Crimson skated into Lynah the next month, they were greeted by a dead fish flung from the stands. Not to be outdone, Harvardians tied a live chicken to the Cornell goalpost.

Contrary to what they say during prospective student tours on East Hill, the fish wasn’t intended as a reference to the smelly Boston Harbor. Rather, it seems the perpetrators just wanted to throw something gross at their team’s archrival.

Anyone who’s been to the Harvard game at Lynah in recent decades knows the fish tradition caught on quickly — and fish raining down along with passionate chants of “Harvard sucks” are quite a sight to behold.

December 10, 1983: A broken stick

Current Cornell head coach Mike Schafer ’86 bought himself an eternal place in the hearts of Cornell fans when he was a defenseman for the Red. On December 10, 1983, Schafer skated to center ice during lineup announcements with a stick that read “Harvard Sucks” on it. He proceeded to break the stick over his head to the roars of Lynah Rink, firmly establishing the Cornell-Harvard as a national spectacle.

1990: The modern era

The rivals met in the 1990 ECAC tournament, legendary Crimson head coach Bill Cleary’s final season behind the bench. Entering the series with an 11-game losing streak to Harvard, Cornell swept its Cambridge foe in the playoffs, 6-2 and 4-2.

Cleary instructed his team to skate off the ice and eschew the traditional post-series handshake line, ushering in a new chapter of animosity between Cornell and Harvard.

In 2002, the conference renamed its regular-season league trophy the Cleary Cup for the Harvard legend and former Olympic coach. In the years following, Cornell made it its practice not to touch the Cleary Cup, but the team has seemed to relax this form of protest upon its recent regular-season conference championships.

November 12, 2017: An instant classic

After falling behind 2-0, then-No. 12 Cornell stormed back to tie the game before then-junior Alec McCrea’s miraculous last-second goal blew the roof off Lynah Rink and gave the Red a 3-2 win. It was Cornell’s first win against the Crimson — No. 5 in the country at the time — in its last seven tries, and it cemented the Red as one of the nation’s best teams — Cornell remained undefeated with the win and later earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Cornell also beat Harvard on the road last season, a 3-0 win.)

November 24, 2018: Bright Lights, Big Stage

And so, 108 years after the teams’ first meeting, the archrivals will meet in New York City once again. As the hatred is sure to continue into the future, this Saturday will represent another milestone that fans and pundits alike will reflect upon for the ages.