Whenever Harvard visits Lynah Rink to face Cornell men’s hockey, in a bout of upstate hospitality, fans warmly welcome the Crimson by throwing scores of fish onto the ice.
The tradition has been in place since the early 1970’s and has become a staple for fans. Matthew Frucht ’21, Daniel Morton ’21 and Jake Polacek ’21 were among the fans who participated in the age-old tradition on Saturday.
This past weekend’s contest was not the first rodeo for the three juniors.
Last year, the group waited until the last minute to pick up their fish. After driving around Ithaca and Lansing, Frucht and Polacek picked up several mackerels at a market and planned an exchange at the rink with Morton, who was busy at the time.
“We actually exchanged [the fish] in the bathroom at Lynah,” Polacek said. “As we were walking out, a cop walked in.”
The two escaped the sticky situation with their fish undetected.
“We were both in the same bathroom stall, so it was a little bit sketchy,” Morton said.
This year, the group planned their scheme for several weeks. On Thursday, they picked up 10 fish, including six big ones.
Before the game, the three made it through the first round of security and went to their seats in Section B.
“Wearing hockey jerseys and a jacket, you can fit a fish in the sleeve of your arm,” Frucht said. “And that’s what I did.”
Even with the University’s rule of a zero-fish policy, the three, like scores of the Lynah faithful, were not deterred from carrying out their plan.
“They have all of the rules and sent an email about the zero-fish policy,” Frucht said. “But after freshman year, we realized that there is some leeway if you can sneak it in.”
The school mascot was even in on the action last year.
“Last year at the game, Touchdown the Bear was in a hockey jersey and was holding this giant plush fish above his head,” Morton said. “They encourage it, even though they technically can’t.”
But the plan floundered when Morton’s fish were confiscated in the stands by security.
“There was a guy walking around, and I thought he was a student,” Morton said. “I had my jacket cracked open because it was getting hot. I had a bag tucked inside my sleeve and he must have spotted it.”
Despite Morton’s best efforts, he had to release his fish.
“So then, he was like questioning me,” Morton continued. “I tried to hold him off, but he called his superior, and I had to hand it over.”
Armed with plenty of other fish, though, the trio still had the necessary ammunition to carry out the tradition. With the Harvard skaters ready to enter the ice, Polacek made the first move, tossing the first sea creature of the evening.
“As soon as the goalie touched his foot on the ice, it was flying,” Polacek recounted.
After the initial wave of fish was thrown out onto the ice, fans continued to heave fish as the Harvard skaters clung to the wall in an effort to avoid any pelting.
Although the three were active participants in the tradition, they did note some of the unsavory side effects that come with this tradition. Some fans hurled Swedish fish onto the ice, but the candy wound up staining the ice.
“We got to get rid of the Swedish fish,” Polacek remarked. “It ruins the ice.”
But frozen fish can stink for its own reasons, too. Because frozen fish thaw out and become wet, fish juice ended up raining down over the rink.
“It starts to smell like a fish market five minutes before puck drop,” Polacek said.
In regards to the actual game, the three enjoyed the experience as well.
While the contest was scoreless for the first 56 minutes, the three noted the energy from the Lynah Faithful. Freshman Jack Drury’s goal for Harvard silenced the crowd, but sophomore forward Michael Regush’s response on the power play revived the fans.
“I think that’s the loudest I’ve ever heard it,” Morton said, referring to the noise following the Red’s tying goal.
While there may be formal rules that prohibit the fish-throwing tradition, it continues to live on, uniting the Cornell fanbase, just as it did for these three juniors.