Cornell defeated Princeton 5-0 in an exhibition at Lynah Rink on Saturday night.
While the victory will not count for Cornell’s record, the contest was an especially meaningful one for the players, coaches and the Lynah Faithful. After the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly canceled the Red’s postseason in 2019-2020 and after the loss of last season, Saturday’s game was the first time in 594 days the Red took the ice at Lynah.
Students and locals had to follow new University policies that required masks and limited attendance as they returned to the rink — but were nonetheless eager to see Cornell back in action.
“Even though we still have our masks on, it feels like we’re back,” Gabe Schiffer ’23 said in the student section. “The atmosphere is still there, so it feels awesome.”
Another new policy has delayed the sale of season tickets to the start of 2022 as the University manages capacity limits. For the remaining games in the fall semester, fans will have to buy their tickets on an individual basis. Tickets will go on sale on the Tuesday before each game at 10 a.m. The policy was the source of some anxiety and frustration for many of the Lynah Faithful.
“It’s certainly inconvenient,” said Bill Mack of nearby Bath, New York.
Mack has been coming to Cornell hockey games since he was 16 years old and has been a season ticket holder for the last 40 years.
“I knew nothing about hockey, but my philosophy was ‘Everyone has such a grand time here, I’ve got to come back and experience this again,’ and that was 55 years ago,” Mack said.
Because seats were sold on a general admission basis, Mack arrived early to secure the same seats he has sat in for the past 40 years.
Other fans were worried about securing tickets for the games this semester. Susanne Solomon ’78 and Jack Thompson ’73 have been season ticket holders since they moved back to Ithaca in 2010 and plan on buying the season ticket plan for the second half of this season. For now, they’re hoping to come to as many games as they’re able to successfully get tickets for this fall.
“I hit the website for these tickets right at 10 o’clock on Tuesday,” Thompson said. “I was sitting there watching the exact time on my phone.”
Despite the difficulties, those who attended were excited to be in the crowd once again, eager to carry on the traditions of the Lynah Faithful.
Cathy Bartell, the associate director of the Sloan Program in Health Administration in the College of Human Ecology, said she was thrilled to be back in Lynah and was excited to see a new group of students carry on Cornell hockey traditions.
“We had students over for dinner and I told them how much they’re going to love this game, and they’re all sitting over [in the student section],” Bartell said. “It was really fun to introduce hockey to new fans.”
Many of Lynah’s traditions are led by the Big Red Pep Band, whose members are equally excited to be back at hockey games.
“We’re thrilled to be back. Exhibition game or regular season game, it doesn’t matter, we’re here to bring the energy,” said pep band conductor Alex Loane ’21.
Because last season was canceled, half of Cornell’s undergraduate population has not had the opportunity to see a game at Lynah.
Joshua Tensuan ’25 said the traditions were new to him, but he and his friends were starting to catch on.
“I’m still learning everything,” Tensuan said. “The newspaper thing was pretty cool.”
Tensuan was referring, of course, to the tradition of the student section rattling newspapers as the opposing team is announced and then crumpling them up and throwing them on the ice.
The fans mostly did not miss a beat, chanting “Kill Red Kill!” when Princeton went on the power play, reminding Princeton’s goalie that Cornell’s five goals were all his fault and waving Princeton’s players to the penalty box.
While the student section relied on the band to lead the cheers, many of the band members needed a refresher after missing a season.
“We had our ‘Hockey 101,’ where we sit everyone down and tape up a table like a hockey rink and explain what we yell when the puck is over here or what we yell when it’s over there,” Loane said.
The Red gave the Lynah Faithful much to cheer for during its decisive 5-0 victory.
Just 18 seconds into the contest, junior Matt Stienburg found the back of the net for his first of two goals of the evening.
“We got on them pretty early and played the way we wanted to and I think that resulted on the scoreboard,” Stienburg said.
The Red’s special teams units were especially effective. The Red scored twice on the power play and held Princeton to 0-8 on the penalty kill, adding a shorthanded goal.
“I was happy with our power play,” said Head Coach Mike Schafer ’86. “Penalty killing did a good job … and our goaltenders were there to rise to the challenge and make the save on the couple power play chances [Princeton] got.”
Cornell’s goalkeeping was strong all night. Senior Nate McDonald and freshmen Joe Howe and Ian Shane shutout the Tigers and combined for 14 saves. Each goalie played one period. The three goalies will continue to compete for playing time.
“There won’t be a starter on our team for quite some time,” Schafer said. “We’ll be watching them practice and see how they perform.”
The goalies are taking their battle in stride.
“We have a really healthy relationship,” McDonald said. “We know the situation that we’re in, but we all really respect each other. We compete hard in practice, cheer each other on, and all three of us have each other’s backs.”
After encouraging performances on both sides of the puck, Schafer wants to work on discipline ahead of next week’s exhibition with the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Cornell was called for multiple roughing penalties after some pushing and shoving with Princeton skaters.
“I don’t want our guys getting involved in after the whistle stuff. Eight penalties is way too many penalties for us,” Schafer said. “We’ve got to become a tough-minded hockey team, so when stuff happens, we don’t retaliate, we don’t respond, we don’t get wound up and we don’t get distracted.”
Schafer attributed some of the chippiness to adrenaline from playing in front of fans, but said he was happy to have fans back in Lynah.
“It was awesome to play in front of a crowd again,” Schafer said. “We’re looking forward to next week … to get things rocking in here a little more.”
The players were similarly grateful to see the Lynah Faithful.
“Everyone, including the fans, was waiting for this for a long time and to get back out there is a feeling we’ve definitely all been missing,” Stienburg said. “We’re glad we could get a win for [the fans].”
The team’s dominant performance instilled excitement in a fan base that last saw the team when it was ranked first in the country and seemed poised to make a run for a national championship.
“We lost a lot of guys, but the freshmen from [two seasons ago] are really good, so they’ll probably lead the team this year,” said Benjamin Rudoy ’23.
Now a junior, Stienburg last took the ice as a freshman.
“Anytime you’re a returning player you want to try to make a jump into a leadership role,” Stienburg said. “We have a lot of really good guys coming back and a lot of great players and good character guys coming in, so I think that makes it a little bit easier.”
Cornell will have one more exhibition tune-up next weekend before it starts its season at Lynah on Oct. 29 against the University of Alaska Fairbanks.