With Cornell (13-4-1, 8-2-1 ECAC) sitting behind Harvard in the Ivy League standings, the next few days will be crucial in the Red’s quest for its fourth consecutive Ancient Eight title. Cornell will play three of its four remaining Ivy games between now and Tuesday as it takes on Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown.
The Red will start the busy stretch with weekend games against Dartmouth and Harvard before traveling to Providence, RI for a rare 3 p.m. Tuesday tilt with Brown. The league was forced to reschedule the Brown game after COVID protocols in the Bears program prevented them from hosting Cornell on Jan. 15.
“It’ll be a challenge, but in the same token, our guys want to play games,” said Associate Head Coach Ben Syer. “We thought we were going to play Brown on our last trip, so there’s already been some prep work that’s been put in.”
While a marquee matchup against archrival Harvard looms on Saturday, Cornell is intent on not overlooking its Friday night game against Dartmouth. Last weekend, players and coaches felt that taking the Princeton game for granted in preparation for Quinnipiac contributed to the shocking loss.
“I think our guys realize that this is a two-game set and how important Dartmouth is,” Syer said. “We can’t look ahead and worry about Harvard before we … prepare the way we need to for Friday night’s game.”
While Dartmouth (3-12-2, 2-8-1 ECAC) may seem like an easy opponent, the Big Green is capable of keeping things close with Cornell. Dartmouth has one win in its last 12 tries, but it has demonstrated an ability to play to its competition. Half of the Big Green’s 12 losses have been by two or fewer goals.
The teams last met on Nov. 6 in Hanover, with Cornell earning a nail-biting 5-4 victory behind a last second goal from junior forward Ben Berard, just minutes after he passed up an opportunity to score on an empty net.
Berard was the hero again last weekend, scoring both of Cornell’s goals against Quinnipiac, albeit under much different circumstances.
“He was so upset with himself that he decided not to shoot at the open net that he almost [scored at the last second] out of guilt,” Syer said. “[Saturday night] he showed poise, and that’s a gift that he certainly does have.”
After Dartmouth, Cornell will turn its attention to one of its biggest events of the year, its Saturday night game against Harvard at Lynah.
“It’s the game you mark on the calendar at the beginning of the year,” said senior defenseman and tri-captain Cody Haiskanen. “I’m really excited to play them and get back in front of Lynah after not doing it last year.”
For Haiskanen and the team’s other seniors, Saturday will mark the last regular season installment of the historic rivalry.
“It’s bittersweet. That’s one of the best rivalries we’ve had in our whole careers,” Haiskanen said.
For the team’s 14 freshmen and sophomores, Saturday will be their first Harvard game at Lynah.
“I’m going to be a little nervous, and that’s good,” said sophomore forward Jack O’Leary. “The upperclassmen and those guys who have been here know what it’s like. The young guys are eager to see what it’s like.”
The game won’t quite have the same energy as previous matchups. Instead of a sellout crowd, Cornell will compete in front of a limited capacity Lynah Faithful.
Last weekend, Lynah was limited to 50% capacity. The University did not provide exact figures for this weekend’s limit, but the Athletic Department told the Sun, “Capacity numbers for games all season have been approved by the University and are a mix of renewed non-student season ticket holders and student single-game tickets.”
Due to the popularity of the Harvard game and the limited number of tickets sold, many students struggled to get tickets when sales opened on Tuesday morning. Some students who placed a $50 deposit for season tickets were granted access to tickets at 9 a.m., as opposed to the general release at 10 a.m.
Robert Shield ’22 normally sits with friends in Section B, but seats in the section were sold out minutes after 9 a.m.
“I was able to get a section B seat but some of my friends were only able to get section A,” Shield said. “I don’t know anyone who was able to get seats at 10 a.m.”
Some students reported difficulties and error messages on the ticket website, but the Athletic Department told the Sun that things went smoothly.
“Orders came through steadily all morning,” an announcement read. “With an influx of people logging in at the same time, some people were booted from the system. The web site did not go down at any point, and the allotment of tickets were sold on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Those that did manage to get tickets are intent on maintaining the traditions associated with the game, mainly throwing fish at the Harvard players as they enter the ice.
The Athletic Department said that security will enforce rules and notified ticket holders that throwing objects on the ice will not be tolerated and could result in a penalty against Cornell.
Despite tight security, students always find a way to sneak fish into Lynah.
“There are going to be fish,” Shield said. “It’ll be interesting to see how many fish there are because there are fewer people and there’s less safety in numbers in breaking the rules.”
The players and coaches, for their parts, expressed great enthusiasm for the tradition.
“I love it,” Syer said. “I absolutely love it. It’s certainly unique.”
“It’s something you don’t see anywhere else,” Haiskanen stated. “You’re thinking about the game, but you’re kind of laughing like, ‘Oh yeah, here we go.’”
Once the fish are cleaned up, the Red will hope to even the season series against a Harvard team that has struggled as of late, having lost three of its last four matchups.
The big question facing the Crimson is whether its two top scorers, Nick Abruzzese and Sean Farrell, will be available on Saturday. Both forwards were selected to join Team USA at the Olympics, which start next week. Team USA will meet in Los Angeles this Sunday before flying to Beijing, which could make Saturday night’s game a logistical challenge.
Cornell might also be without its top two scorers, junior forward Matt Stienburg and senior forward Max Andreev. Stienburg and Andreev both missed last weekend’s game against Quinnipiac due to injuries and are both day-to-day, according to Syer.
It will be a quick turnaround for Cornell after Saturday night’s game.
“We’ll get started Sunday, and we’ll flip it around and get right into [preparing for] Brown,” Syer said.
Cornell takes on Dartmouth 7 p.m. Friday and Harvard 7 p.m. Saturday at Lynah Rink, before taking on Brown 3 p.m. Tuesday in Providence.