Commentary: Ivy Hockey Experience

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending one of the Ivy League’s great rivalries. This game had everything. One of the sport’s historic buildings, two teams at the top of their conference and a passionate student section that blew the roof off the building.

I am talking, of course, about the Cornell-Harvard men’s hockey game that took place Saturday night in Ithaca, N.Y., just hours before the tip-off the Cornell-Penn basketball game.

What, you thought I was talking about something else?

Saturday, I was among the 3,836 people lucky enough to be in the building as the Crimson took on the Big Red at historic Lynah Rink. And I was among even fewer who got to take in the action from the front row.

What I saw around me was an atmosphere even better than what I had encountered four days earlier when the Penn basketball team took on Princeton at the Palestra.

And Cornell lost!

So after a full three hours at Lynah, here are my three big reasons Cornell hockey is a better experience than Penn basketball:

1. The student section

The Lynah faithful are unrelenting. TV time out? No reason to sit down. Team gets down a couple of goals? You’re as loud as ever, unlike at the Palestra, when a run by the visitors is often followed by deflating silence.

And at Lynah, maybe the only building I’ve been to that’s louder than the Palestra with so few fans, if you’re not wearing the home jersey, and you do something wrong, you’ll hear about it.

Commit a penalty, and to 2,000 students, you’re a goon. Ice the puck, it’s “Red line! Idiot! Red line! Idiot!” Let up a goal, “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!”

Everyone knows to say it. Two-thousand students in unison. And they have a chant for everything.

2. Demand

As I stood outside before the game, it reminded me of the scene outside an NCAA basketball tournament game.

Somebody holding a sign saying, “I need 1 ticket.” Somebody telling the assembled crowd of potential buyers that he had paid $80 for his $15 seat.

And even greater than game-day demand is student season-ticket demand.

Every year before the season begins, thousands of students wait on edge for the announcement to pick up season tickets, not unlike The Line for Palestra tickets. But unlike The Line, the consequence for missing the boat is worse than a seat a few rows up — it’s getting no seat at all.

Every student seat is sold on a season-by-season basis. While roughly half of the crowd was comprised of students, there are hundreds or thousands of others unable to buy season tickets. And although I went to the biggest game of the year, the rest are no different. 3,836 seats, 3,836 people in them.

The Penn-Princeton game fell 900 short of a sellout. And that’s a good crowd.

3. The product

I heard some talk about expanding Lynah Rink. They’re talking about luxury boxes and maybe a few more seats.

But I know the real reason.

They’re running out of room for the championship banners.

Eleven ECACHL championships and 19 Ivy titles pale in comparison to the two big ones. The Big Red took home national championships in 1967 and 1970. The ’67 team boasted arguably the best goalkeeper in NCAA history in Ken Dryden, while the ’70 squad is the only undefeated college hockey team ever with no NCAA eligibility issues.

And home success is even more common — Cornell went undefeated at Lynah in 2002-03 and 2004-05.

While the Quakers often stumble at the Palestra against less-than-stellar opposition, Cornell takes on the best in the nation. The ECACHL often gets multiple teams into the 16-team NCAA Tournament and currently boasts four teams in the Top 20, including the No. 7 Big Red.

There are plenty of other comparisons to be made. Throwing streamers on rare occasions versus throwing fish on the ice before the Harvard game every year. Extending your arm for “The Red and Blue” versus putting your arm around your neighbor for the Cornell alma mater. Freezing your tail off at Lynah versus sweating through your clothes at the Palestra.

Cornell hockey has no answer to the Big 5 or to some of the incredible personalities in the world of Penn basketball.

But for the pure experience of one game, I’ll take Lynah over the Palestra.

If I can find a ticket.