Befitting the land-grant university of a sprawling and diverse state, the hockey teams of Cornell University have made rinks resting along the banks of the Hudson nearly as homey as the Red's traditional home nestled in the breast of the Finger Lakes. Hockey teams of Cornell have squared off against opponents in contests in Manhattan for over a century.At least four venues have hosted Cornell hockey contests. Cornell has played in at least 36 games in the nation's largest city. The Big Red has emerged victorious in 19 and settled for a tie but once in all of those contests.
Merry Christmases and Happy New Years
ECAC Hockey, founded in 1961, desired inroads into the athletics scene and media market of New York City. The league was coterminous with Eastern hockey for nearly a quarter-century. Establishing roots in Manhattan was a covetous boondoggle. The Conference commenced hosting a Holiday Hockey Festival at Madison Square Garden in the league's first winter.
The Holiday Hockey Festival was an invitational tournament of members of ECAC Hockey. The tournament matured and incorporated first-round byes for ECAC Hockey members, consolation games, and out-of-conference foes including Minnesota and Notre Dame, at various times. The winner of a given Hockey Festival was not guaranteed an automatic right to defend its crown the next season. The tournament continued for 15 years.
No invitation arrived at Lynah Rink for the first Holiday Hockey Festival. Interestingly, it would not be the first time that ECAC Hockey snubbed Cornell in such a manner. The most common invitees to the Holiday Hockey Festivals do not count Cornell as a member. The North-Country duet of Clarkson and St. Lawrence hold that distinction with 10 and 11 invitations respectively. Cornell was invited to less than half of the holiday tournaments. Despite the Big Red's receiving invitations to only seven Holiday Hockey Festivals, the Red icers won the greatest number of tournament titles.
The championships won in the Decembers of 1965, 1967, and 1969, and the January of 1975 are without any doubt the fondest to recount, but the tournaments of 1962, 1964, and 1976 left their marks on Cornell hockey's legacy in Manhattan. Cornell did little in its first two outings at Madison Square Garden to prove its deservingness to be in one of ECAC Hockey's mid-season marquee event.
Paul Patten led his Red skaters into the 37-year-old building on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. This third iteration of Madison Square Garden greeted its first visitors from Cornell in much the same way that St. Nicholas Rink had. Undaunted, Cornell proved its appeal to the New-York market with its drawing 6,275 fans to The Garden for a preliminary contest.
While fans had notice of Cornell's invitation to the Holiday Hockey Festival, the Big Red's defense clearly did not. Seemingly unchallenged, Clarkson and St. Lawrence took turns unleashing barrages on Laing Kennedy. In the tradition of Vail before him, Kennedy stood tall in New York with his making 60 saves against St. Lawrence, but his team surrendered eight goals in each contest.
Manhattan continued to be a fickle mistress to Cornell when the Ithacans received their second invitation to play in the Holiday Hockey Festival. Cornell finished fifth in the 1964 Holiday Hockey Festival behind a disappointing loss to Brown and a win over St. Lawrence. In characteristic Ned Harkness fashion, he did not take long to deconstruct, strategize, and win the tournament. Cornell received an invitation for the 1965 tournament.
Never a place for accepting anything less than excellence, the valley around East Hill echoed with discontentment. The Holiday Hockey Festival was "the burying grounds for Cornell hockey hopes." In 1965, it was Colgate's netminder who had to deliver an awe-inspiring performance to salvage even a glimmer of hope for his squad.
Championship defense dazzled Cornell's fans and alumni in attendance as Harry Orr, Ed Sauer, and all-time great defenseman Skip Stanowski protected Dave Quarrie in the Red crease. It was Stanowski's shot from the point that captain Doug Ferguson collected and tucked away to give Cornell a lead over St. Lawrence in the Red's second game. Doug Ferguson added another goal to put Cornell over the Saints, 5-2.
The 1965 Holiday Hockey Festival championship was the first tournament that Harkness won as Cornell's head coach. The Big Red was mere months removed from winning its second actual championship, the 1966 Ivy League title, but the midseason tournament taught valuable lessons to the sophomore and junior classes that would lead Cornell to its first NCAA title a year later.
Ken Dryden led Cornell into Madison Square Garden in December 1967. He was one game removed from shutting out Harvard in Cambridge, MA. Dryden and Harkness' well drilled defense held down the back end while Cornell's forwards dominated play in Clarkson's and then Brown's territory. Dryden had a personal vendetta. The Providence-based Ivy Leaguers wrested from the "big kid" his first collegiate game allowing more than three goals. The national-champion netminder would exact revenge. In front of 8,100 fans who favored Cornell overwhelmingly, Brown bowed to Cornell, 3-2. The John Reed Kilpatrick Trophy returned to Central New York.
The importance of games, opponents, or events can be gauged fairly precisely by which players find it in themselves to deliver their greatest performances at those moments. There is perhaps no better series of games in New York City that prove the importance of Cornell's forays in Manhattan than the 1969 Holiday Hockey Festival. Brian Cropper allowed just two goals on 54 shots, including a shutout of RPI, proving what Wisconsin would learn shortly, even the diminutive can tower in tournament play.
New York City was Cornell's territory. Any opposing fans who had misconceptions about this reality had those views rectified quickly between December 22 and 23. In just two games at Madison Square Garden, the first two played at the fourth rendition of the famed venue, 12 skaters in carnelian and white tallied a point. Dick Bertrand, Larry Fullan, John Hughes, and Dan Lodboa, constituting one-third of point producers over the weekend, notched five or more points. In the RPI semifinal, captain John Hughes delivered a two-goal, four-point effort. Dick Bertrand, captain and future bench boss of the Big Red, made spectators grapple with the choice of honoring a hockey tradition or bracing for the brisk weather when he tallied a hat trick against St. Lawrence.
In three consecutive invitations to the Holiday Hockey Festival, Cornell dominated the tournament field and emerged triumphant. Ivy League and ECAC Hockey championships followed each of those seasons. A second NCAA national title followed the third holiday crown. The first time that Cornell faced off below the iconic wagon wheel of the current Madison Square Garden's ceiling, the carnelian and white embarrassed opponents by outscoring them eight to one. Perhaps in deference to some conception of equity, Cornell remained uninvited to the Holiday Hockey Festival for six years.
When Cornell returned in January of 1975, Cornell hockey was on the cusp of one of the highest-scoring eras in its history. If prevention of embarrassing programs was the goal of Cornell's imposed absence, it was certainly not the result. The Big Red burst back onto the scene of the Big Apple in a manner much like it had left. The Red skaters put up 17 goals. The total inched past Cornell's performance at Madison Square Garden in 1969 by one goal. However, Boston College and St. Lawrence were able to preserve some of their dignities with their scoring seven goals and four goals respectively. Both fell by three-goal margins.
Dick Bertrand, in his sixth season as head coach, led Cornell into Madison Square Garden in consecutive years. Cornell's 1975 appearance in ECAC Hockey's holiday tournament in New York City resulted in another mid-season tournament title. Bertrand's second attempt would not. A contest that saw six goals but only one even-strength marker ended with the Golden Knights of Clarkson doubling up the Big Red of Cornell. In what would serve as Cornell's last game at Madison Square Garden for decades, Cornell quadrupled Penn for an 8-2 margin of victory against a Quakers program that limped on for only two more seasons.
ECAC Hockey ceased sponsoring the Holiday Hockey Festival in 1977. Its final champion was Boston University. It was only the Terriers' second title in the midseason tournament. Jack Kelley had won the first for Boston University during a season when Cornell was not invited. Jack Parker won the 1977 holiday prize. The collapse of the Conference's marquee midseason event quickly became the least of Commissioner Scotty Whitelaw's concerns when a faction of New England programs separated from the East's oldest conference.