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.
Embracing the Past and the Present
After meeting 30 times as ECAC Hockey members, Boston University and Cornell battled on the ice only eight times between 1984 and 2007. During the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, Boston University and Cornell sojourned to each other's hallowed barns in a home-and-home series. The Big Red split at Walter Brown Arena and swept at Lynah Rink. The Red's home sweep at Lynah Rink was the last series in which both traditional foes grappled. A rivalry that knew so many superlative stages begged for them once more.
Ravenous appetites on opposite sides of the ECAC Hockey-Hockey East chasm demanded the same satiation. Cornell University, with its medical campus in New York City since 1898, coveted an attention-garnering and university-uniting event in Manhattan. Cornell pushed to realize this ambition after the implosion of the Holiday Hockey Festival. Boston University was presented with the limited opportunity to host a large-scale college hockey event at Madison Square Garden. Jack Parker served as the unlikely matchmaker who married the interests of Boston University and Cornell University.
Mike Lynch, director of athletics at Boston University, pressured the legendary Terriers coach to choose a premier opponent to headline what would become college hockey's mid-season showcase affair. Parker dispensed with the possibility of Boston College and Minnesota as potential opponents. The answer was clear. He recounted in 2007, "I thought that the only way this would work would be if BU played Cornell and if it was in Madison Square Garden." The eventual three-time national championship coach recognized the clout of Cornell in New York City.
Jack Parker relied upon his collegial relationship with Mike Schafer when he reached out to East Hill. The two coaches who enjoyed legendary status in the histories of their respective programs knew that their envisioned game would be a success. However, they undersold its reach and scale as plans began to finalize.
Cornell had never played Boston University at either Madison Square Garden. The carnelian and scarlet wardrobes of the two programs made Red Hot Hockey the obvious label for the rivalry as played at The Garden. Parker imagined "the best part about [Red Hot Hockey] will be the fact that the players on both teams will get to experience that type of atmosphere against a big rival in a game they should remember for a long, long time." Schafer predicted modestly that "[Red Hot Hockey] could get up into the 11 to 12,000 range just based on how fanatical our fans are and how loyal our alumni are."
As the game approached, Schafer and Parker realized how wrong their predictions were. The then-four-time ECAC Hockey championship coach summarized, "it's kind of taken off. And it's gotten to the point now where it's just phenomenal." The bench boss from Boston just took to joking that Cornell alone was going to bring tens of thousands of fans. Neither prediction was overstated.
The turnstiles rotated for thousands of fans that evening in November. On one of those revolutions, it should have counted for every spectator in attendance. One of the spectators scarcely could have gone unnoticed if he wanted. He did not. It was his entourage and he who precipitated all things that changed the scene of college hockey that evening.
Ned Harkness attended the first edition of Red Hot Hockey. Members of his 1967 and 1970 NCAA championship teams accompanied him. They received thunderous applause of respect and gratitude during their ceremonial recognition. From the ice on which he had won two tournaments, Harkness basked in the phenomenon that Cornell hockey had become. The only coach to lead an undefeated, untied team would pass away just months later.
The result that Cornell suffered was unlike any that the Big Red had during the era of Jack Kelley and Ned Harkness. Ray Sawada and Topher Scott captained Cornell in its first game against Boston University in five years. The first edition of Red Hot Hockey did not treat Cornell well. It ended in Cornell's largest losing margin in New York City in 45 years. The Terriers raced out to a three-goal lead within 11 minutes. Cornell could bring the scoring gap within two goals just once. An absence of 31 years did not make New York regard Cornell more fondly than it had.
The Lynah Faithful and Cornell alumni sold out Madison Square Garden on November 24, 2007 with 18,200 spectators taking in the contest. In an datum that foreshadowed a later trend for all subsequent Cornell games at The Garden, 70-75% of those in attendance were Cornell partisans. The gaggle of Lynah Faithful and alumni proved less fickle than Cornell's second home. It contributed to what was then the largest crowd to watch a regular-season college-hockey game at an NHL venue.
Boston University and Cornell University agreed future editions were required. The two institutions and programs elected to host the game biennially on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. The former safeguarded against dilution of a valuable and passion-filled product. The latter guaranteed that students and alumni of both institutions in the Greater New York area would ritualize these holiday trips to Madison Square Garden.
Controversy consumed the second and third editions of Red Hot Hockey. November 2009 arrived quickly. Nevertheless, no shortage of major events occurred before the second Manhattan meeting. Boston University won its fifth national title in April 2009. Cornell iced a championship-calibre and national title-contending team for the first time in four seasons for the 2009-10 season. Past challenged potential.
Clutch goal scorers Sean Whitney and Locke Jillson gave Cornell a two-goal lead early in Red Hot Hockey II. A special-teams gaffe led to the Terriers's conversion of a shorthanded opportunity. Blake Gallagher potted his median goal of a season that would see 18 goals leave his stick. The third period began with Cornell defending a two-goal lead with Ben Scrivens in the blue paint. Behind the hallmarks of defense and goaltending, Cornell was positioned to win.
Boston University narrowed the lead to one with just under 16 minutes remaining. In the final 3:20 of the contest, Cornell committed two penalties. A five-on-three opportunity was the predictable result. As Miami learned in Washington, DC, nothing is predictable with Parker. Jack Parker tilted his hand about his personal investment in the rivalry when he opted to create a six-on-three situation with his choice to pull Rollheiser. The Big Red killed over a minute of that disadvantage, but the Terriers converted shortly after the Red regained Brendon Nash.
A second sell-out crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden was grand. A tie that felt like a loss to the Red contingent was not. Cornell would go on to win its 12th ECAC Hockey championship. The feeling of disappointment barely abated. Riding a home shutout streak of three games, sophomore goaltender Andy Iles led Cornell into Red Hot Hockey III. His streak would extend to five games.
Prophetically, carnelian, not home white, was the color donned by Cornell in the third Red Hot Hockey. The two teams alternated as the home team. The emotions before the game indicated that some who counted themselves as the newer converts to Boston University and Cornell fandom found Red Hot Hockey to be stale and unrelatable. They would not leave Madison Square Garden cradling those sentiments.
As the second edition had ended, the third began. Boston University converted on a two-man advantage to take the lead midway through the first period. Cornell stifled Boston University for the remainder of regulation. Sean Whitney, native of Scituate, MA, played the hero again as he carried the puck from the blue line to challenge Milan. His attempt bounced cleanly off of the netminder's pad. A rebound danced outward. Locke Jillson buckled the twine to tie the game.
John Esposito unleashed a shot from the point that deflected off of the glass behind the Boston University net. The rubber disc arced behind Milan and landed in the net. Few in the building saw the puck's landing. Then, the arena began playing a replay on its scoreboard. The Cornell-dominated crowd unleashed its sieve chant with the fury of 14,000 voices as the officials reviewed the play. An officiating crew from Hockey East reviewed the goal. With rumors of debate among its members, the crew decided that an errant whistle sounded before the goal. The goal was waived. Boston University endured regulation and scored around the midpoint of overtime.
Apathy was no longer a component of Red Hot Hockey. The series had regained its controversial or villainous elements for a new era. Members of the Faithful from all generations believed that Hockey-East officiating deprived their program of an earned win. Boston University fans knew that their favored team escaped a close contest that probably it should have lost, but now wielded a cruel poker to stoke the ire of Cornell fans.
The Terrier loyalists were shaken shortly after Boston University and Cornell were invited to the 2012 NCAA Tournament months later. The Terriers met Minnesota. The Big Red faced off against second overall seed Michigan. The Gophers piled on seven goals against Boston University. Four hours later, Cornell toppled a legitimate national-title contender in Michigan. The Terriers grappled with accepting that the dynamic that existed between Boston University and Cornell was not as they conceived after their demoralizing 7-3 loss.
What did Cornell University see in its defeat of Michigan in the 2012 NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal? Undoubtedly, it gazed upon an excellent opportunity. With Cornell's disproportionate role in selling out Madison Square Garden, Mike Schafer and Cornell University desired to make Cornell hockey in Manhattan an annual Thanksgiving-Weekend tradition. Odd-numbered years would remain sequential editions of Red Hot Hockey. Even-numbered years would become a new event entirely. The Frozen Apple was created.
The idea of using Madison Square Garden as Cornell's second home accepted existing realities in college hockey. An enclave of major programs refused to travel to some smaller, but historic, venues. Cornell under Mike Schafer refused to play away games at a program's venue if that program would not reciprocate with a trip to Lynah Rink. The hostility of Lynah Rink and Cornell's high rate of winning in that venue exacerbated the problem for major programs that wished to avoid self-perceived embarrassment.
The Frozen Apple proved to be an unignorable temptation for major programs. It struck a perfect balance. Those programs could play on a big stage, often in front of large bases of fans and alumni in the Greater New York area, without needing to brave hostile and traditional Lynah Rink. Cornell could guarantee a large payout and refuse a return trip.
Schafer had found an event both to ensure Cornell was annually tested against the nation's elite hockey programs and to showcase Cornell hockey to a growing contingent of the University's student who studied in New York City. Cornell University's defeat of Stanford University in bidding for New York City's land grant for a high-tech campus on Roosevelt Island in December 2011 contributed to the latter consideration. Former President Frank H. T. Rhodes's "land-grant university to the world" again had found sure footing in alumnus E. B. White's "capital of the modern world."
The opponents whom the Lynah Faithful desired to see Cornell face most were Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Privately, Cornell hockey approached Michigan to be its first opponent in the Frozen-Apple series. Fortuitously, Cornell's 3-2 overtime defeat of the Wolverines in the 2012 national tournament made the first installment emotionally captivating for both the zealous Children of Yost and Lynah Faithful.
The Frozen Apple 2012 sold out in habitual fashion. Maize and blue dotted one corner of the famed venue, but carnelian and white dominated. Unlike Red Hot Hockey where the colors of the two historic belligerents blur, the first Frozen Apple was one of contrast. Michigan sought to prove its loss in the national tournament to Cornell was anomalous. Cornell knew that it was not.
The Big Red shut out Michigan until the final 10:35 of play. To support wounded veterans of the armed services, Cornell abandoned its traditional threads during the second period and wore urban-camouflage jerseys bearing characteristic carnelian bands on the sleeves and waist. The jerseys were auctioned off to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Despite its change of attire, the Red's effort remained the same.
Andy Iles was unflappable. Cornell added two goals in the second and third periods to Joel Lowry's scoring-opening goal. Senior forward and three-season point leader Greg Miller scored the last goal of each of those stanzas on even strength. Cornell's leading scorer shone just blocks away from Broadway. The 5-1 victory over Michigan that he spearheaded was Cornell's first triumph in New York City in 36 years. Schafer breathed a sigh of relief, "it was nice to finally win down here."
Red Hot Hockey IV was unlike its predecessors. Something more tangible than bragging rights was at stake. Alumni of Boston University and Cornell University, perhaps noticing the waning interest in the rivalry among new generations of fans prior to Red Hot Hockey III, endowed a championship trophy to be exchanged every time that the Terriers and the Big Red meet. The trophy would be awarded its first time at Red Hot Hockey IV.
Even though now led by a coach who lived little of the Boston University-Cornell rivalry, the Terriers were no less motivated to defend the legacy of their legendary coach, Jack Kelley. Misfortune in the forms of planted skates and unfortunate bounces allowed Boston University to gain a three-goal lead with less than 18 minutes remaining in the contest. The Terriers embodied opportunism. Cornell responded with a dirty goal off of Christian Hilbrich's foot and a dazzlingly high-paced cross-ice connection from John McCarron to Cole Bardreau. Matt O'Connor stood enormously in Boston University's crease.
It was O'Connor who etched Kelley's name onto the future trophy in the primary position. Cornell lost in the one statistic that mattered despite utter control of all other phases of the contest. The alumni who endowed the trophy had agreed that the program that won would place the name of its legendary coach before that of his famous adversary. Boston University hoisted the Kelley-Harkness Cup on November 30, 2013.
Red Hot Hockey placed itself on another plane from all other college-hockey events. It is the only college-hockey event that has recurred four times and sold out an NHL venue in absolute terms in all of its editions. Jack Parker recalled often that his "most memorable game as a player was the 1967 ECAC Championship game at the Boston Garden...that was the largest crowd ever at the old Boston Garden." Red Hot Hockey ensures that new eras of Boston University and Cornell players will experience the near-insanity and have their games at Madison Square Garden as contenders for their own most memorable.