For the first time, the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread had the privilege of visiting St. Lawrence University; a privilege it was. The campus and community welcomed us regardless of our wearing carnelian-tinted gear throughout the weekend. The Saints on their sacred ground were every bit as confidently humble and outgoing as they were in Lake Placid nearly a year prior. St. Lawrence University was living up to its reputation and representation. There was only one more thing to do. The day would culminate with a trip to Appleton Arena.
The modernity of the building is what strikes an entrant first. A building whose antiquity is so often emphasized is not expected to bear such a modern entrance. Amenities are not lacking. This is not a rink review, however.
The seamless melding of modern foyer and concourses with the historical gem of the grand bowl reflects the grafting that Coach Carvel has implemented on the ice. Carvel's teams are constructed from equal parts tradition and evolution. The sweaters that his teams now wear weave that narrative up and down the ice with characteristic speed.
As modern as systems and recruiting may be that bring success to the standard bearers of this great barn, history's weight was felt. Five of the Saints' six Whitelaw Cups are on display for respecters of playoff dependability, like the Lynah Faithful, to revere. Portraits of each team, playoff-immortalized and not, snake down the hallway beside the trophy case.
Astute observers from East Hill pause at a few of the photographs. Four of the six successful playoff runs of St. Lawrence included postseason eliminations of the Red of New York's land-grant university. Half of those meetings occurred in the East's ultimate game. Joe Marsh won his fifth Whitelaw Cup in 2001 in what staved Cornell's earning its tenth Cup. The beaming grins of Greg Carvel and Chris Wells, so bright that they harshen the frame's glare, leave little doubt as to the other meeting.
The 1992 ECAC Hockey Final encapsulates in many ways the deep connection between Cornell and St. Lawrence, and the profound roles that both have played in Eastern hockey. That Final marked the last time that the Whitelaw Cup would be awarded in Boston. Cornell, the dominant force of ECAC Hockey as winner of seven Eastern championships, seemed a suited winner of the last playoff trophy of the East's historic league awarded at Boston Garden. St. Lawrence, winner of the first true Eastern championship and inspired by a Massachusetts-born legend, was a deserving rival.
The two met on March 14, 1992. It was the Saints who marched off with the last Whitelaw Cup hoisted at Boston Garden. The East, especially New York hockey, belonged to Cornell and St. Lawrence long before that. The Big Red played the Saints in what was their second season of existence. Cornell shares its 11th-oldest active series with St. Lawrence. Of the programs of the Empire State with which Cornell shares active series, that with St. Lawrence is fifth oldest. Cornell is the second-oldest foe of the Saints.
The carnelian and white spearheaded the informal development of a de facto New York-based conference after Cornell was expelled from the Intercollegiate Hockey Association. The Red was an instigator and preserver of many of New York's oldest hockey programs, not the least of all was the program of St. Lawrence, with its extension of overlapping scheduling. However, the task fell to the Saints to carry the mantle of New York hockey when a true conference of the East, merging the hockey cultures of New England and New York, was formed.
Cornell reeled still in the early 1960s from the cancellation and resurrection of its hockey program. The veritable founder of New York hockey relied on the Saints to defend a shared legacy. George Menard and his charges stormed to an all-New York final in the inaugural ECAC Hockey tournament. New York was home to six of ECAC Hockey's first ten champions. The first belongs forever to the Saints. The quiet confidence of that playoff victory never left the program.
Carnelian and scarlet may clash, but in the concourses and at the concessions of Eastern hockey's historic venues, there is little tension. Lynah Faithful through their mere presence too often elicit the worst in other fanbases. Yes, sometimes directed ire is earned. Other times, it seems as though it is a directed jealousy at a program whose devotees not only expect greatness, but demand it, and have a right to because of history. The Saints are not plagued by the sin of envy.
Respect is exchanged between fans from Ithaca to Canton to Lake Placid. Neither the success of St. Lawrence intimidates Cornell nor does the success of Cornell intimidate St. Lawrence. As a member of the Lynah Faithful, this writer can attest that they are the most amicable fanbase when donning a carnelian-and-white sweater. Their quiet confidence knows history.
History need not be ancient to be recalled among Laurentians. Exhilaration was the contest as Cornell gained an early one-goal lead. The second period passed without incident despite much action. The North Country natives knew to whom their team would turn. Indelible images conjured in the minds of the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread of the howitzer that blasted the Saints into overtime in a 2015 ECAC Hockey Semifinal in Lake Placid. These contributors turned to their guest and informed him of the truth that all knew within the oaken quonset. Gavin Bayreuther would score.
Score, Bayreuther did. His legend already writ but three years into his career was murmured after the junior made the lacquered pews of Appleton Arena undulate in the choreographed celebrations of the University's students. Bayreuther's play and the play of his fellow Skating Saints was what was discussed in this gorgeous barn. Nary a word celebrating the skaters of the NHL was heard even in passing.
In Canton, their heroes are rightly known by the names of Carey, Carvel (reader, you will get back to him), Flanagan, Laperriere, Lappin, Peverley, and many more. They played for and won Whitelaw Cups, not Stanley Cups, while donning the oft-invoked scarlet and brown. Their accomplishments are no less grand or important to Appleton Arena's spectators during Upstate New York's months of winters. Hockey matters at St. Lawrence University.
Memories and ritual of the enclosed frozen pond are passed on as heirlooms in this picturesque community. Hockey is a coming of age in Canton and at St. Lawrence University. Echoes of the Saints's mildly profane cheer celebrating the home team's gaining a man advantage escort a youthful wave of giggles. Children raised in the tradition of their University wait eagerly for when they will voice such taboos to motivate their peers. A game's energy animates not only hopeful Laurentians.
Appleton Arena ceased to be an edifice mere seconds into overtime. Joe Sullivan elevated the vulcanized rubber disk beyond the Red's battling Mitch Gillam. Lynah Rink is louder. No building is more alive than Appleton when the Saints score.
From adorned rafter to pew to hallowed ice, the home of the Saints resonates with the passions of Laurentians. The clang of the victory bell told of the home team's victory as this contributor departed the historic rink and headed for his car. It was the buzzing in his ears from the overtime winner that purged memories of disappointment from a week past.
Appleton Arena is special. Greg Carvel intimated as much as he looked up to this writer's section and gave a seemingly knowing gesture of ecstatic approval to this contributor's guest. A grin. A thumbs up. St. Lawrence University is special.
Appleton Arena and Lynah Rink, homes of New York's most decorated college hockey programs, are sacred places. Their programs share a sacred bond. Both revere and live history. Last week proved that a purity remains in the North Country.
St. Lawrence is a place where tickets are not gouged no matter the opponent. Passion is real, not some tired form of self-legitimation. This writer needed to be reminded that such senses of community and altruism existed after a Harvard Week that made the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread far more disappointed with attendants of a game than its result.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder and proximity may breed contempt, but it is nice to know that nestled on the outskirts of the Adirondacks, the pulse of ECAC Hockey beats purely in a sylvan breast.