You know of what this writer speaks. A few key prompts, like the title of an episode, uncorks the dam that holds back a cascade of memories. The obvious installments are: The One with the Chicken and The One with All the Fish. Some other less common but equally important episodes are The One with the First Playoff Meeting, The One that Ends Bill Cleary's Career, The One where the Crimson Killer Strikes in Overtime, and The One that Completes a Four-win Sweep.
There are many more that we can recall readily and feel compelled to share with other generations of fans. But, this is not the story of any of those that this writer has stated. This is a story whose retelling is almost as ubiquitous as those of the obvious installments. This is the background story of a tale that generations of Lynah Faithful know.
The One with the Broken Stick
It was the play of Harvard that better resembled at least some shade of red. The Crimson racked up four wins, one loss, and one tie before it braved Lynah Rink. Harvard hoped to be building itself one step closer to its elusive national title in the 1980s.
The Cornell-Harvard game had fostered all of its passions since the 1910s and maintained all of its spectacle from the 1960s. It had acquired even the fish that coated the ice as Harvard entered Lynah Rink more than a decade before December 10, 1983. However, the rivalry was in an interesting period of anabolism nonetheless.
The two installments preceding the December 1983 meeting prove this fact perfectly. Harvard fans found a novel way of wresting from Cornell a precious victory in February 1982. It worked so well that Harvard claimed a 7-0 home triumph. What was the tactic of Bright's denizens? Was it chants? Of course, not. The Harvard partisans hurled at Brian Hayward the customary chicken. The fowl found friends soon after in fish and tennis balls. The fare of the farm, sea, and court unsettled Hayward.
Harvard fans attempted the same the next season. Darren Eliot was undeterred dodging fowl, fish, and felt. He produced 42 dazzling saves on the banks of the Charles River. The Cantabs in the stands grew apoplectic. A foolish and depraved member of their ranks hurled a wine bottle and beer can at Eliot's back-turned neck. The bottle missed. The can did not.
The flying aluminum connected with the back of the Red netminder's head. He collapsed to the ice. In the confusion, Cornell's skaters were robbed of the ability to distinguish between those Crimson players relishing in just scoring the game-winning goal and those who were celebrating Eliot's misfortune. The Big Red retaliated. A mêlée ensued.
In a statement that served to be to his credit and prophecy, Harvard's legendary coach declared after the game, "if those are the fans we've got then we'll play in an empty rink." It was always far from an empty rink that greeted Bill Cleary and Harvard to East Hill. A sophomore defenseman had a new gimmick in mind to add to this notably vicious period in the rivalry.
Mike Schafer had seen the inside of the penalty box 23 times more often than pucks leaving his stick had found the back of the net in his freshman season. His fiery temperament was obvious. His team needed a spark to exact revenge. Intimidating the opposition and inspiring the lathering Lynah crowd were the best means by which to achieve that goal. He would not even wait until the opening face-off.
The fish flew. The newspapers of feigned indifference rattled. Harvard braved the blue line during line announcements.
Cornell's line-up was to be announced. Skater by skater, the Big Red starters raced to the blue line and sprayed the visiting Crimson. A blast of snow kept the Faithful primed. Schafer was ready to rile.
The announcement of the sophomore defenseman's name boomed through the mass of 4,100 fans. Schafer flashed the crowd a grin and the Crimson a look as he ventured from his own red line to the blue line. He waved his stick to the packed house as he neared his teammates. For those who could not read it during his skate, its blazoning became apparent the moment that Mike Schafer stopped and elevated the stick above his head.
"Harvard sucks." The stick had that scrawled across it. The whole congregation knew now as Schafer held the stick with both hands over his head, making sure that everyone in the building, whether wearing carnelian or crimson, knew what it said. He flexed. The stick plummeted down onto his head. The tool of his craft exploded into splinters when it met his head. The crowd erupted.
Schafer shook the fractured pieces ferociously at the Harvard line-up at the other blue line.
Most fans who were not even students at the time of that game can recount the events of that December 10, 1983 game before face-off. What few can speak of with any ease is how that contest unfolded after now-legendary head coach Mike Schafer broke a stick over his head. What followed the broken stick should be remembered equally.
Mike Schafer stood at the blue line while national anthems blared. He hoped that he had inspired his crowd and teammates to down the vitriolic villain in the annals of Cornell hockey history. The game would go far from how the defenseman expected.
It was the players of Harvard, not those of Cornell, who seemed invigorated by the pregame fanfare. The Crimson skaters took advantage of the intentions of the Big Red's defense to maintain a rigid bulkhead along Cornell's blue line. Harvard penetrated Cornell's zone and exploited its speed. Cornell fell behind 21 seconds into the contest.
Dave Connors, Phil Falcone, and Gary Martin constituted a Harvard line that filleted Don Fawcett, Cornell's netminder. Those three Cantabs gave Harvard three goals. A second line contributed another goal. The game was unraveling. It was aged only seven minutes and eight seconds.
Down four goals in less than half of a period, Lou Reycroft called his timeout. Fawcett was pulled. Freshman goaltender Jim Edmands replaced him. A borderline miracle would be needed for the Ithacans to salvage a tie let alone a win.
Cornell enjoyed a miraculous comeback five seasons before in the playoffs. The Big Red fell behind the Friars of Providence College by an identical margin to that by which Cornell was trailing Harvard in the 1979 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals at Lynah Rink. Very unlike the Crimson, it took Providence over 40 minutes to amass that lead.
No player from that 1978-79 team that defeated Providence remained on Cornell's team. The sweater remembered. The intervention of a Randy Willson would be unnecessary. That day, Cornell would make its own luck. Game play resumed.
In a critique laced equally with criticism and envy, The Harvard Crimson marveled at the behavior of the Lynah Faithful. "Anywhere else in the known world the fans would shut up. In Lynah they just got louder...," it reported. The working-class Ivy League institution and its fans were unimpressed. They knew that the yeomanly ethos of their skaters would stem the tide.
Reycroft knew that he needed a quick response. He gained one. The head coach sent Gary Cullen, Pete Marcov, and Duanne Moeser to take the next face-off. Instantly, the trio peppered Harvard's Grant Blair. The onslaught was as deadly as it was sudden. Blair made two saves. He needed to make three. Marcov backhanded the puck into the Crimson net.
It took 12 seconds. It was obvious something special was about to happen.
The same line banked a puck from behind the Crimson net to winnow the margin. That was all just the first period.
The second period may not have involved a broken stick, a four-goal collapse, and the beginning of an apparent resurgence, but it did witness Cornell's continued dominance and determination. Captain Geoff Dervin deposited the puck off of a pass from Gary Cullen on the power play.
Cornell's defense had improved. It benefited from an aggressive press into the opposition's end. The Crimson registered just two shots in the second frame. Fittingly, it was a goal from Moeser assisted by Marcov and Connors that tied the contest. Cornell's top contributors outperformed their Harvard counterparts's early-game rush. Duanne Moeser registered a point on all four Cornell goals.
Mike Schafer's breaking the stick motivated his team. The carnelian and white played with uncommon fire. A broken stick and a stirring start to the affair would not remain the sophomore defenseman's only act in this contest.
Schafer was a key participant in Cornell's suffocating defense during the final 53 minutes of the contest. However, in this contest more than most, offensive pressure proved to be the most effective means of neutralizing Harvard's scoring potency. The stick-breaking berserker was compelled to partake in the game's more celebrated side of defense.
Cornell had sustained pressure in Harvard's end. "Ithaca's Rambo," as Harvard fans grew to call him over time, roamed around the corners in crease. He saw a familiar face in his opponent's netminder.
Grant Blair and Mike Schafer played junior hockey together before parting for rival programs in ECAC Hockey. The pair had won the famous Buckland Cup of the Ontario Junior Hockey League for the Guelph Platers. Blair saw far less game time than did Schafer, but Schafer was familiar with the netminder from Cambridge. The Red defender saw consistency in Blair's play.
Consistency became predictability in the mind of Schafer. The future captain patrolled the low slot. A shot from the blue line sent the puck deep. Schafer knew how Blair would play the puck. Schafer knew where an opening would be. He anticipated it. A rebound bounced out. A pouncing Schafer propelled it into the net. The crowd clamored.
Mike Schafer tucked a way what was then a go-ahead goal. The lead belonged to the home team. The sophomore defender gave it to his squad 1:56 into the third period. A Crimson tidal wave had been abated and contained.
Mark Henderson purchased insurance with a breakaway goal from Pete Marcov and Mark Major. Bill Cleary of Harvard, whom the superlative play of Cornell had silenced for much of the contest, tried to cut through the swelling cacophony of Lynah Rink to protest Henderson's goal as resulting from an offside play. It was not. The officials confirmed.
Schafer's goal stood as the game-winning tally for 15:29. For three-fourths of the third period, Schafer the motivator stood poised to be Schafer the difference maker. Harvard thwarted the ability of one of its most loathed and respected foes to stand as the player to tip victory in its favor. The Crimson marred that narrative from the record books with about two and a half minutes remaining.
Cornell avenged the disappointment brought to bear on the sophomore defenseman who would serve as captain in his next two seasons. A Red barrage of Blair prevent Bill Cleary from calling the goaltender to his side. Cornell had won.
The Big Red had overcome a 4-0 deficit against its archnemesis. The comeback was of the magnitude in score and emotion as the one four and a half years earlier. On that Saturday, Cornell had overcome momentum greater than that Providence brought to bear in 1979. The exuberance of the players and fans as Harvard departed the ice proved the enormity of the event.
Lou Reycroft was asked after the game what the historic and thrilling comeback win meant when it occurred against Harvard. In the moment, Reycroft dismissed with emphasizing the manner in which Cornell had downed Harvard and decided to focus on the emotion of the moment and result. The tenth coach of Cornell hockey summarized the episode that just wrapped and the entire rivalry by extension, "anytime you beat those bastards, it's a big win."
In the other locker room, Harvard head coach Bill Cleary marveled still about the stick-breaking opening of the contest. Perhaps, the untested pate of Bill Cleary was jealous because it was not the focal point of the contest as it usually was. Ithaca's least favorite "bald guy" characterized the rivalry and its newest spectacle, "it's a big show, and if he wants to do that, that's his choice. I hope his head's all right."
With the baldness of Bill Cleary, the container lobbed at the head of Darren Eliot, and the stick broken over the head of Mike Schafer, the Cornell-Harvard rivalry in the 1980s took upon a decidedly cranial tone in the nation's most cerebral rivalry. It was the broken stick that inspired a rabid rally from the Big Red and invested the Lynah Faithful in a contest that looked bleak early. The breaking of the stick may be most remembered or recalled, but the tremendous character-proving comeback it propelled should be no less forefront.
Fans from Ithaca to Cambridge never have forgotten The One with the Broken Stick.