We, the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread, write this as alumni, neither as fans nor new media. This letter is not directed at all of those who filled the stands of Lynah Rink on Friday, January 23. The thrust of this piece is pointed at those who seem to think that the carnelian and white take the ice only once a year, against the crimson and white. Yes, Friday's win was exhilarating. It was historic in ways that your cohort cannot comprehend. However, when The Game ended and Mike Schafer granted his customary post-game interview, he was loath to laud the assemblage of fans for the contest.
We support his criticism of your lot. I doubt many of you even heard his words. Nothing else mattered to you once Harvard was slain. The season was over. It was the one game of the season in your minds riddled with foolish myopia.
The words of Coach Mike Schafer '86 follow.
"The atmosphere against Harvard is always electric. I just wish our fans would show up for the game like that all the time. That's the way Lynah was for every home game. I mean, the fans would show up and they would be there. The Harvard game would take on a different level."
This may not seem significant to once-per-season pilgrims of Lynah Rink like you. Trust us, it is disappointing. One may regard it as humiliating. Few generations of Cornell hockey players and coaches have known anything other than fanatical, sell-out crowds. Those players and coaches who struggle and labor continuously to represent well our University and you deserve your unflappable loyalty.
Coach Schafer is correct. This team, the 99th team to represent Cornell University on the ice of intercollegiate competition, and its successors demand, and should receive, the support of full carnelian-clad buildings. Schafer's comments are neither hollow nor informed by the standards of long-forgotten eras. The principal contributors to Where Angels Fear to Tread are alumni whose time as students on East Hill and in Lynah Rink expired a complete generation after that of Schafer.
Do you remain incredulous? Do you need something more tangible to justify this criticism that you disappoint even the most recently graduated cadre of Lynah Faithful? Modernizing renovations at Lynah Rink wrapped before the 2006-07 season. The capacity of the Rink ballooned to 4,267. Cornell hockey has played eight complete seasons in a building with its current capacity. Those eight seasons drew crowds averaging fewer than 68 vacant seats. Half of those seasons enjoyed average draws above 99.0% of Lynah Rink's capacity.
Schafer's and our disgust is not a curmudgeonly one. Fans huddled around Beebe Lake in the 1910s to watch mere hockey practices. Their heirs watched outdoor games on the same lake in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The passion, involvement, and ritual associated with the Lynah Faithful for decades emerged and expanded around games that Ned Harkness, Dick Bertrand, Lou Reycroft, and Mike Schafer managed. Your chosen indifference mocks alumni from sprawling eras who viewed hockey as the embodiment of Cornell's ethos.
It is not hard to be a Cornell fan. Cornell wins, and it does so often. No decade has expired since the 1960s in which Cornell has won fewer than two tournament titles. However, we anticipate that you will claim that this Cornell hockey team or its era do not meet some amorphous standard of "good," which you believe justifies your indifference. Both points are far off-base.
Schafer's senior season, 1985-86, was removed further from an appearance in the NCAA tournament and a tournament championship than is this current season. Five and six years distanced Mike Schafer's senior season from those accomplishments, respectively. Cornell won the ECAC Hockey Championship in 2010. In 2012, the current senior class was integral to Cornell's NCAA tournament run and historic victory over Michigan. This team and era, no matter the outcome of this season in particular, provide exciting times during which Cornell hockey is played regularly at a moderately high level.
If you want the team to be better, why not go? The most imposing manner in which a collegiate fanbase can demand excellence from its team is attendance. Each day in practice and during every game, Cornell players see the banners hung above the ice. They know what student fans standing on the bleachers demand. If the team loses, and you find yourself nestled away in your room or bracing for the cold walk into Collegetown prematurely, whom did they disappoint? An empty building? The look of 4,267 disappointed Cornell fans is a far more potent motivator than truancy en masse.
Perhaps, we are guilty of hyperbole. An average of 107 empty seats in Lynah Rink inspires this diatribe, after all. However, addressing a group whose members largely strive to enter self-regulating professions, this missive seems appropriate.
The Lynah Faithful have standards of admittance. We have expectations of behavior and conduct. History and tradition govern us. We are a self-regulating profession of sorts.
It is better to avert a burgeoning problem than grapple later with an entrenched deficiency, especially under a regime of self-regulation. This piece should serve as such an aversion. The pedigree and practices of Lynah Rink can be lost in the apathy of a few classes. These errors compound over time. One needs to regard only the fearsome home advantages that once accompanied programs like Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to realize that in short time, much can be lost. Those programs are lucky to draw crowds that fill 85.0% of their respective buildings now.
You will be remembered for your choices. Students of the McCutcheon era are reviled within our fanbase for choosing to forsake the student-athletes who represented our alma mater in our University's preferred pastime. Those fans who endured in Lynah Rink gained respect that accompany few others. It is more trying to support a program in its difficult times. No one is challenging that. Supporting a team in its difficult period is about proving character.
Character is why hockey is Cornell University's sport. It demands hard work. It is difficult in its simplicity. It is beautiful in its brutality. It is honest. It is blue collar. Hockey is quintessentially Cornellian.
Passionate and zealous support is as well. The ethic of Cornell University never will be about doing what is easy. In fact, quite the opposite. Cornell University is about doing the difficult well because it is right.
The right thing in this context is to support this team. It is flawed and somewhat underachieving, but its grit and indomitability reflect our collective values. Trust us, this team is special. Even if in your mind it grows to be not, your time on East Hill is. Trust those whose time far above Cayuga's waters ended not too long ago. Some of your greatest memories will be at Lynah Rink, supporting Cornell hockey like generations of alumni before you.
Cornell hockey is at its greatest during each season's Cornell-Harvard series. Cornell hockey is always great. How do you even know that this game is special if you have been to few others? We assure you, despite your anticipated opinions to the contrary, it is not your self-aggrandized presence at the Cornell-Harvard game that increases its import.
The Cornell-Harvard game would be special even if it were played in a vacant building. The series is too rich in its history to lose its meaning. The game manifests a clash of ideologies. Cornell and Harvard are foils, on and off the ice. The governing principles of Cornell University were enunciated in contradistinction to those of Harvard University. The hockey programs of both great institutions are equally diametric. The shared similarities and differences between these prestigious universities as they have played out in college hockey's greatest rivalry are what make the series unequaled. Fan support is a factor, granted a large one, but a factor nonetheless in the saga between these two universities and their hockey programs.
Frankly, you do not deserve to watch this team topple its archnemesis if you have not endured the scoring drought and suffered through the lean times. Enjoyment of the Cornell-Harvard game costs more than the absurd price of admission that I am sure many of you paid for the one contest that you will attend this season. It is purchased through the trials of the season and knowledge of that particular game's history. Most of you are delinquent in your payments. You do not grasp what the Cornell-Harvard game means until you fathom its contemporary and historic context.
You did yourselves a disservice. It is time that you correct it. Care. Learn something. Make generations of alumni proud to claim that the legacy that they built as Lynah Faithful endures in your loyalty and antics. Attend each remaining home game. Arrive during pregame warm-ups. Be there to demand of Cornell University's hockey team the same excellence expected of every student in the classroom during the week.
Excellence in Cornell hockey is reciprocal. This team and its successors will give as much as it gets.
Alumni who wish to preserve the tradition and character of Cornell hockey