The modern saga between the hockey programs of Boston University and Cornell sings itself into a ballad for Red Hot Hockey. Michigan as the program most decorated in the modern national tournament that suffered then-recent overtime elimination to Cornell printed the programs for the Frozen Apple. Even Penn State and Cornell shared a formative history as it was Dick Bertrand who gifted the equipment to a Cornellian who began the Icers that became the now-touted Nittany Lions of Division I hockey. A chapter between Cornell and New Hampshire will be written on November 26, 2016 in Midtown Manhattan. Is the story of these programs proportionate to venue?
Sorrow is the story between the celebrated hockey programs of Cornell and New Hampshire.
At least from the Cornellian perspective.
Promotional campaigns will spin one narrative. That story will be one of parity. Factually, the Red and the Wildcats sit presently at 13-13-0 across all meetings. Truthfully, the series has been lopsided. Generations of Cornellians would trade many of those wins for even a single senior-season victory.
Why is this? New Hampshire is the tatterer of carnelian dreams.
Cornell and New Hampshire have meet seven times in playoff contests. The Wildcats have emerged victorious in five of those meetings. Five promising and triumphant seasons were clawed from the record books at the hands of the Wildcats. 15 graduating classes of Cornellians have watched as their skating champions ended a season in defeat to a team from New Hampshire.
Cornell hockey's annual events in Manhattan are multi-generational affairs and reunions for alumni and someday alumni. The Frozen Apple 2016 will be no different. New Hampshire has carved a large precipice over more than three decades that numerous eras of Lynah Faithful bridge. In the spirit of reunion and community, the contributors of Where Angels Fear to Tread reached out to Cornell legends for whom their senior-season meetings with New Hampshire remain too raw for times otherwise fondly recalled playing for Cornell University.
In Their Time
The Lynah Faithful yearn for and their teams endeavor to deliver Eastern and national success. "Our primary motivation...was threefold - win the Ivy League, win the ECAC and get to the final four and compete for a national title." "All we wanted to do was win an ECAC title that year, and win a National Championship." Tomczyk and Paolini describe the expectations that their teams placed upon themselves nearly identically even though 26 years separated their careers at Cornell. The impetus for Nethery's senior campaign was no different as the team was "very focused and hungry to get back to the ECAC finals in Boston."
In the character of his legend as a walk-on player who according to Coach Schafer "talked his way onto the team," Sam Paolini expounds the most about the quality of program during his nearly unblemished 2002-03 senior season. That team was "[t]he absolute embodiment of what a team should be." Confidence became Cornell that unforgettable season as the Red "knew we were going to physically dominate [and] make it impossible for the other teams to breathe once the puck was dropped."
Cornell during the 2002-03 season "took tremendous pride in break the opposing team's will to compete" in a manner befitting the program's eventual description as a juggernaut. The team evinced the eternal ethic of Cornell hockey as "[e]veryone was the best at what they did and it all harmonized together without jealousy or envy." The Western New York native summarized, "[w]e competed so hard together all season long."
Lance Nethery with lethal succinctness states that the program during his tenure was on such a trajectory that the "team in 1978 had the potential and talent to win the NCAA title." Potential may be an understatement for a roster dotted with Jim Gibson, Roy Kerling, and Pete Shier in addition to the Red's all-time scorer. Great was the stuff and greatness was the metric by which they elected to be measured during the 1976-77, 1978-79, and 2002-03 seasons.
Those three seasons despite their promise share a common historical endpoint: loss to New Hampshire.
A New Hampshire State of Mind
Among the first words that stir in the minds of Tomczyk, Nethery, and Paolini are "intense," "disappointment," and "frustration," "pure frustration," when they think of the hockey program from Durham. Nethery's thoughts first turn to thinking of "New Hampshire hockey is 'successful.'" As one might expect of a New Yorker, the Crimson Killer's initial reaction rhymes with hockey's instrument of scoring. This contributor, whose senior season as a member of the Faithful ended in a loss to New Hampshire, cannot agree more.
Fred Tomczyk is the lone member among these playing alumni who remembers a victory against the Wildcats in the postseason. The victory during his sophomore year was the last time that the Red defeated New Hampshire in the playoffs. The 1975 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal was different because Lynah Rink hosted the Granite Staters. Intensity was already an element of the series. "[T]he 1975 game...was at Lynah and the fans were as loud as they ever were."
"There is always that extra shot of adrenaline you get playing at Lynah as a Cornell player." Cornell never trailed in the contest and left Lynah Rink victorious. Post-season clashes with New Hampshire took upon a starkly different tone as they moved to Boston Garden just two years later.
Tomczyk and Nethery were both on the carnelian-and-white squad that met New Hampshire in the 1977 ECAC Hockey Semifinal. The latter was a promising sophomore bound to lead his team in scoring. The former was a indefatigable defenseman who led his team as a senior captain. A victory over the Engineers of RPI at Lynah Rink sent Cornell to Boston Garden for the 12th consecutive season.
Cornell and New Hampshire gave ECAC Hockey fans at Boston Garden quite a spectacle. Lance Nethery describes that contest as "one of the wildest and most interesting games" with which he has been involved. The Red's senior captain recalls that the 1975 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal and 1977 ECAC Hockey Semifinals both "were tight and intense." Tomczyk recalls that the stakes were high because the "winning team went on to the final four in the country back then."
Fans in attendance were different than those that aided Cornell to its victory two seasons earlier. "[M]any in the crowd were from New Hampshire...it was like playing an away game except in a packed Boston Garden." Fans whether supporting the team from the land-grant university of New Hampshire or New York witnessed a 19-goal affair. Cornell's then-dependable sophomore scorer remembers that "[e]motions were running high on both sides" as both sides grappled with "very poor" ice. "[T]he ups and downs were unbelievable" during the exhausting double-overtime affair.
Cornell gained and surrendered a two-goal lead in the last five minutes of regulation. Fred Tomczyk assisted on what stood as an insurance and then go-ahead goal for Cornell. It was Ralph Cox who tied the contest in regulation. Tomczyk's contributions were far greater than two assists as he "played the last 10 minutes" of regulation and "the entire first overtime period." Fatigue and dehydration overcame the senior during the intermission before the second overtime frame. "I was never so tired in my life even to this day," elaborates Fred Tomczyk.
"We had them by two goals in the third period and lost in double overtime." The series for Tomczyk remained contained to a lone loss that ended a career worthy of celebration. He opines that "[a]ny sense of rivalry during [his] time - not as much of a rivalry in the sense of Harvard or Brown." However, the seeds of the future and the first plots along a trendline were jotted on March 11, 1977. Lance Nethery remembers that "[a]fter the first semi-final game in 1977, the rivalry began to emerge and has continued on up until this day."
The Burlington, Ontario native faced New Hampshire again in the post-season. The contest once again occurred in Boston Garden in the semifinals of the Eastern playoffs. The 1979 ECAC Hockey Semifinal was unlike the encounter during Nethery's sophomore campaign during which he remembers "thinking that this game may never end."
New Hampshire tied the contest 19 seconds after Cornell took its first and only lead late in the first period at Boston Garden on March 9, 1979. Nethery three days earlier provided the heroic crescendo to Cornell's unlikely comeback against Providence in their quarterfinal contest. That immortal game saw the Red rally from a four-goal deficit in the third period to tie the game and ultimately win just four minutes into overtime. "[T]he fans after the game out on the ice was something special for all of the players." It was Nethery who scored the equalizer with 13 seconds remaining that preserved the Lynah Faithful's chance at celebration.
The game was memorable, perhaps too memorable. Lance Nethery recalls that it was "difficult to refocus" for New Hampshire and that "[m]any people were still talking about the Providence game." Cornell was never quite able to muster "the level [of play] [it] needed to beat [New Hampshire]."
New Hampshire defected from ECAC Hockey for Hockey East in 1984. This divide decreased the likelihood for the two programs to meet in the post-season. Playoff meetings took a 23-year hiatus. Some of the series's most heart-wrenching episodes still were to be played.
Cornell and New Hampshire first met after The Divorce on March 24, 2002. Sam Paolini scored a goal that briefly stood as the go-ahead goal on that evening in Worcester. New Hampshire ultimately emerged the victor of the programs's meetings in the 2002 Frozen Four Quarterfinal. The most tragic episode for Cornellians waited a little more than a year into the future.
The 2002-03 season could have been one of absolute redemptive retribution. Harvard eliminated Cornell in the 2002 ECAC Hockey Final. New Hampshire eliminated Cornell in the NCAA tournament. Paolini remarks that "winning the 2003 ECAC Championship and winning it in the fashion we did with a last minute comeback and OT winner...is burned in my memory forever." Earning in perpetuity the mantle of Crimson Killer, Sam Paolini scored Cornell's first goal and the overtime winner against Harvard for the 2003 Whitelaw Cup.
So, did Cornell take note of the chance to end New Hampshire's season in Buffalo one season after the Wildcats had stopped Cornell in the national tournament? No. "We didn't care which team was in front of us," describes Paolini, "we just took on that 'Who's Next?' approach." Neither retrospect nor prospect hindered the Red's preparation.
"Every game we expected to win." This feeling was well founded. Cornell brought 30 wins in tow with it to Buffalo.
Many college-hockey fans and historians were rapt in discussion about the potential for a Cornell-Minnesota match-up in the national-title game. Cornell was consistently the best team in the nation that season. Minnesota was the defending national champion. The two played diametrically opposite styles between showy, offensive panache and bone-crushing, disciplined execution. None of these narratives scrolled through the minds of the Cornell players on April 10, 2003.
"We never looked beyond UNH...We were always focused on the task at hand and this was no different." Nothing was taken for granted. Focus was regained as it always was on this winningest of Cornell hockey teams. "Winning in double OT against BC to make it to the Frozen Four" is Sam Paolini's second fondest on-ice memory of his career. However, in the moment, the Schafer-led Frozen-Four team from East Hill narrowed its gaze to New Hampshire.
As is the case with memories too traumatic or unsettling to recall, Sam Paolini confesses that he "d[oes]n't remember a lot about that game." Paolini, the hero of one of Cornell hockey's greatest playoff victories in its near century-and-a-quarter existence, remembers "missing an easy rebound in front of the net...and Stephen Bâby hitting the goalie in the head during the last 30 seconds" as the Big Red sought desperately for an overtime-guaranteeing equalizer. The equalizer was never tallied. Arguably the best team in Cornell hockey history fell to New Hampshire, 3-2, that day in Buffalo.
The Cornell-New Hampshire series knows controversy well in its deep playoff history. The goal that New Hampshire scored in the final minutes of the second period of the 1979 ECAC Hockey Semifinal was reviewed. The goal was allowed. That marker stood as the game winner. Lance Nethery summarizes the event pointedly, "[t]he goal they kicked in was certainly a turning point."
The meeting between the Red and Wildcats in the 2003 Frozen Four witnessed perhaps the greatest controversy of the series. Shane Palahicky scored an apparent goal midway through the first period. The goal was reviewed. The goal would have been the first of the contest. The officials disallowed the goal. Sam Paolini does not remember much from that game "except the Palahicky goal getting called back." Few who understand college hockey from that era can disagree that the waiver of that goal was significant if not definitive in the result of the contest.
New Hampshire officially opened scoring a few minutes later. "[H]aving them score minute later was brutal." Paolini laments today, "if we get that goal we win, I'm 90% sure." The New Yorker knows that is team was "almost unbeatable with a one goal lead or scoring first." Like most who know the game from that era, Paolini concludes "I think things would've been different had that goal counted."
Both Lance Nethery and Sam Paolini never have allowed the controversy that contributed to the ends of their careers in carnelian and white to detract from their humble acknowledgements about New Hampshire in those contests. The former adds further that "the incredible emotional high after the Providence game on Tuesday night" contributed more than a controversial goal for New Hampshire in the Red's ultimate defeat.
Lance Nethery remarks about the "talented offensive players which made [New Hampshire] difficult to play." He praises Wildcats against whom he played such as Ralph Cox, Bruce Crowder, Bobby Francis, and Bobby Gould. Fred Tomczyk adds to this list Rod Langway, Dave Lumley, and Bobbie Miller. Sam Paolini opines that "UNH was a very good team and they won the game fair and square." No matter the propriety of the results, the impact of the defeat still lingers for the program and the players who played in them.
Fred Tomczyk refers to the 1977 ECAC Hockey Semifinal as "the hardest game to lose." The pain still stings as he iterates that "[w]e were right there and the ECAC title game and a trip to the final four was without our grasp and we lost in double overtime." The 1977 and 1979 ECAC Hockey Semifinals struck Lance Nethery similarly as "bitterly disappointing." Agonizingly, "they beat us twice in the ECAC semifinals eliminating any chance for us to go on to the NCAA finals."
Both Tomczyk and Nethery identify their losses to New Hampshire during their respective senior seasons as the second-most unforgettable moments of their careers. How emotionally invested were these losses? "[P]laying Harvard at home for the time was special" and the moment more unforgettable for Tomczyk. The regulation hero of the 1979 ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal against Providence says that his last game at Lynah Rink "is etched in [his] memory forever." Only recollections of those events are as or more emotionally vivid than are their memories of their final games against New Hampshire.
The emotions still plague Sam Paolini understandably when he thinks back to just the fifth loss of his senior season. "I still have not watched any video clips or replay of that game." "It makes me sick to think about," shares Paolini. The emotions still wrapped up in that contest are proportional to the greatness attained, accolades sought, and moments forever given to the Lynah Faithful on that run.
"All we wanted to do was win an ECAC title that year, and win a National Championship...we were devastated when the latter didn't occur," speaks Paolini for his team and the Lynah Faithful.
A New York State of Mind in Our Time
The Lynah Faithful owe to New Hampshire a small debt of gratitude for the Wildcats have taught the hockey teams, students, and alumni of Cornell University something about being Cornellian. Fred Tomczyk related these sentiments about critical moments in life, "[w]hen you hit those moments, you want to make sure that you have nothing left, and I knew that I had nothing left. I gave it everything I had, and we still lost. There's no shame in that - no regret." It is unCornellian to give anything less than one's last full measure. New Hampshire is a program that has demanded and received that from many of Cornell hockey's greats.
Now, on Saturday, at "the world's most famous arena," let the collective rage of generations propel this Cornell hockey team to a much-needed victory that will give alumni but a respite from unpleasant memories as you give your last full measure (to be verified by a sound level meter). Whether you are from one of those 15 graduating classes or not, this team plays to make a statement on a large scale at our University's de facto hockey homecoming.
The Lynah Faithful are special. This is our event. The most lasting experience for Sam Paolini from his time donning a carnelian-and-white sweater was "the wonderful relationships [he] built with [his] teammates, coaches, and fans...You can't find that kid of love, dedication, and comradery anywhere else." Cornell hockey is special. Cornell University is special.
Now, let's hope this team can help Cornellians with some group therapy.
The session begins 8:00 pm on November 26, 2016.