The repartee between the students of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and those of Harvard College is focal now. The narrative unfolds with the choice of many associated with Harvard College to ridicule academic standards at Cornell University because of the proximity of a practical and, more alarmingly according to some, agricultural education to the more traditional fora of liberal education. A chicken was lobbed to prove the point. Fish followed.
Focusing upon this blinds one to what germinally distinguished Cornell and Harvard Universities. It was not Cornell's being a land-grant university that raised the ire of Harvard. Both Brown and Yale Universities sought, and realized for a short time, status as land-grant institutions of their respective states. Although Harvard's sensibilities are often far wiser than those of the other two Ivy League brethren, the Cantabs do not go too far adrift. Practical education was not the principal point of friction. Opportunity was.
Cornell University afforded all persons who bore the proper merits the right to be educated at "the great American university." Harvard University insulated Harvard College from such bold steps. Co-education of women was particularly perplexing to the Cambridge-based university. The students and administrators of Harvard College did not demean their legacy with resort to the polemics of subjugation. Harvard was unlike other universities with which Cornell shared actual hostilities in this way.
Harvard moved glacially nonetheless. Gradualism and slow integration was its chosen course. A course that Cornellians found repugnant to their sensibilities. Women were able to attend Cornell University since it first accepted students in 1868. Women did not receive the same treatment at Harvard College until 1972. The cultures of the two converged despite this difference.
Hockey has been the great unifier of the Northeast's great institutions since the early 1900s. Cornell and Harvard were the class of the eventual Ivy League. The fanbases of both institutions expected greatness in all things. An enduring truth emerged. Football may be the Ivy League's sport. Hockey is its passion.
It was in this regard that the Cornell-Harvard rivalry, based on ice, became the greatest in college athletics. Ironically, when this statement is defended, one turns to the voluminous annals of the Cornell-Harvard series in men's ice hockey. What should no longer be overlooked is the purity of the Cornell-Harvard rivalry in women's ice hockey representing the real clash of ideals between two vaunted programs and two august institutions.
The contests between Cornellians and Harvard women have been steeped in tradition, lore, and pride from their first face-off.
Raising the Stakes
There was no reason why, especially at Cornell University. Hockey showed the potential to become Cornell's game before the Big Red's perfect championship season in 1911. Its popularity only grew after that historic triumph. Proving what has become the norm of women at Cornell University, from alumnae as varied as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rebecca Johnston, a rendition of Annie Get Your Gun's "Anything You Can Do" ensued. It was not long for female Cornellians to catch up.
The first organized women's ice hockey team took the ice of Beebe Lake in 1919. Its meetings were sporadic. Its opponents were only intramural because it was unique. There was no intercollegiate hockey competition. Interest in intramural hockey for women waxed and waned until hockey was all but banned on Beebe Lake in 1948. For nearly three decades, Cornell iced women's hockey competitions 36 years before Brown University ushered in the modern era of women's ice hockey.
The construction of Lynah Rink resurrected the tradition of the men's ice hockey program in 1957. The culture of women's ice hockey at Cornell was not so easily rescued. It laid dormant until 1971. Regina Baker helped inspire the creation of the team and recruit its first coach. The Big Red of Cornell became the third-oldest program in the modern era of women's ice hockey after only the teams of Brown University and Colby College.
One century and one year after the first female pupil avowed her loyalty to "our noble alma mater," female students were training to compete in intercollegiate hockey contests. The terms of "Harvard woman" or "coed," a phrase whose suggested place of coinage is East Hill, were oxymoronic at Harvard for another year. Women's hockey would take longer to take root in Cambridge.
The Ivy League began sponsoring hockey in the 1975-76 season. With so few members, the League forewent its customary choice of selecting a champion through a round-robin tournament and elected for a quasi-postseason tournament. Cornell compiled an all-time record of 30-15-0 and an in-season record of 8-5-0 before the inaugural Ivy League tournament.
Brown and Yale were the first postseason victims to the Lady Rouge. Predictably, Brown and Cornell, as the oldest and most entrenched programs, were the last two standing in the tournament. The former Pandas fell, 3-2. Harvard was unrepresented in the next two Ivy League tournaments.
Cornell won the 1977 and 1978 Ivy League championships. The dominance of the Red was growing, as was its winning margin in the playoffs. Harvard entered the fray of Ivy League women's ice hockey the next season. The playoffs were the beginning of an unraveling. Six wins, six losses, and one tie marked the success of Harvard's first female hockey team before the 1979 Ivy League tournament. Brown and Dartmouth would sweep the Crimson out of the tournament. The Cantabs would add three more losses to close its first season.
Cornell played the same teams in the tournament. Harvard fell by a combined margin of seven goals allowed to four scored. The Big Red more than reversed that margin, downing the Big Green and Bears by a combined nine goals scored to three allowed. Cornell won the tournament again.
The results were the same the next season. Harvard fell to Brown and Yale. Cornell defeated Brown and Princeton. Cornell could not seem to lose its luck in the playoffs and Harvard could not seem to find it.
The next season did very little to alter that narrative. The Crimson fell in two overtime contests to Dartmouth, then Yale. Cornell obliterated Dartmouth with five goals to which no Big Green skater could find an answer. The championship game ended after four overtimes. Neither Cornell nor Brown could wrest from each other a win. Both were declared champions.
The 1982 Ivy League tournament was the tournament to end all tournaments. No, that is not hyperbole. The Ivy League announced before the 1981-82 season that the 1982 postseason tournament would be the last to determine the Ivy League champion. Cornell had won all of the Ivy League championships. Cornell won five out of those six tournaments outright.
Bill Duthie, a former captain of the Big Red, helmed the carnelian and white for his tenth season. Harvard had in John Dooley its third coach in just four seasons of existence. From the perspective of continuity of leadership, it would appear that Cornell had the advantage if the two programs were to meet. When the season commenced, neither line caller, no matter how insightful, could have predicted how memorably it would come to a close.
The regular seasons for both programs did not unfold as expected. Duthie never had led a Cornell squad to anything but a winning season. The makings of a mediocre season became apparent early. Princeton had in freshman Patty Kazmaier the makings of a great player, but a 10-4 loss was unacceptable on East Hill. The Big Red had not lost to the Tigers in five years. The omens remained ill until the end of the season approached.
High expectations remained abated for Harvard women's ice hockey. A first-year coach scarcely could be expected to right all wrongs in one season. The weight of a program 19 games below 0.500 in just three seasons could not be lifted in one fell swoop, could it? No one told John Dooley's Crimson that it could not.
The prologue was written by February 27, 1982. Cornell was in the throes of its worst season. Harvard could not end the season with a losing record. Harvard had twice as many wins as did Cornell in the same number of games. Both programs knew that the playoffs were a different mindset. Cornell had never lost in the Ivy League tournament. Harvard had never won.
Harvard's spectacular regular season purchased a day's rest for the Crimson skaters. The Big Red was forced to begin without the bye to which it had grown accustomed since the bye's advent. It had stars on its roster. Digit Degidio and Diane Dillon were carnelian scoring menaces. Digit was in the midst of her second season of scoring more than 30 goals. Sarah Mott was a reliable backstop. Duthie had no doubt that his squad would shine.
Brown could not do much to keep Cornell's playoff form in check. The traditional power and the perennial runner-up grappled in the last Ivy League tournament's first round. The Lady Rouge advanced to compete against a rested Harvard. Cornell may have lost more in its defeat of Brown than it gained.
The evening before the historic first meeting of the women's ice hockey of Cornell and Harvard Universities should have been dedicated to the weight of the coming contest. The two great hockey powers of the East whose male counterparts had doled out triumphs and disappointments to one another for 60 years were on the brink of their first meeting. John Dooley may have discussed this storyline with his team. Bill Duthie did not.
Sarah Mott, Cornell's mainstay goaltender, was injured during the first-round game against Brown. The Big Red had no back-up goaltender for the Pittsburgh native. Duthie was headed in to a contest that would commence a series of epic proportions. The night before which, he simply was trying to decide which warm body to put in Cornell's crease.
The carnelian contingent skated to center ice as its members were announced at Thompson Arena on February 27, 1982. The partisans wearing a deeper shade of red were shocked to see that it was Diane Gregoire who tended the opposing crease. Gregoire served as Cornell's manager. Befitting the drama of a great series, it was Duthie's improvisation to tap his team manager that left the first impression before the puck struck the ice.
The Cornellians's defense smothered the Harvard women. Duthie's directive was to make sure that Gregoire was challenged as little as possible. An often offense-first team stifled a rested Harvard team on the large ice surface. Dillon was the star. She notched a goal for Ezra's and Andrew's grand experiment in each of the periods.
Gregoire served admirably. The Crimson penetrated Cornell's defense with 34 shots. The team manager stopped 31.
Overtime saw Harvard cling to hopes that neither Dillon would add to her hat trick nor Degidio would find the back of the net. The odds did not seem in Harvard's favor at times. Pressuring the Crimson's Cheryl Tate and safeguarding Diane Gregoire was a greater imperative as Cornell needed to win the game in overtime. Frantically trying to rewrite its script, the Red would not.
The game advanced past overtime. A complete team effort made Diane Gregoire, who entered the contest with very little notice or mental preparation, stand as an equal to one of the élite goaltenders in women's ice hockey at that time. There was one scenario in which Cornell's collected, disciplined effort could not shore up its perceived weakness.
A shootout decided the result of the first meeting between the women's hockey programs of Cornell and Harvard. Gregoire stopped one of Harvard's five shooters. Tate stopped three of Cornell's salvos. Harvard won.
The Crimson would lose its final contest to Princeton in the Ivy League championship game. The Tigers downed Harvard by a 6-2 margin. A twist of fate contributed to Harvard's loss. In a day's time, Duthie's quandary became that of Dooley. Cheryl Tate was injured in the Cornell contest. She was unable to play. Harvard fared worse than did Cornell relying on an untested netminder.
The victory over Cornell was the biggest in the short history of Harvard hockey. John Dooley was pleased with the performance of his team despite a season-ending trouncing courtesy of the Tigers. Dooley's joy was apparent when he recalled defeating Cornell. He stated that he "would be more than happy if we could ever duplicate a season like this one."
The sentiments on East Hill were quite the opposite. The women of Cornell hockey suffered its first losing season in its decade-long history. The Big Red's opportunity to win every Ivy League tournament ever played slipped through the fingers of Ithaca's skaters. Cornell won six of the seven Ivy League tournaments.
Cornell lost its first playoff game at the hands of institutional foil Harvard. Harvard earned its first playoff victory at Cornell's expense. The rivalry has experienced periods of simmering and eruption ever since that controversial decision in 1982.
Cornell and Harvard have played 80 times in 33 years. The Red and Crimson have clashed in 15 postseason meetings.
An interconnected tradition was forged in the first meeting between Cornell and Harvard. Like most interactions of the institutions of the two universities, the stakes were high. The cornerstone of women's hockey at Cornell was equal opportunity. The cornerstone of women's hockey at Harvard was quarried from a victory over the Red.
These contests matter because, like all great rivalries, more is at stake than the game. Ethics and identities collide.
The contest encapsulates celebration. Results become validation.
Now, let's enjoy great hockey.