The first is the forefront, occasional rivalry. The Cornell-Wisconsin series is the best example of this. Each installment has meant something important to either one or both of the programs. Meetings in the 1970 and 1973 Frozen Fours, the 2006 Regional Final, and 1998 Badger Hockey Showdown meet these criteria. Cornell's contests with Michigan are at or approaching this level. These episodic melodramas involve usually a certain level of mutual respect.
The fourth kind. Oh, yes, the fourth kind. These are the types of rivalries that retreat to the nether regions of the subconscious. When asked which teams are your preferred team's rivals, this opponent surely would slip your mind. But, upon your team meeting it, a gestalt overcomes you: man, you hate these guys. You do not know why, but to your very core, you loathe them.
Denver is the program that dashed the dreams of some of Cornell hockey's giants. Ken Dryden, Pete Tufford, and Mike Schafer suffered career-ending defeats against the Pioneers. Joe Nieuwendyk's one trip to the NCAA tournament ended on the ice of Denver Arena in 1986. Both games occurred under unfortunate, if not suspicious, circumstances.
The 1968-69 Cornell hockey team advanced to the NCAA Championship Final to confront Denver. Denver demolished Harvard two days before the title tilt. Murray Armstrong, the legendary Pioneer coach, predicted after his team's win, "now, we can start thinking about Tech." Cornell proved Armstrong to be no oracle.
This was not the only way by which Murray Armstrong maligned Cornell. Armstrong mocked as juvenile Harkness' style of approaching coaching as a didactic and strategic exercise. The Denver coach treated his players as professionals with little emphasis on interpersonal relationships and systems. Harkness proved to be the first data point on the game's modern trend.
Organizers of the NCAA tournament gave a decided, if not determinative, advantage to Denver. The Pioneers played on Thursday. Cornell played on Friday. The two battled for the ultimate prize on Saturday. A hard-fought overtime contest against Michigan Tech aggravated Cornell's situation. The recuperative differential and playing in Denver's home state at Colorado Springs proved more than significant in contributing to the Pioneers's one-goal margin of victory. Dryden and Tufford ended their careers with three ECAC Hockey championships but one NCAA national championship. Immediately, disfavor and disadvantage created distaste between the hockey programs of Cornell University and the University of Denver.
A statue of Murray Armstrong may occupy the floor space of Magness Arena, but Denver fans are lacking in historical knowledge of their program. Denver fans repeat, repeat, and repeat again that Cornell has never beaten Denver in the Frozen Four. If one assumes that these claims refer not to the adoption of "Frozen Four" branding and instead reference the backronymed championship weekend, this statement is false. Denver fans suffer from collective amnesia.
It is understandable why. 1969 belonged to Murray Armstrong and Denver. 1972 belonged to Dick Bertrand and Cornell. A Red team much faster and skilled than its Denver opponent dissected and decimated Armstrong's squad. Cornell surged to a three-goal lead and never looked back. Revenge was exacted in a 7-2 victory at Boston Garden. It was certainly a day that has proven worth forgetting for DU fans.
The next flash point in a smoldering series came in 1986. Controversially, Cornell, champion of ECAC Hockey, was sent on the road in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Denver Arena served as its host. Its first opponent was the Pioneers. The two-game affair was a total-goals injustice. Greats like Natyshak and Schafer ended their seasons on the ice of Denver Arena with a 4-3 win. Yes, Cornell's season ended on a non-conciliatory win. Why? The Pioneers had scored one more goal overall.
Cornell was the only road team to register a victory during that postseason.
This inanity ended the career of Cornell's future program-rejuvenating coach and marked the only time that Nieuwendyk would grace the ice of the NCAA tournament. The passage of 27 years separated the 1986 NCAA tournament battle, and Cornell's and Denver's next meeting in January 2013. This is not for want of trying on the part of the NCAA organizers.
Cornell has made the NCAA tournament 10 times since the 1986 postseason. The Pioneers of Denver have made the tournament six of those times. Tournament organizers placed Cornell and Denver on collision courses in regionals in one-third of those coinciding appearances. If it were not for both programs suffering upsets in 2010 or a limping Denver succumbing to Ferris State in 2012, more bile would stir in the bellies of Cornell and Denver teams when thinking of the other.
Stir it does nonetheless. These almost meetings in the tournament have not abated the mutual loathing. This writer must concede that the first dose of the Cornell-Denver series that he experienced in real time was the January 2013 series at Magness Arena. That is when it became apparent that laundry does hold memories.
It was undeniable from the opening face-off and the first hits that these teams did not like each other. No player on either roster was alive the last time that the two programs had met, but they knew one thing: they neither liked nor respected the other team. It was an odd phenomenon for someone more acquainted with the dynamics of modern rivalries against Boston University, Harvard, Wisconsin, and Yale in which mutual respect is a cognizable, albeit sometimes minor, component.
Gratuitously Denver-favoring WCHA officials in the 2013 series instigated tensions between two teams during the two-game slug fest. We all remember the sound byte from Mike Schafer that followed. Misguided, it was not. This writer's analysis following that series indicated heavily that WCHA officials were the most biased in out-of-conference contests.
One anecdote should suffice. In one game at Denver, Teemu Tiitinen received 15 penalty minutes during game play. In the 25 other games that he has played, he has received six total minutes of penalties.
Oh, how can we forget the parting gift of 40 minutes of penalties against Cornell after the whistle? Good times. Denver got none. Cornell so proved that it could skate with and dominate Denver in that series that the officials found it necessary to make the New-York visitors kill off two five-minute majors. Kill them off, Cornell did. The announcers even admitted that they had never witnessed a team endure such a hosing so well.
I guess the altitude was not enough. Joel Lowry was right, there was nothing to fear. Now, Denver comes to Lynah Rink.
Denver is on East Hill this weekend. Make them aware. Be there at Lynah Rink. Let loose the inner lurkings of your id.