The audio of that exchange can be heard here.
The nonchalance of the comment takes away from the expected build-up of finding out which opponent will meet the Big Red in the second biennial Frozen Apple. Remember the anticipation from two summers ago when Michigan was surmised and finally confirmed as the opponent? There are several storylines that surround this choice. This writer will give a brief analysis of each and as more is revealed greater coverage for each topic will be provided on WAFT.
The success of the second Frozen Apple is of utmost importance to Cornell. Boston University and Cornell have proven that they can sell out The Garden consistently with sellouts in Red Hot Hockey in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013. Cornell proved to itself and the college hockey community that it alone could sell out Madison Square Garden in 2012 when it hosted the inaugural Frozen Apple against Michigan. It places Cornell on a plane that few other college hockey programs occupy.
It is foolish to think that Cornell's position on this level is perpetual. Can it happen into the foreseeable future? Yes. Is it guaranteed to continue into the future indefinitely? Absolutely not.
Red Hot Hockey on odd years will be a sellout into the foreseeable future. Its captured audiences, Boston University and Cornell, are among the two most loyal and devoted fanbases in college hockey. Few other fanbases care more about their histories than do the Terriers and Big Red. Red Hot Hockey is an extension of that devotion and history of storied Boston University-Cornell feuds. The event markets itself.
The Frozen Apple is very unlike Red Hot Hockey in this regard. There are very few established out-of-conference rivalries for Cornell that have the combination of factors that will fill Madison Square Garden alone. The draw of the first Frozen Apple was piqued when Cornell upset Michigan in the 2012 NCAA Tournament months before the match-up in New York City. Additionally, Michigan has a sweeping fanbase and large alumni base in Manhattan. Both were important for the Frozen Apple's success.
The opponents that Coach Schafer mentioned for future editions of the Frozen Apple were Minnesota, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Minnesota is Minnesota. What programs like Boston University and Cornell are to the East, Minnesota is to the West. Add to that fact Minnesota's refusal to travel to Lynah Rink and the pent up tension between the programs becomes evident. This neglects even Cornell's 2005 match-up or 2003 when the two programs were the best in the nation. Wisconsin needs little elaboration. Cornell and Wisconsin are rivals. Those who did not follow the clashes of the two schools in the 1970, 1973, and 2006 national tournaments undoubtedly have heard their tales. Within both fanbases.
What of Notre Dame and Penn State? Notre Dame has the angle that the Fighting Irish tried to lure away Schafer in 2005. Jeff Jackson is a great coach, but few of the older to middle-aged alumni who populate the Lynah Faithful are brought to a zealous lather with thoughts of playing a program that danced in and out of conferences and divisions of college hockey throughout its history. This writer is heavily in favor of playing Notre Dame and I think it would sell out a venue as large as Madison Square Garden, but it does have decided shortcomings.
Penn State is very similar to Notre Dame is this regard. The Nittany Lions have a great coach with whom many of the Lynah Faithful are familiar. Guy Gadowsky, an alumnus of ECAC Hockey's coaching fraternity, leads the Nittany Lions. He brought Princeton a Whitelaw Cup in 2008. Memorably he led his Tigers against Cornell in an overtime thriller in the 2009 ECAC Championship Semifinals. He may have switched big-cat monikers, but his style remains the same. But, is Penn State a big enough draw?
This is where perception becomes a problem. Penn State is both tremendously old and terribly new. The first group of Nittany Lions to lace up skates for competition did so in 1919. Penn State then became utterly dominant for nearly four decades in club and ACHA hockey. However, the more dominant narrative, to which many in the Cornell fanbase will respond, has a hockey program emerging from the earth of Central Pennsylvania over the last two seasons. Will the Lynah Faithful and other alumni respond to a contest against a program of perceived less history and a mere two seasons at the NCAA level?
Red Hot Hockey and the Frozen Apple have become de facto homecomings for hockey-loving Cornell. One needs only look at articles in our most recent alumni magazine to realize that. This may be enough to ensure a good turnout from the Cornell contingent. This writer finds the prospect of playing Penn State in Manhattan exciting because of the shared facets of old and new. They should intrigue anyone. Cornell and Penn State were among the first college hockey programs, but while the former remained historic and dominant at the highest level of the sport, the latter only recently gained such sure footing.
There may be unanticipated issues in getting the throngs of the Lynah Faithful to Madison Square Garden in November 2014. No such issues have existed when Cornell competed against Boston University and Michigan. Penn State should be no different, but it could be. These annual events in New York City have become more than hockey spectacles to many Cornell alumni and their families, so the opponent should be of little consequence. And, what is not to like about the passion of Penn Staters about all things that concern their athletics programs and University?
Can Penn State do as well or better than Michigan? Why not play off of internal Big-Ten egos to buoy the attendance of Penn Staters? Hockey may never be the dominant sport in Happy Valley, but it does not mean that it will not add to the extant Icers family new and loyal Nittany Lions fans. Alumni will come from reasonable distances to watch Penn State battle Cornell in The Garden. Many will not even need to travel that far. The New York City area represents the second-largest concentration of Penn State alumni in the nation. The Philadelphia area is the one region with a greater concentration of Penn Staters.
The fact that Penn State's two largest alumni bases are within ready distance of Manhattan does not have you convinced that the Nittany Lions may show in greater numbers than did the Wolverines? Consider that Penn State has done this previously. The Nittany Lions have played four games in NHL arenas when their fans were the dominant contingent. These include both games of the Three Rivers Classic in 2012 and two editions of the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff. The fewest number of people to attend a Penn State game at an NHL arena was 10,797. The largest contingent to attend a Penn State game at an NHL arena numbered 19,529 when the Nittany Lions sold out the Wells Fargo Center.
The sellout of the Wells Fargo Center may have been aided by Flyers fans staying to watch the Penn State-Vermont game after the NHL lockout ended. However, it is undeniable that Penn State can fill NHL venues. The average attendance of a Penn State hockey game at an NHL venue is 14,905. The Nittany Lions are more than a sufficient draw.
Cornell allots its opponents in Red Hot Hockey and the Frozen Apple approximately 25-30% of the seats in Madison Square Garden. The current capacity of the "transformed" Garden is 18,006. Penn State's contingent would need to purchase between 4,501 and 5,402 tickets. These figures are lower than the capacity of Pegula Ice Arena. That is to neglect the fact that said numbers of tickets are nearly one-third of the average draw of the Nittany Lions in an NHL arena. Penn State will be able to sell its allotment of tickets with ease.
Interest on the part of the Nittany Lions may be difficult as well. Paradoxically, for similar and different reason as it may be for Cornellians. Penn State is a new initiand to varsity college hockey. Through interactions I have had with recent and current Penn State students, I have realized that some are learning the culture and legacy of college hockey. Many do not realize the history of Cornell hockey. So, creation of interest among current students at or recent alumni of Penn State may require more skillful marketing on the parts of both Cornell Athletics and Penn State Athletics than have previous installments of Red Hot Hockey and the Frozen Apple. Penn Staters will need to be convinced why they should care about a game against Cornell.
This task may be easier than even this writer implies. Little was done to promote why Penn Staters should care about Vermont in either Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff, but more than 17,000 blue-and-white-clad fans filled the Wells Fargo Center for each edition. Recent administrative changes for the Flyers put in question whether Penn State will be able to host another hockey tilt at the Wells Fargo Center next season. As disappointing as this would be for the region that hosts the greatest concentration of Penn Staters, it would enhance the draw of the Frozen Apple 2014 at Madison Square Garden.
Two other issues remain from the Penn State perspective. They can produce crowds that fill large hockey facilities. That is obvious. What is unproven is how much Penn Staters will pay to see a major spectacle hockey game. A credit to Penn State and Pegula Ice Arena is that they have kept ticket costs generally below the levels charged at most venues, including Lynah Rink. They resemble those charged at Greenberg Ice Pavilion in seasons past. This leaves unproven however how much Penn Staters will pay for a hockey game. Additionally, the Three Rivers Classic ticket prices range from $16.85 to $47.75 while tickets began at $10.00 for the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff.
The cost of tickets for Red Hot Hockey and the Frozen Apple never dips as low as the above cited prices. Furthermore, most tickets at either Cornell-hosted event go for $50.00 to $75.00 with some tickets as little as approximately $30.00 and others well above $100.00. The ranges of ticket prices that Penn State has filled are disparate from those at Madison Square Garden. Penn Staters will pay a great deal for their sports teams when those programs are grafted on to the great University's sense of identity. A regular-season game against a non-Big Ten opponent at Beaver Stadium can sell fairly readily for $80.00. What is unproven is if the buying impetus for hockey is yet as great. It should be. This writer hopes it is, but it would be amiss not to mention this possible concern.
Football creates another possible concern for the Frozen Apple 2014. Many remember how disappointing it was to file into Madison Square Garden and discover that Michigan had left its band in the Midwest to witness the Wolverines's loss to the Buckeyes on the gridiron instead of watching their demise at the hands of the Big Red in Manhattan. Penn State will host Michigan State in University Park, PA the afternoon before the Frozen Apple 2014. This writer holds out hope that a contingent, albeit likely small, of the Blue Band, or perhaps an alumni band from the New York City area, will appear at the game in the Big Apple.
A positive comparison is that although Penn State and Michigan State play for a trophy when they meet, the passion and vitriol that drained many Michigan fans before the Frozen Apple 2012 is not present in meetings between Penn State and Michigan State. The Penn Staters who flock to The Garden will not be effected disproportionately, no matter the result of the earlier football game. This highlights one similarity between the contests that Penn State would be involved in that Saturday.
Michigan State and Penn State claim to be the first land-grant institutions. This is a product of the fact that Michigan and Pennsylvania, unlike New York, began sale of their state lands to fund public higher education before the Morrill Land-Grant Act. Cornell University became a land-grant institution by acts of New York State in 1865. The two match-ups that Penn Staters will witness on November 29, 2014 will be clashes of proud land-grant institutions.
There are numerous similarities and connections between Cornell and Penn State that add elements to a possible, and seemingly likely, meeting at Madison Square Garden, but those will be saved for a later date when more is confirmed. However, to give a cursory preview of topics that will come, it is worth noting that Cornell and Penn State tried tirelessly to arrange meetings between their hockey programs when both played at the varsity level.
Penn State's lack of a home ice surface and Cornell's reliance on the mercy of the weather to preserve conditions on Beebe Lake resulted in only one meetings between the Nittany Lions and the Big Red. The lone meeting occurred on February 5, 1944. The Penn Staters traveled from Central Pennsylvania to Central New York. Nicky Bawlf and his skaters sent their Pennsylvanian challengers back to the Commonwealth with a loss. Just over 70 years will have passed by the time that the puck is dropped at the 2014 edition of the Frozen Apple. It should be well worth the wait.
With the possibly heightened need for media, athletic departments, and marketing agencies to promote the event, why does neither Cornell nor Penn State make a formal announcement of the future meeting? Contractual matters are why programs keep their schedules confidential. Darian Somers of The Daily Collegian with whom WAFT has had contact provides an explanation in his piece on the possibility of a Cornell-Penn State game at Madison Square Garden. He notes that Penn State is not bound and has not accepted a schedule until the University's faculty senate approves the schedule for each team. Official release may follow that seeming formality.
While the remainder of Penn State's schedule may be largely a mystery, Cornell's schedule for the 2014-15 season has begun to take definite shape. Cornell will have its slate of ECAC Hockey contests. Five of the seven out-of-conference games that Cornell will play next season are known with reasonable certainty. Cornell will play two games against Denver, play two games against Nebraska-Omaha, and host Penn State in the Frozen Apple. The two remaining openings will be in Cornell's winter tournament in Florida.
It is important that the second Frozen Apple is a success. It seems like it cannot help but be one if marketed properly. Two great universities with tremendous amounts of school pride and large alumni bases in the New York State and New York City areas hardly can go wrong. While fans of both programs wait for confirmation, it is worthwhile to think about what will need to be done to make this a success for both programs. It may not be easy, but it is worth it. This event will be unlike its preceding Red Hot Hockeys and Frozen Apple. It will be great nonetheless.