Various programs have had their respective ticket lines over the week from the perennial line at RPI to the inaugural line at Penn State. This caused me to begin to think about what it is exactly that makes Cornell hockey and the Lynah Faithful unique.
Are we unique? Or, are we merely partakers, perhaps originators, in a common rite of passage among the most passionate fanbases in college hockey? The Line was the point of entry for this conversation but it concludes with the statements and actions of Sean Whitney, who completed his senior campaign in March, that highlight what I believe that makes the Lynah Faithful and those who don the carnelian and white on the ice different than any other players and fans throughout all of college hockey. It is these characteristics that sets the experience of Cornell hockey far above the experiences anywhere else.
The difference could not be wins. There are programs, admittedly few, but they do exist, that have more wins than does Cornell. It could not be national titles. There are programs with more national titles. The size of Lynah Rink? Its capacity is at approximately the average for a college hockey barn. Loudness perhaps? I contend that we are the loudest fans in the loudest venue but the Children of Yost will beg to differ. Also, is loudness a great enough hallmark to make our fans as unique as we pride ourselves on being? What makes the Lynah Faithful special is something more emotional. Something more visceral.
It is not The Line that started before the 1962 clash against Harvard and continues uninterrupted through the modern era that makes us unique, but the reason that generations of Cornellians have chosen to wait to become Lynah Faithful, through good times and bad, through both highs and lows in program history, that makes Cornell hockey and its fans the exemplar of what is great about college hockey. What makes us special is an unending, unabridged connection between past and present, players and fans.
The culture of Cornell hockey is one in which one can ask any member of the Faithful the last time that Cornell won the ECAC Championship and have that member answer correctly (2010). Similarly, most Faithful know without a second's thought that Cornell is the only program in NCAA history to have completed a season undefeated and untied (1970). They observe and remember fondly (even though it ended long before many of their births) the historic BU-Cornell rivalry in the ECAC that began with Ken Dryden between the pipes. Most recognize that Ned Harkness amassed a large portion of his historic coaching career, for which he still holds the NCAA's best record as a win percentage (0.729), behind the bench at Lynah. The Faithful value that it is where the Cornell-Harvard rivalry began in earnest in 1973 with the Lynah Faithful throwing fish on the ice at the Crimson as reciprocity for Harvard throwing a chicken at goaltender Dave Elenbaas in Cambridge earlier that season. It is where the renaissance of an arguably dormant program began in 1996 with the arrival of Mike Schafer who coached the team to an improbable ECAC Championship in his first year, the first that Cornell had won in a decade, and the beginning of Cornell dominance in the Cornell-Harvard rivalry. The structure and aesthetic of Lynah are a connection to the past and a celebration of the history and traditions of Cornell hockey. The Faithful and our antics connect us to fans and players from long gone eras, and to the current players on the ice.
History and tradition forge a cohesiveness among the Faithful that is absent from almost all other fanbases in college hockey. A dedicated Cornell hockey fan or member of the Lynah Faithful is not just a fan among many other fans at Lynah, but they become a collective, invested, and emotional whole. This connection does not evaporate upon leaving Lynah. Cornell is truly an Ivy League institution with a Big Ten heart. The pride at Cornell is unequaled in the Ivy League, and unsurpassed at any other institution or in any other conference. The most common, but not exclusive, gratuitous demonstration of this pride is through the shared experiences of Lynah and the path to becoming a Lynah Faithful. It has been said to elucidate this point that "Cornell isn't an organization. It's a loose affiliation of independent fiefdoms united by a common hockey team."
Sean Whitney's above comment says everything that needs to be said. I know that I feel the same as he does. His role in Cornell hockey history will not be forgotten, especially by members of the Faithful like me who watched him play on East Hill. I think that all the Lynah Faithful, most if not all who feel as I do, love that the players on the ice feel as we do perched on our wooden benches: connected. Whitney's comment proves that. His presence in Lynah Rink will be sorely missed.
Whitney was not without one last demonstration of the connection and emotion between fans, players, and history of which I speech throughout this post. I happened to be at the March 10, 2012 ECAC Quarterfinal game against Dartmouth. Cornell won the game in convincing fashion the night after Whitney ended the then-longest game in Lynah Rink history with a double-overtime goal. It was Whitney's last game at Lynah Rink and his last wearing the classic Cornell home whites. As his final act in Lynah Rink, he skated to center ice as the team began to file down Cornell's tunnel. He knelt down at center ice and ate some of the snow. He took a piece of Lynah with him.
Whitney's action are certainly memorable and should live on in the annals of Cornell hockey history. However, even had Whitney not done what he chose to do, what is shown below, he would have taken a part of Lynah with him. The Lynah experience is incumbent in being a Cornellian. Once that experience affects us, we are all bound. Wherever we go, we take that connection with us. It is through deep connection, history, and emotional investment that the Lynah Faithful and Cornell hockey are unique and how this fanbase and its players forge bonds that endure generations. That is why each generation of Faithful that chooses to wait in The Line is never disappointed to find that it was well worth the wait.