Harvard hockey is a festival, an annual excursion into voo-doo, pomp, circumstance and ritual.
Harvard hockey is played as much in the stands as it is on the ice.
Take the case of the Harvard Cornell rivalry. This semi-annual clash of the ECAC titans is full of chants and chickens, slogans and shouting matches. A Harvard-Cornell hockey game is as big and as boisterous as a Michigan-Ohio State football contest, particularly when the game is played in Cornell's den in Ithaca, N.Y.
Last year, Harvard Captain Steve Armstrong, an Ithaca native, returned home to Lynah Rink. His fellow Cornellians threw fish at him.
The raucous crowd had a different treat for Crimson goalie John Devin. During a break in play, a fan tossed an object better suited to the bedroom on the ice. Devin caught the object on his stick and flipped it back into the stands. The crowd returned it, cheering.
Finally, the referee scooped it up and deposited it in the penatly box.
A young boy in the crowd turned to his mother. "Is that a chicken?" he asked.
"No," his mother said, but did not fill him in on what the object was.
Harvard-Cornell would not earn a PG-13 rating.
The chicken ceremony comes between the first and second periods. A daring undergraduate jumps onto the ice and ties a chicken to the Harvard goalpost. The fowl is usually removed before the Crimson takes the ice.
The Cornell crowd delights in reminding Harvard Coach Bill Cleary about his bare pate. "The Harvard coach is bald," the crowd shouts, "the Harvard coach is bald." Cleary, the good-natured sport, pats his head and smiles.
This chant is less effective these days because Big Red Coach Brian McCutcheon sports a bald spot of his own.
Occasionally, the Harvard-Cornell series gets ugly. Three years ago, Big Red hit-man Mike Schaeffer fired a puck directly at Cleary. It missed the Crimson coach by inches.
During Schaeffer's day, Lynah Rink was known as the Goon Dome.
Recently, Harvard has gotten the better of the Big Red, including a series sweep the last three years. But the Crimson has not enjoyed similar success in the Beanpot, the annual tournament held in February at Boston Garden and featuring the city's leading teams, Harvard, Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern.
The Crimson has not won a first-round game in seven years.
Some blame Harvard's recent failure on its schedule. The Crimson usally has a long layoff for exams prior to playing in the 'Pot.
Others simply say Harvard is jinxed. Usually--especially during the last four years--the Crimson enters the 'Pot as the better team and leaves empty-handed.
No one wants to play in the consolation game. But the Crimson has made that contest its own for the past seven years.
Finally, Harvard offers its own rink, Bright Center, and its own witty and cruel fans. During last year's NCAA first-round match with Michigan State, the MSU band chanted S-T-A-T-E.
The Crimson band, huddled behind the Harvard goal, yelled, "Now spell Michigan."
Laughter filled the arena.