But beside the creative chants, pep band tunes and unbridled puck mania that will surely envelop the sellout crowd—-announced at 3,836, though it will feel like twice that—there will be one element conspicuously absent.
A first-place team.
This marks the first time in nine meetings—dating back to a 1-1 tie at Lynah on Nov. 17, 2000—that neither the Big Red nor the Crimson is the ECAC’s first-place team. Entering the weekend, they’re tied for third place with Clarkson, five points behind league-leading Brown and two back of Dartmouth, and neither of them is ranked in the national polls.
Will that sap the enthusiasm out of the rivalry? Oh, please.
“The records go out the window,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, “the polls, too.”
Yeah! That’s the idea. Toss ’em right out…Actually, no. Wait a minute. Hold those records and polls right there.
They might make Saturday night even more intense than usual.
The Crimson, as you know, hasn’t yet lived up to pre-season hype. Returning all but three regulars from a 22-win team, Harvard’s icemen stand 4-3-1 on the year, 3-3-1 in the ECAC. Their high point thus far was a convincing 5-2 defeat of Boston University, which helped them build a three-game win streak.
Then they were shut out at home by Clarkson for the first time ever.
Going into the season, the Crimson was the prohibitive ECAC favorite and one of the country’s top ten teams. Now, it’s in need of a few big weekends if it hopes to be a major contender for the Cleary Cup and an at-large NCAA tournament berth.
“This is probably our biggest road trip of the year, and now with the position our team is in, it’s kind of even bigger,” said junior defenseman Noah Welch. “We haven’t beaten Cornell since I’ve been here at their place. If we can do that, this could be a weekend that turns the page for us.”
Meanwhile, the Big Red began with high expectations of its own, following last year’s ECAC regular-season and tournament championships and Frozen Four appearance. But after losing a remarkable senior class, along with a Hobey Baker finalist goaltender, Cornell is off to a ho-hum 3-2-4 start.
Most puzzling, the Big Red 0-2-3 at Lynah, where it had been unbeaten in 25 straight when the season began. The last time the Lynah Faithful hadn’t seen a win through this many games was 1993.
A win during Rivalry Weekend, then, might be bigger than usual. “I know the fans want that a lot,” Schafer said.
Harvard-Cornell hockey is still bigger news on the Cayuga than the Charles, but epic ECAC championship bouts between the schools the last two years have resuscitated the rivalry in these parts.