ITHACA, N.Y.--Was it supposed to end like this?
This year, probably. Cornell has a better hockey team than Harvard does.
This is a disappointing fact for fans of the Crimson to contemplate. But there is no disgrace in losing to the Big Red in Ithaca; in the 27 "playoff" games ever held in Lynah Rink, only four away teams have gotten any kind of positive result, and even Harvard's tie on Friday night is enough to put the Crimson in fairly elite company.
More serious, to me, is the question of just how many "fans" are even bothering to contemplate Harvard's exit from the 1996-97 men's hockey season. The scenes in the Lynah bleachers on Friday and Saturday were enough to suggest that the composition of the Bright Hockey Center crowd is in much more dire need of a complete overhaul than is the team itself.
Lynah Rink holds 3,822 screaming Big Red fans on a good day. Most scheduled Friday and Saturday night games make for "good days."
On the other hand, imagine a building, like this paragraph, in which there are gaping holes everywhere. This would be the crowd Bright Center against St. Lawrence in the ECAC prelim nary last Tuesday... and most other weekends throughout the regular season.
This is a serious problem for any hockey program. Home is supposed to be a happy haven for a team, a place where ritual yellers conglomerate, an automatic catalyst for better hockey. You look at this season's Harvard performances, though, and you'll see that they tended to get better--and guttier--whenever the Crimson was forced to bus out of Cambridge.
Gone, now, are the final links with 1993's national semifinalist team. The freshmen of that year are now seniors, both on and off the ice, and one wonders from where the sparks of inspiration will come for chants like "Four out of five dentists say, Colgate sucks!"
The few who remain in Section 12 of the Bright Center have lost most of their originality already. The Harvard band continues to sing a hopelessly clueless tune far too often. Alumni seemed to be scared away from the arena by the current state of the on-ice product.
What would it take to get the magic back?
The easy answer is "a new team." But that is little more than a cop-out; the fickleness of the current crop of Harvard students is astounding even still.
Give a crowd playoff hockey on a Tuesday night, $4 surcharge or not, and you would expect any student body, even Harvard's eclectic sort, to do better than the library-like atmosphere that greeted the visitors from St. Lawrence. No kidding: I've heard more noise in Lamont during exam period before than there was at points during the first period.
Maybe a mass pilgrimage to Lynah would be in order. I was commentating on Saturday's game for WHRB, and our engineer back in the studio--sophomore Kimi Domoto-Reilly--commented, "Man, it sounds really loud in there."
It was. Every rush up the ice by the Big Red seemed to be greeted with crescendos of noise. You really needed a headset to talk to the person sitting (or, as tended to be the case, standing) next to you.
Sometimes the Lynah faithful cross the line from intensity to indecency; they throw fish on the ice when Harvard comes out at the start of the game, and about an hour into Saturday's game the building still smelled vaguely of halibut. An orange was hurled at freshman goalie J.R. Prestifilippo, hitting him in his right skate on two bounces.
Colleague Becky Blaeser also counted that the fans collectively used the word "sucks" 107 times on Saturday alone, usually prefaced by "Harvard" or "J.R." What they sometimes lack in originality, though, they more than make up for with a very game-savvy passion which might be worth a goal-and-a-half a game.
And at the final buzzer on Saturday, 100 or so students climbed the glass and leapt onto the ice surface to join in the celebration. The better team--and the better fans--had won a deserved victory.
There's a lot of work to do in the offseason. Is Ronn Tomassoni allowed to recruit a new Section 12?
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