When the public address announcer at Lynah Rink announced that Cornell would host the Harvard men's hockey team in the first round, a roar echoed across the building. The Big Red (13-12-1, 10-9-1) is renowned for having some of the most rabid fans in all of college hockey, but the Crimson (11-15-2, 9-10-2 ECAC) elicit a deeper hatred.
While Harvard and Cornell have fought some monstrous battles on the ice, part of the attraction of the renewal of this rivalry is the participation of the crowd. From senior defenseman Mark Moore (and brothers Steve and Dominic) hearing the chants of "Moore-on" to senior netminder J.R. Prestifilippo watching the crowd mimic every single move he makes before the referee drops the puck, each player falls victim to some peculiar invective.
At the heart of the fan rivalry lies fish-throwing. Before every game, the Cornell crowd hurls fish onto the ice, coating the poor opposing players in a slimy goo.
This disgusting tradition began sometime in the 1970s after some daring Harvard fans tied a chicken to the Big Red goal, mocking its agricultural school. In response, Cornell started throwing fish to indicate how close Harvard is to the sea. The hurling of seafood soon became a fixture at every Big Red home game, not just against Harvard.
However, the advent of the Crimson has sparked "the Faithful" to inquire at Wegman's Fish Store on the price of more assorted friends from the sea. One fan on a Cornell hockey message board expressed hope of getting a shark.
Through the years, Harvard has had many other colorful encounters with the Big Red crowd.
Bill Cleary '56 coached his last game at Lynah Rink in the first round of the playoffs in 1990, the year after he guided Harvard to its only National Championship. Aware of his imminent departure, he was serenaded with "Goodbye, bald guy," all weekend.
Moreover, before his final game, Cleary, now the Athletic Director, allegedly actually went into the stands and sat in the middle of the Big Red Band.
He was peppered with any projectile at hand and reportedly had a tuba held up to each ear, but the Crimson legend sat there smiling, all the while taking the pressure off of his team.
In 1997, the last time Harvard played at Cornell in the playoffs, the fans supposedly did not bother to wait until game-day to waylay the Crimson. Somehow, the numbers of the team's hotel rooms in Ithaca entered public domain, and of course, the team was crank-called all night long.
Harvard can expect a similar nightmare this weekend. In its 6-2 loss this year at Bright, a group of Big Red fans had painted "J.R. Sucks!" on their chests and when Prestifilippo was pulled, quickly gathered some more friends to spell out "Jonas Sucks!"
But that was just a road effort.
"If you thought improvising 'Jonas Sucks!' was impressive," Cornell senior John Lynch said. "You should see what we can do in our own house with a week to plan and a few buckets of red paint."
Of course, the easiest solution to the crowd problem is winning. Even the most inspired spectators succumb to the specter of impending elimination from the playoffs.
"As players, we get fired up by the crowd as much as they do," junior defenseman Tim Stay said. "It's such a great environment to play."
But Stay quickly pointed out Harvard's real objective with the crowd.
"The best sound to hear there is silence," he said.
Silence or pandemonium, the crowd is one factor the Crimson will have to endure and hopefully thrive upon. It's what makes the Harvard-Cornell rivalry so much fun, and it makes victory, should it come, all the more satisfying.
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