Jim Roberts ’71 saw his first Big Red hockey game as a freshman in the fall of 1967, the semester after the men’s team captured the national championship. Legendary coach Ned Harkness was at the helm in Lynah Rink; future NHL star Ken Dryden ’69 tended goal. “I thought, these guys are good,” Roberts, who served as CAM’s editor and publisher from 2000 to 2014, recalls with a laugh. “I had no idea how good they were.”
Flash forward a half-century. Roberts remains a devoted fan—and in October, Cornell University Press will publish his chronicle of the two dozen most memorable games in Big Red hockey history. Entitled Forever Faithful, the hardcover offers a brief history of Cornell’s hockey program, which traces its roots back to a frozen Beebe Lake in 1907. Roberts devotes chapters to the fan phenomenon that is the Lynah Faithful and to the rivalries with Boston University and Harvard. But the book’s centerpiece is its rundown of twenty-four remarkable games, stretching from that 1967 men’s championship final to a 2013 women’s victory over Harvard that clinched the ECAC title.
During the book’s two-year creative process, Roberts got research assistance from another Lynah legend: Arthur Mintz ’71, game announcer for the past thirty years. Mintz collected more than 300 photos and dug up reports from the Daily Sun and Ithaca Journal from the Olin Library archives; he’d scan them and send PDFs to Roberts, who’s now retired and living in New Hampshire. Roberts himself conducted nearly sixty phone interviews with former players, coaches, managers, and others. “They were all, to a man and a woman, universally helpful,” he says. “Some of the players had incredibly vivid memories of games from thirty or forty years ago.”
While Forever Faithful mostly chronicles the thrill of victory—twenty of the games are wins—it also details the agony of defeat. Its three losses include a heart-wrenching overtime fall (1-0) to the University of Wisconsin in 2006 in which Big Red goalie David McKee ’07 made fifty-nine saves. There’s also one tie: the 1981 women’s Ivy title game that went into four overtimes before officials declared Cornell and Brown co-champions. Roberts interviewed player Margaret “Digit” Degidio Murphy ’83—and reports that even decades later, she remains upset they weren’t allowed to finish. “The funny thing is, she ended up becoming the head coach of Brown’s women’s team for twenty-two years,” Roberts observes, “and she was still angry that they didn’t beat Brown that day.”
The book features an introduction by Dryden, the Hall of Famer who won six Stanley Cups playing for the Montréal Canadiens and went on to serve in the Canadian Parliament. In it, Dryden reflects on his time on the Hill, including his first game as a freshman, his relationships with teammates, and his wins and losses. “Maybe most of all, I remember the fans,” Dryden writes. “The ones who camped out overnight in raw Ithaca weather to get their season tickets. The ones who went on the road with us, to Christmas tournaments in Boston or New York, and the two or three thousand who sounded like ten thousand at the ECACs in Boston Garden. They taught us a life lesson—always do what you do where it matters.”
That Championship Season
A chapter from Forever Faithful recaps the genesis of the women’s team–and the day it captured their sport’s first-ever Ivy title
Cornell women’s ice hockey began with one determined student. In 1971, freshman Regina Baker [now Robbins] ’75 knew that she wanted Cornell to have a team and took action to get one started. At the time, there were few women’s teams at colleges in the United States, and among the Ivy League schools only Brown had established a program. Baker wanted Cornell to have the second Ivy women’s team, and she recruited one of her teachers at Lansing High School, Gail Murphy, to help her even before she arrived on campus.
Cornell’s athletics administration was reluctant at first—hockey was too dangerous for women, some believed—but they eventually approved the idea. There were no resources to speak of; equipment was borrowed or adapted from what men were using, and ice time at Lynah Rink cost $40 an hour. But Baker and Murphy stuck with it, and the Cornell club team played its first games in the 1971–72 school year. Their only intercollegiate contest was a 14-0 loss to McMaster University of Canada, but the program was moving forward.
In the next school year, the team was granted varsity status and Bill Duthie ’71, MBA ’73, became the head coach. Duthie had played on the undefeated 1970 men’s championship team, and he brought the right combination of knowledge and patience to the program. “Reggie Baker and Gail Murphy had a couple of guys who helped the first year,” he says. “The next year, those two guys had graduated and left. John Hughes ’70, MBA ’71, JD ’74 [Duthie’s former teammate, then a law student], and I were down at the Fall Creek House one night, and the girls approached us about coaching them.”
While some male players and coaches were skeptical about women playing the game—Ned Harkness was reportedly not in favor of it—Hughes is quick to praise the players that he coached. “Those women were pioneers,” he says. “They played for all the right reasons. They dared to do something that wasn’t thought of as what women normally did in those days. They were doing it because they wanted to learn new skills—and they were competitive.”
Duthie’s first varsity team played eight games against an assortment of U.S. and Canadian schools, winning four and losing four. They dropped two to the Brown team, which had been established in 1964, by 4-0 and 4-2 scores. The schedule expanded to ten games in 1973–74, and the Cornell women defeated Brown three times. The slate grew again the following season; the team posted a 12-2 record that included a victory over Princeton.
This was before Title IX, which gave equal status to women’s athletics, and it was tough going. The players rode to their away games in vans, slept four to a room, and ate sandwiches. And some of their opponents were much more experienced. “I can remember going to a tournament with two teams from Canada,” says Duthie. “Our kids weren’t used to that level of hockey—and those Canadian kids knew how to intimidate you. One time Johnny Hughes was on the bench, and this one tough girl hit a kid on our team. Our kid whacked her in the back of the leg with her stick, and this other girl turned around and started chasing her. Our kid came right off the ice and hid in Johnny’s coat.”
The 1975–76 season was a landmark for Cornell and for women’s hockey. An ever-growing number of potential opponents meant that Cornell could play a seventeen-game schedule—and for the first time there would be an Ivy League championship at stake. With the addition of a women’s team at Yale, four Ivy schools were now competing. The first women’s tournament was established, with Brown, Princeton, Yale, and Cornell meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, in March 1976.
There was little fanfare about the tournament, and attendance was sparse—mostly family members and friends. The Cornell Daily Sun had published a short preview, stating: “The icers are confident, having beaten Brown and Princeton in the regular season. However, they have never played Yale, which will probably prove to be their toughest opponent.” Not exactly. In the tournament’s opening game, the Big Red women demolished Yale 10–1. Star winger Cyndy Schlaepfer ’78 [now Schlaepfer-Youker]—who would be inducted into the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985—scored seven goals. Her teammate Diana “Sunshine” Lorenz ’78, BA ’79 [now Weggler], assisted on six of those goals and tallied two of her own. Schlaepfer is modest about her goal-scoring outburst. “Part of the reason we were scoring so many goals back then, in my opinion, is that the skaters were so much further ahead of the goalies,” she says. “The attitude was, ‘Who wants to play goal?’ By the time I graduated, that had shifted. There were some really good goalies by then.”
In the championship game, Cornell faced Brown, 4-0 victors over Princeton. The Pembroke Pandas—as the Brown team was known—scored first. The Cornell women struck back, on a goal by Lorenz with an assist by Schlaepfer. It appeared that the first period would end in a tie, but Lorenz scored again (with another assist from Schlaepfer) in the last second. Brown’s coach and players argued that the period had ended before the puck crossed the line, but their protest was not upheld (and, needless to say, there was no video review in those days). “I can’t say for sure,” says Lorenz. “I do remember that it was very close to the buzzer. I was holding my breath—but the light went on. It counted.” The Cornell women went into the locker room up 2-1.
The second period was scoreless. Cornell held its lead until the middle of the third period, when Brown forward Cathie Brady knotted the score at 2-2. Six minutes later, Lorenz struck again, off another feed from Schlaepfer. “Cyndy was great at digging the puck out of the corners,” says Lorenz. “Strong—probably the strongest player on our team. She was very good at getting the puck to me in the slot.”
Brown pressed the attack during the final minutes. “The Pandas went down fighting,” reported the Brown Daily Herald the next day. “With just 20 seconds remaining to play, Rita Harder’s slap shot brought the crowd to its feet as the puck knifed [through] the Cornell defense and appeared to cross the goal line, though it was officially ruled to hit the pole.”
No goal. Final score 3-2. The Cornell team skated away with the first Ivy League women’s ice hockey championship, having outshot Brown 37 to 17 and showing the kind of puck control that Bill Duthie had learned from Ned Harkness. “What do I remember?” says Lorenz. “When my team headed to the locker room, I stayed behind. I wanted to savor the moment. I took a couple of victory laps around the empty arena, just to let the feeling sink in.” It would be the first of six consecutive Ivy League titles won by Duthie’s teams, which dominated the early years of Ivy women’s competition and set a standard for the Cornell teams that followed.
Excerpted from Forever Faithful by Jim Roberts with Arthur Mintz, published by Cornell University Press. Copyright © 2017 by Cornell University. All rights reserved.
Thrill of Victory
Inspired by Forever Faithful, CAM asked veteran sportswriter Brad Herzog ’90 to compile his picks for other dramatic moments in Big Red sports history
Men’s Lacrosse, National Championship: May 29, 1976
ABC-TV announcer Frank Gifford called it the most exciting athletic event he’d ever narrated: two undefeated teams facing off for an NCAA title. Second-ranked Cornell trailed top-ranked Maryland 7-2 at halftime. But the Big Red turned it around and was leading 12-10 with only three minutes left on the clock. Then Maryland scored—and scored again, tying the game just seconds before regulation time expired. In overtime, Cornell prevailed 16-13. All-American Eamon McEneaney ’77, BS ’78, described the moment as “a day of persistence and love.” He also called it “The Mike French Show.” French ’76, MPS ’78, finished the day with a record-tying seven goals and four assists.
Softball, Ivy League Championship: May 8, 2004
Ivy co-champs Cornell and Brown met in a best-of-three playoff series in Providence. Led by All-American Lauren May ’05 (left)—who led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs—the Big Red was riding a fifteen-game winning streak. And it continued. Sarah Sterman ’05, BS ’04, ME ’05, pitched a 2-0 shutout in the first game. A 4-2 triumph in game two sent the team to the NCAA tournament, where Cornell produced a first-round upset of eighteenth-ranked Long Beach State, the 300th victory of coach Dick Blood’s career.
Football, Ivy League Championship: November 19, 1988
It was a not-so-friendly encounter between rivals. The Big Red entered its season-ending game with just one Ivy loss—but Penn was undefeated and had won six of the last seven league titles. Quarterback Aaron Sumida ’89: “Their guys were grabbing us in the pile, spitting in our faces.” Linebacker Len Tokish ’89, BS ’90 (above left, seen with Mike Texido ’88): “Some of Penn’s hits were cheap. They taunted us like crazy.” In a game featuring nine personal fouls, Cornell scored the last sixteen points to win 19-6 and take its first league crown in seventeen years. Running back Scott Malaga ’89 described it as “the Super Bowl and World Series all wrapped in one.”
Women’s Polo, National Championship: February 28, 1987
In 1987, Cornell beat UC Davis in overtime in the semi-finals and faced Virginia in the finals. The ebb and flow resembled the men’s lacrosse title game of eleven years earlier. Trailing 7-3 after three periods (or “chukkers”), Cornell came back to take the lead, then allowed a game-tying goal with thirty seconds left to send it into overtime. After two scoreless overtime chukkers, All-American Caroline Hahn ’87 (at center) scored on a penalty shot in the final minute of the third overtime period for a 10-9 victory.
Men’s Crew, Royal Henley Regatta: July 6, 1957
After winning the International Rowing Association Regatta, the Big Red crew—oarsmen Clayton Chapman ’57, BME ’58; Dave Davis ’57, BCV ’58; George Ford ’57; Phil Gravink ’57; Bill Schumacher ’57, BCH ’58, PhD ’64; Todd Simpson ’57, BCH ’58; Bob Staley ’57, BME ’58; and John Van Horn ’57, BEE ’58; and coxswain Carl Schwarz ’57, BCV ’58—was invited to England’s prestigious Henley Royal Regatta. (The last invitation had come in 1895.) In the opening heat of this truly international, head-to-head competition, Cornell beat the Club Krasnoe Znamia entry from Russia by rowing eight seconds faster than any crew ever had in a Grand Challenge Cup race on the Thames. In the finals, against a Yale crew featuring several Olympic gold medalists, Cornell used a final burst to win by half a length.
Men’s Soccer, Ivy League Championship: November 10, 2012
It was a striking reversal of fortune: Cornell soccer followed a dismal season (a 1-15 record in 2011) with a magical one (15-1 in 2012). A 1-0 victory at Columbia gave the Big Red its first unshared Ivy title in thirty-five years. That sole goal came after Jake Rinow ’14 headed the ball into the box, and Ivy Player of the Year Daniel Haber ’13 kicked it in for his eighteenth score of the season. The Big Red’s stifling defense limited Columbia to only two shots on goal the entire game.
Men’s basketball, EIBL Championship: March 9, 1954
A season-ending victory over Princeton would have given the Big Red the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League title. But Cornell lost, necessitating a one-game playoff the very next night at the Palestra in Philadelphia to decide who would go to the NCAA tournament. With the game tied 44-44—in an era before the advent of the shot clock—Lee Morton ’54, BS ’55, simply froze with the ball, holding it for two minutes before calling a timeout with fourteen seconds left. Moments later, a twenty-foot hookshot by Henry Buncom ’55 fell in as the buzzer sounded.
Women’s crew, National Championship: June 3, 1989
A Big Red victory seemed unlikely at the 1989 National Collegiate Women’s Rowing Championships. After all, Cornell’s crew (coached by John Dunn ’73) had finished third in the Eastern Sprint Grand Finals. And their strongest foes, the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin, had shared each of the past eight national titles. However, “in the first thirty seconds of the race, we were a boat-length ahead,” Sunny Edmunds ’89 later recalled. Cornell held on for what’s arguably the biggest team victory in the history of Cornell women’s sports.
Baseball, Ivy League Championship: May 6, 2012
Just one year after losing a school-record thirty games, the Big Red set another record—by winning thirty-one. The magical season was capped by a dramatic home run by Chris Cruz ’14 against Dartmouth at Hoy Field—in the bottom of the eleventh inning in the third game of a best-of-three playoff Ivy championship series. Cruz’s blast, his team-record twelfth of the season, gave Cornell its first ever Ivy title, sending the squad to the NCAA regionals for only the second time in 143 years.