The world of sports is filled with fierce competition and intense rivalries, and few are as storied and long-standing as the one between Cornell University and their opponents on the ice. For decades, Cornell’s hockey team has been a dominant force in the NCAA, and their matchups against their biggest rivals have always been highly anticipated events. But what makes these games so special? To understand, we must take a look back at the history of Cornell’s most important matchups, and how they have shaped the team’s legacy.
The Cornell hockey program began in the early 1900s, and over a century later, it has become one of the most successful and respected teams in the country. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the team began to establish itself as a true powerhouse in collegiate hockey. This was due in large part to the arrival of legendary coach Ned Harkness, who took over the team in 1954 and led them to their first national championship in 1967, as well as four consecutive Ivy League titles from 1959 to 1962.
But with success comes competition, and Cornell’s biggest rivalries began to take shape during this dominant era under Harkness. One of the most notable matchups was against arch-rival Harvard, which became known as The Battle for the Ivy League. These two teams first met on the ice in 1910 and have been battling it out ever since, with Cornell holding a slight overall lead in the series. But it was during the 1960s, with Harkness at the helm, that the rivalry truly heated up. In 1969, the two teams played in front of a record-breaking crowd of 13,000 fans at Madison Square Garden, cementing the Harvard-Cornell rivalry as one of the most intense and celebrated in collegiate hockey.
But Harvard wasn’t Cornell’s only rival during Harkness’ tenure. Another fierce matchup was against Boston University, who was also coached by a legendary figure in the hockey world, Jack Kelley. These two teams first met in 1957, and their games were always high-stakes and highly competitive. In 1968, they faced off in the first-ever NCAA frozen four championship game, with Cornell coming out on top, further adding to the intensity of this rivalry.
The 1970s brought a new era for Cornell hockey, with Harkness stepping down as coach and Herb Brooks taking over. Brooks, who would later go on to coach the Miracle on Ice 1980 Olympic team, continued the team’s legacy of success, adding four more national titles to Cornell’s trophy case. But one of the team’s biggest challenges during this era was their rivalry with another powerhouse program, the University of North Dakota.
Cornell and North Dakota first met on the ice in 1962, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that their matchups became truly intense. In 1970, the two teams faced off in the NCAA semifinals, with North Dakota coming out on top and going on to win the national championship. This loss became a driving force for Cornell, who would go on to beat North Dakota in the 1972 NCAA championship game, avenging their previous defeat. The two teams would meet again in 1974 for the national title, this time with Cornell taking home the victory. The rivalry between these two programs showcased some of the best talent in college hockey and solidified Cornell’s place as a top contender in the NCAA.
Fast forward to the 2000s, and Cornell’s rivalry with Harvard would once again become the talk of the college hockey world. During this decade, the two teams would meet in the ECAC championship game four times, with Harvard coming out on top three times. These games were always high-stakes, and the rivalry between the two teams continued to grow with each matchup. In 2003, Cornell and Harvard would play in one of the most memorable games in college hockey history, with Harvard coming away with a 2-1 victory in triple overtime. This game has been dubbed the game of the century by many fans and only added to the intensity and significance of this longstanding rivalry.
It can be easy to get caught up in the present and overlook the importance of looking back on the history and legacies of our favorite sports teams. But for Cornell and their passionate fans, the never-ending rivalries and storied history of the team are ingrained in the very fabric of the university and its community. Whether it’s facing off against Harvard, Boston University, North Dakota, or any of their other top opponents, each matchup carries with it a sense of tradition and a drive to continue building on the team’s legacy of success.