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Cornell Hockey History

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#1. From the archives of Uncle Ezra, 9/25/2003

Dear Uncle Ezra, Why doesn't Cornell build an outdoor skating rink during the winter months? Has there ever been an outdoor rink on campus in the past? Thanks, Crazy About Hockey

Dear Hockey-crazed, Not long ago, someone asked a similar question regarding construction of an outdoor swimming pool on campus. The explanation was that there was not sufficient demand and funding to balance the issues of limited space availability, volume of use, weather dependency, and construction and operating costs.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cornell's Hockey team competed on Beebe Lake. Engineering professor Johnny Parson, was fascinated with the sport, and built and maintained the lake's rink. The hockey program went undefeated the 1907-08 season, and in 1911 they won the college championship. Unfortunately, even then, the winters were unreliable, and the ice had a bad habit of melting just before contests, which left the team scrambling to find other nearby venues. There were no other rinks on campus until Lynah Rink was built in 1957.

If you are looking for other opportunities to ice skate this winter, in addition to public skating at Lynah Rink, there is the Rink, a year-round venue on Rte. 34 about 15 minutes North of campus. There is also a winter rink at Cass Park, which is covered, but not fully enclosed, down on Rte. 89 by the inlet.

#2. Cornell Hockey Cancelled - December, 1948 - from Bob Smith '51

Bob Smith, now living in Massena, wrote to relate this history. He says he was in the locker room when Bob Kane announced the cancellation of Cornell hockey. Look for Smith at Clarkson when the Big Red visit Potsdam. I go to five or six Clarkson games a season, he writes, but only to games where I think there is a good chance that Clarkson will lose. So, I see a lot of close games. I don't like runaways, regardless of who does the running!

The incident I describe below happened in December, 1948, not January, 1949 as I had first remembered. Yes, Cornell had varsity hockey in the 1948-49 season, and the team went to Potsdam to play Clarkson in the Walker Arena in December. Clarkson won that game; the score was 10-0. This was confirmed by the Clarkson Sports Information Director (Gary Mikel). I was a member of the Cornell team but didn't travel.

Walker Arena

View of Walker Arena ice from TV Press Box (1975)

We had two practices before playing Clarkson. The first was on the pond behind Freddie Marcham's farmhouse. (Frederick G. Marcham was a beloved professor of English history and a sports buff.) The second was on Beebe Lake after Building & Grounds had put the boards up. But, then it turned warm, the ice melted and the boards were floating in the lake. We had some good hockey players, especially Irving "Hokey" Holcomb*, the captain, and John Pierik, the varsity football center. But we hadn't practiced.

Clarkson was good, as usual. They had indoor ice for practice; the Walker Arena didn't have artificial ice yet (that happened in 1952) but you don't really need artificial ice in a covered arena in Potsdam in December. They went 8-5-0 in 1948-49, which was the legendary Bill Harrison's first year as coach.

Still, 10-0 is painful. At the team meeting on the Monday after the game, Athletic Director Bob Kane (also legendary) came into the room.

Kane: "10-0! And to Clarkson! That's a disgrace. That'll never happen again, as long as I'm A.D. at Cornell! Never! And to be sure of that, I'm cancelling hockey."

Hokey: "Sir, do you mean you're cancelling the season?"

Kane: "No, I mean I'm cancelling the goddam SPORT!"

And he cancelled hockey, and it wasn't played again at Cornell until after Lynah Rink was completed in March 1957.

* For more on Hokey, read his obituary in the New York Times archive.