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Official Review by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Few college hockey programs have a history to match Cornell, and the start of the success begins with the opening of the James Lynah Skating Hall in 1957. After decades of occasionally playing on an outdoor rink, Lynah gave the Big Red a permanent home. However, it was not until the Harvard game in 1962 that the sport became popular on campus.
Success followed as Cornell won a pair of National Championships in 1967 and 1970. A total of 19 NCAA Tournament appearances and 12 ECAC Titles have since followed, though recent success has eluded the Corenllians. All through this time, cramped and tiny Lynah Rink has been a beacon of noise with an atmosphere that is idolized in the sport. Though Lynah is not as raucous as it used to be, the traditions are still there and this is a fun place to enjoy a hockey game.
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Food items are what you would expect at a small rink with snack varieties and small meals. From the grill, fans can grab a cheeseburger ($4.75), hot dog ($3), sausage ($5), or slice of pizza ($3). A cup of chili is a nice option on the typically cold Ithaca nights. One of the more unusual things being sold: Gum. I never thought at a game that I needed a piece of gum, but hey, it's here if you want it. Beverage choices are from Pepsi.
Lynah Rink is a cramped place to watch a game as seating is made up of around 14 rows in a squared-off horseshoe design. Most of the seats are on wooden bleachers, though there are a few areas that have padded or individual chairs. The surface area on the inside is so small that it almost feels claustrophobic, primarily because of the low roof held together by wooden boards and wires. A scoreboard would not fit over center ice, so a basic board is located only at one end of the rink and it features an old-school, dot-matrix message display. Despite a decent pitch to each row, sight lines are not the best as it is common to have heads in the way of the ice or to strain to see what is going on at the other end. By no means is this a comfortable hockey rink, but sometimes these are the places that lend to the best game day atmosphere, and that is the case at Cornell.
The design allows for lots of noise reverberation and when a goal is scored, a deafening roar follows. The "Lynah Faithful" create an awesome hockey environment and they have several traditions and chants throughout the game that make this a fun atmosphere for first-time neutrals. "Let's Go Red" is the most frequent chant, while the loudest is probably "It's all your fault," pointed at the opposing goalie after he lets one in.
The game starts with fans reading newspapers during the visiting team introduction, followed by chucking them onto the ice. The band keeps things entertaining and the numbers they play throughout add to the atmosphere. Throughout the game other common chants include the Dragnet theme for each visitor penalty and the Tuba players hiking to Section A for a rendition of "Swanee River" during the first whistle in the third period.
While this is a great college hockey atmosphere, all of this should be noted with an asterisk as I have to say that the chants and traditions are somewhat muted. Aside from the full and loud student section, only some in the crowd muster a half-hearted effort to participate. This has been noted by longtime fans that Lynah is not what it used to be as only one game (Harvard) gets the full-on craziness that made Cornell one of the top places to watch college hockey. Spontaneous cheering is surprisingly lacking as a good hockey crowd should salute their goalie at the next whistle after a series of stops or turn up the applause after a great penalty kill, neither of which happened during my most recent visit. Lynah is a great place for hockey and the traditions are enjoyable, but it does not live up to the high expectations and historic reputation.
The small city of Ithaca sits right at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, within the Finger Lakes region of New York State. This part of the country is quite beautiful as wineries, waterfalls, and gorges make for a great outdoor excursion. However, given that Cornell Hockey is a winter sport, the outdoors may be less desirable to explore. A visit to downtown Ithaca is a better way to spend the day and there are plenty of hot spots to check out. Beer lovers will find several great establishments and the Ithaca Ale House is an excellent choice as craft beers abound. Near that same area around Ithaca Commons, several other places beckon for those looking to eat, drink or hang out. Before heading to the arena, be sure to walk around Cornell's hilly campus as the diverse building architecture provides a classic Ivy feel.
The Lynah Faithful often fill most of the arena on game nights and the Friday Night mid-November contest that I saw featured 85% of the seats filled at puck drop and that increased to about 95% ten minutes into the game. Crowds are respectable and support is in the top third of college hockey programs. However, there are more signs of "not what it used to be" as only the Harvard game is a guaranteed sellout. The 2016-17 season opener against a Top-5 team only had a crowd of 3,767 and an ECAC playoff game the season before failed to bring in more 4,000. Those are disappointing figures for a school that has a high reputation in the sport.
Both Ithaca and Cornell can be challenging to reach from any direction and it certainly can be a nerve-wracking ride given the proficiency of snow in this part of the country. The closest interstate (I-81) is over 20 miles away, so country roads are needed. The most direct route is Exit 12 from I-81 as this leads to Route 79. Meanwhile, from the NY State Thruway (I-90) it takes almost 45 minutes of two-lane rural roads to reach Ithaca.
Once on Cornell's campus, the small streets and busy pedestrian traffic can make things a little confusing for visitors, but thankfully the athletic section is not far from the campus entrance. The Hoy Road parking deck a few buildings down from the arena is sufficient for fans attending the game. Expect the exit from the parking deck to take about 5-10 minutes.
Lynah Rink features three tight hallways to navigate, however the nearby and much more modern Bartels Hall makes up for it. This foyer that connects with other indoor sporting facilities allows for some breathing room at intermission, along with additional food stands and bathrooms.
Parking is free and the tickets cost $20. The price is higher than most schools, but on par with those that have popular programs. Most seats are reserved for students and season-ticket holders as limited sections are left for the public, although those tickets are not as hard to get as they used to be. Cornell games at Lynah are an event that sports fans and especially hockey fans need to check out.
Cornell does an excellent job honoring their hockey program, especially along the hallways where there is a plethora of trophy cases and wall displays for both the women's and men's teams. Additional visuals include yearly team pictures, portraits of Cornellians in the NHL and plaques for statistical titles. A good amount of team color (red and white) enhances the arena and that also can be seen inside the rink. Banners in those colors hang from the low ceiling and the honors include the year of each conference title and NCAA appearance.
Numerous former players have gone on to play in the NHL and the most noteworthy are Ken Dryden and Joe Nieuwendyk. Both had their numbers retired and raised to the rafters during a ceremony in 2010.
When people think of rivalries, Harvard-Yale is a popular tandem. However, when it comes to college hockey, it is Cornell that has the rivalry with Harvard and it makes for one of the best games in the sport. Lynah Rink in particular becomes a cauldron of noise and chants with the event getting kicked off by the throwing of fish onto the ice as the Crimson arrive. If there is one game to try and attend, the Harvard game is it, if you can get tickets.
Lynah Rink is a cramped and uncomfortable place to take in a hockey game, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. Within college hockey circles, it is highly regarded and often mentioned as one of the top places to see a game. The students, band and chanting traditions are great, even if the participation and fan support has taken a step back in recent years.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium and Arena Visits
Member Review by akulyk on Mar 31, 2014
If you’re looking for a college hockey venue and program where winning at home has become standard over the decades and generations, look no further than Cornell University in upstate New York. Lynah Rink, home of the Cornell Big Red who compete in the ECAC. Cornell has enjoyed great success as part of that conference, winning their championship 12 times, and also securing the Ivy League crown 21 times. Their record at home is without peer, and a lot of that success has to do with their boisterous fan base, known affectionately as the Lynah Faithful.
Lynah Rink opened in 1957. The old school hockey barn seats just over 4,000, and is attached to the newer and glitzier Bartels Hall, which houses more of the school’s athletic facilities and also provides much needed concourse space and a main entryway to the otherwise very small public areas.
Major upgrades were done in the past decade to add more seats and better locker rooms and player facilities, as well as a new scoreboard. But make no mistake, this arena is a decided throwback to the past.
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