Yale-Harvard Take Rivalry Back to Its Roots
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
NEW YORK It seemed fitting that the Harvard-Yale rivalry would be taken to a new level. The 239th meeting proved to be quite the spectacle, as famed Madison Square Garden brought the teams back to their historic roots.
The city hosted the original game in the series — February 26, 1900 — at St. Nicholas rink on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a 5-4 Yale victory.
This one also belonged to Yale, 5-1, though the game was played non-league.
"The players play college hockey for lots of different reasons," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "To play a traditional rival, like Harvard, in a place like Madison Square Garden is something I know our players and fans will never forget."
The experience was a memorable one for both teams. Madison Square Garden was filled with Crimson and Bulldog fans, 15,524 was the announced attendance. That would be about 11,000 more fans than would have seen this game on campus.
Yale, of course, had many similar experiences, and then some, on its run to a national championship last year. For Harvard, it's been much longer. But both teams shared in the excitement.
"I think it was very good and we were all really excited to get here," Harvard forward Luke Esposito said. "Just being able to come to this city and get off the bus, watching all the guys, take it all in. There were more moving parts but you just try to take everything for an experience and learn from it. It is something though you never forget."
Yale forward Jesse Root said, "The energy out there was outstanding. The support from the Yale fanbase was incredible. The energy was awesome from the start."
Although Yale and Harvard might not be as big a rivalry in hockey than football, the idea of putting the game on the big stage was something special. It is something that every player had marked on his calendar, freshmen and seniors alike.
"I grew up around here, especially with my uncle playing for the Rangers." said Esposito, referring to the legendary Murray Murdoch, former Yale coach and Rangers player, well before he was born. "I spent a lot of time in this building when I was younger. It is definitely special. Actually getting to play and experience it was special. I had a lot of family here tonight, and it made it that much more special."
"We got treated like pros all week," said Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey. "It was a first class event and I don't know if any of us will ever get the chance to play at MSG again, so it is truly a once in a lifetime experience here."
For Harvard these situations and games are new, and only two of its talented forwards are upperclassmen. For Yale, it was another example of how it gets up for big games.
"I would have to say I am pretty fortunate because my guys do quite well most often," said Allain. "No matter who we play or where we play my guys come to play. We are not always going to win but they play every night."
Because Yale is the defending national champion, it is a household name around college hockey. Harvard hopes to be there sooner rather than later, but it does have a winning tradition of its own.
"It was a great experience, as much as we are disappointed, but it was a good learning opportunity." Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "Obviously Yale won the national championship last year. It was proven again that it can handle that spotlight. I think, though, this will be really good for us moving forward. Obviously we have ground to cover but I think we will look back at this as a positive."
The crowd and the environment seen Saturday night will only help a young Harvard team. In a month, it will be playing in the Beanpot, in another NHL venue, TD Garden in Boston.
The chapter written Saturday, will be renewed again next year as the Rivalry on Ice moves to Brooklyn's Barclays Center. The experience for everyone, proved that it was a success the first time around. But can it be sustained?
"Certainly if it can be sustained it should become tradition," said Allain. "It took a lot of hard work to fill the building, though. Whether that excitement will be year to year or skip a year, I think it should be part of our long term plan.
"Some of the people that came tonight are probably not regular college hockey attendees and they got their money's worth. The fact that it was televised is a great thing because they do a great job covering the game and promoting the sport. I think, the more people that are exposed to our game means more people will fall in love with it."