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ITHACA, N.Y. — On many a Friday and Saturday night during hockey season, over 4,000 fans file into Lynah Rink to cheer on the Cornell Men and Women Ice Hockey teams.
These fans, the Lynah Faithful, are one of the reasons Lynah Rink has garnered a reputation as one of college hockey’s toughest rinks in which to play road games. As Lynah approaches its 69th birthday this season, let’s take a look back at the history of this iconic rink and the man it was named for, James Lynah.
In a letter to the Cornell Daily Sun, published February 7, 1899, an anonymous student made a call for Cornell to add hockey to its list of varsity sports. “It may be argued that there are no facilities in this place for the training of such a team, still I think that several ponds in the vicinity might be utilized for that purpose,” the student wrote.
Several meetings were called over the next year, attempting to drum up interest. The students got their wish, for Cornell added a hockey team for the 1900-1901 school year, which practiced on the newly-named Beebe Lake. The team began as an intramural team, but gradually began to add away games against other schools.
At the turn of the century, playing outdoors on frozen lakes and ponds was the norm for many collegiate teams. However, by the 1940s, most of Cornell’s opponents had access to indoor rinks with higher-quality ice than that afforded by outdoor rinks. Goalie Ed Carman ’43 describes ice that was rougher than that of other schools and sometimes covered in snow, if ice was even present by the start of the season. During the 1940s, the first game at an annual Lake Placid tournament was often the squad’s first time on the ice together that season. By the 1947-1948 season, the unreliable ice forced the university to disband the hockey team.
In the following years, students kept up a continuous call for the revival of Cornell’s hockey team. The answer came in the form of $500,000 donated by Walter S. Carpenter, Jr., who studied mechanical engineering at Cornell from 1906-1909, and later served as the President and Chairman of DuPont. He stipulated that the building not be named after him (Cornell’s Carpenter Hall was funded by and named for the very same Carpenter.)
The university decided to remember James Lynah, who passed away in 1956, by naming the new rink in his honor.
Lynah transferred to Cornell from the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina (now Clemson University). He studied mechanical and electrical engineering, was a member of Quill and Dagger and Sigma Phi, and played quarterback and was captain of the football team under coach Pop Warner.
After graduating in 1905, he worked for DuPont through World War I and later General Motors before returning to his alma mater. Lynah served as Cornell’s first Director of Athletics from 1935-1943. During his tenure, he was a principal founder of the athletic conference that is now called the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). He was chosen as a member of the first class inducted into the Cornell University Athletic Hall of Fame.
The brand-new Lynah Rink opened its doors for its first game on March 21, 1957, when the New York Rangers defeated the Rochester Americans of the AHL, 7-3. Cornell’s new coach, Paul Patten, gathered a group of interested students and put together a team that began scrimmaging with other schools soon after. Ice hockey was back on Cornell’s list of varsity sports beginning with the 1957-1958 season.
In the following years, Lynah Rink has seen several renovations. The rink floor, pipe systems, boards and glass have been updated, and a large expansion in 2007 added new concourses, locker rooms, spectator seats, and training and rehabilitation facilities. In its current state, the rink seats 4,267 fans in a fairly intimate setting, creating an intimidating atmosphere for opposing teams—particularly opposing goalkeepers (pardon me; sieves), who must spend two of three periods in front of the Cornell student section.
Here’s hoping that Lynah Rink keeps standing for years to come—maybe with another couple of renovations—and continues to be a venue that strikes fear into the Big Red’s rivals while inspiring fond memories in the hearts of decades’ worth of Cornell students.