This year will be the third iteration of the Rivalry on Ice game at Madison Square Garden, which has pitted men’s hockey rivals Yale and Harvard against each other — but this time, Yale will not be part of the event.
After two victories over the Crimson in the Rivalry on Ice event, the Bulldogs have elected not to participate in this year’s game, leaving Harvard to play Quinnipiac in an official ECAC Hockey conference contest. Yale will instead compete in the Desert Hockey Classic at Gila River Arena, the rink of the Arizona Coyotes, during the same weekend as Rivalry on Ice, while an Army-Navy exhibition game will fill out the card in New York.
“No one’s really upset, I don’t think, that we’re not doing it,” forward Mike Doherty ’17 said. “We get to go to Arizona State and play in the tournament out there, and guys are really looking forward to it.”
Neither head coach Keith Allain nor senior associate athletics director Wayne Dean, who assists with the men’s hockey scheduling process, could be reached for comment.
The Yale-Harvard men’s hockey rivalry has lasted since the year 1900 for 249 games, with 11 of those taking place in the past two years due to Rivalry on Ice and additional games in the ECAC playoffs. Harvard’s history with Quinnipiac, however, comprises just 24 matchups since the Bobcats joined the ECAC in 2005.
Despite the objective of Rivalry on Ice to honor a storied tradition of Yale-Harvard matchups, Yale director of sports publicity Steve Conn noted that repeating the event several times can be a disadvantage for a team.
“From my perspective, certainly it’s attractive for recruiting to mix things up and take a trip to a place that you don’t usually go to, another NHL building,” Conn said. “There’s also no real advantage to playing a rival three times, and possibly as many as five or six times. It can dilute the rivalry.”
The Army-Navy matchup will continue the event’s initial purpose of showcasing historic football rivalries on the ice. However, the game will not be an official collegiate game because the Navy men’s hockey team is a club program rather than an NCAA-recognized varsity team.
Harvard men’s hockey associate head coach Paul Pearl said that despite Yale’s decision not to compete in the event, the Crimson agreed to a third game at Madison Square Garden because the venue makes for an “off-the-charts” player experience.
“For us, it was a great chance to play at that venue again,” Pearl said. “We’re really excited, and we’re happy that Quinnipiac can play … Obviously Quinnipiac will be a really good test for us down there, too.”
Over 2,100 miles away in Glendale, Arizona, Yale will play in a tournament with Connecticut, Michigan Tech and brand-new Division I program Arizona State. The trip will be the Bulldogs’ first ever to Arizona, and the longest journey they have taken since playing in the Great Alaska Face-off, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in November of 1992.
Though the Elis played UConn as recently as last season, they have not faced off against Michigan Tech since a 7–3 loss in 1974, and this will be their first time playing the Sun Devils.
“We’re going to get to play teams we don’t usually play, which is probably good for pair-wise advantage,” Doherty said, referring to the ranking system that NCAA hockey uses.
Doherty added that the popularity of ice hockey is expanding across the country, and that it may be helpful for recruiting purposes to play in the western part of the country. He mentioned the example of Auston Matthews, the top 18-year old prospect in the country, who is a Scottsdale, Arizona native.
Elsewhere in the Elis’ non-conference schedule this season, Yale hosts Boston University on Dec. 11 in a rematch of last year’s Northeast Regional Semifinal game. The Bulldogs start the season with the Capital City Classic in Trenton, New Jersey, where they will play Princeton on Oct. 30 and either Maine or Massachusetts the next day.
Yale’s first game of the Desert Hockey Classic will be against Arizona State on Jan. 8, after which the winner face the victor of the UConn and Michigan Tech game.