Yale University’s Lee Jelenic would have drawn a rebuke from his coach if the Bulldogs were playing any other hockey team.
But this was Harvard. Trailing 3-1 in the second period of a 2001 playoff game, Jelenic said he intentionally knocked over the Crimson goaltender, clearing the net for an easy goal. While Harvard players confronted the referee, he left the bench and circled the opposing goaltender -- “like a shark” -- unleashing a string of obscenities.
Between periods the senior awaited the response from coach Tim Taylor.
“The whole room is quiet, I’m sitting with my head down and coach walks up to me, kicks me in the shins and says, ‘Jelly, whatever works,’” Jelenic said. “Because it was against Harvard, he was fine with it.”
With Jelenic in the locker room serving a 10-minute misconduct penalty, his teammates rallied to a 4-3 lead before finally falling to the Crimson. It was the last game of his college career.
Jelenic, 34, gets another shot at Harvard today, when former players from both Ivy League schools meet in Manhattan for an alumni charity game. Then it’s off to Madison Square Garden for the 239th meeting between the defending national-champion Bulldogs and Crimson, which will begin with U.S. Secretary of State and Yale graduate John Kerry dropping the ceremonial opening puck.
It’s the first New York meeting between the schools since the Crimson’s 6-2 win at MSG in 1970. Alumni spanning at least five decades, many of whom skate together on weekends and some taking trans-Atlantic flights to make the festivities, say it’s a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and enjoy the latest installment of the rivalry that began in 1900.
“When you go to one of these schools you understand the rivalry implicitly, and it becomes part of you,” said Tourmaline Partners LLC partner Henry Higdon, a former Harvard player who flew from London to New York for the weekend.
Harvard has advanced to the National Collegiate Athletic Association semifinals 12 times since 1948, winning its only championship in 1989. Yale’s program, which began in 1895, won its first national title last year, defeating the country’s top three ranked teams in the NCAA tournament.
Harvard and Yale have combined to produce eight U.S. presidents and 580 Rhodes Scholars. Alumni include Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, FedEx Corp. chief executive Frederick Smith, and Roland Betts, former lead owner of the Texas Rangers and chairman of Chelsea Piers LP, whose Manhattan sports complex is hosting the alumni game.
“We can’t compete in football or basketball, but in sports like hockey, soccer, or lacrosse, we can be the best in the country, all of us collectively,” Betts, a former Yale hockey player, said of the Ivy League in a telephone interview.
The schools are using the game more as a reunion than a rivalry. They’re also using the country’s largest media market to promote their brands, said former New York Rangers captain Mark Messier, a spokesman for today’s matchup.
“What better place to do that than Madison Square Garden?” asked Messier, whose nephew, Luke Esposito, is a freshman on the Harvard team.
More than 13,000 tickets, with prices ranging from $30 to $200, have been sold for the game billed as “The Rivalry on Ice,” according to Ben Sturner, founder and CEO of the New York-based Leverage Agency, which is promoting the game. It will be televised on NBC Sports Network.
Roster spots for the alumni game cost $200 per player, with proceeds shared between charities with ties to both programs, Sturner said. The game, which is divided into under-40 and over-40 squads, is expected to raise more than $10,000, he said.
David Harrington, managing director of MJX Asset Management LLC in New York, is the Yale alumni over-40 captain. About 100 former Bulldogs expressed interest in playing, he said, with the final roster set at 45.
“The alumni game isn’t only a home run, but a grand slam in terms of a way to promote these programs,” Harrington, 57, said in a telephone interview.
Harrington said he’s part of an e-mail string with 300 Yale alumni listing all the weekend’s events. The schedule started with an event last night at Manhattan’s Yale Club, where alumni could screen a highlight video from last year’s title.
Harvard is celebrating a championship, too. John Murphy, founder of Boston-based hedge fund Alydar Capital LLC, said he will meet this weekend with a number of his former Crimson teammates who won an NCAA title together 25 years ago.
“That whole team was really, really close, and that was a big part of our success,” said Murphy, who keeps a photo of the 1989 team signed by each player in his Boston office.
In the 13 years since his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Jelenic, who played minor-league hockey and is now global strategy manager for the Lincoln division of Ford Motor Co., said he established similar friendships with former Harvard players. Those relationships may pause for the alumni game.
“If we’re down and the team needs a little boost,” he joked, “look for me circling the Crimson goalie.”
-- Editors: Michael Sillup, Jay Beberman