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Celebrating Randy Wilson – The Unsung Hero

The name Randy Wilson holds little meaning to most Lynah Faithful today. He is a man that has faded away, into the peripherals of our cultural memory. There was a time, however, when he commanded the respect he deserved. His name was one that lived in the rafters of Lynah Rink. He even had an observed holiday in Ithaca—affectionately, if not too creatively, called Randy Wilson Day. Now, on this day, March 6, Randy Wilson Day, we must take a moment and remember this forgotten hero and recall his magnanimity that changed everything.

It was 36 years ago to the day that Randy Wilson stepped off his bus from Providence College to enter the combat ring of Lynah Rink. Mr. Wilson wasn’t someone to be trifled with; he was the Friar’s star forward and wasn’t above throwing his weight around. Both teams remembered the ECAC semifinals game when they last faced off, only a year before. Their loss in this game stopped the Big Red from continuing a thirteen-year tradition of advancing to the league finals in Boston.

As the game began, it became less like a battle and more like a massacre. When they squared off eight minutes into the third, the Providence Friars were ahead 5-1. The not-so-Faithful started to get up and leave. All seemed lost, as a horrifying repeat of the year before seemed imminent. There was a definite air of despair. However, what the Faithful didn’t know was that the Big Red had an ace up its sleeve—Randy Wilson.

The turning point of the game came with 12:21 minutes remaining in the third. This frozen Gettysburg saw the Big Red striking back with John Stornik, Steve Hennessy, and John Olds all scoring unanswered goals. Now the Big Red just needed one more point to send the game into overtime. Brian Hayward left the Cornell net unattended when he was pulled by Coach Dick Bertrand. It was down to the wire now. With an extra player on the ice the Big Red tried desperately to even the score.

When you strip it all away, hockey is simple enough; you take the puck and you put it in the net. Unfortunately, Randy Wilson didn’t get the memo. When he intercepted a pass from the Big Red, with only thirty seconds left in the game, all he had to do was skate down and tap it into the wide open net. If this had been a period break competition, every elementary school student would be winning Hondas. The Providence team cheered—they’d won! Not so fast. It seemed impossible that he would skate down the ice and miss that open net shot, but that’s what happened. The Big Red paved the way for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, as the Lynah Faithful had just seen a miracle on ice.

The moment could have faded into obscurity if Hennessy hadn’t snapped up the loose puck and sent it to Lance Nethery. He made a desperate slap shot from the Friars blue line with 13 seconds to go, tying the game. The Big Red would win the game after Rob Gemmel found the back of the net 4 minutes into overtime, signifying an incredible comeback that combined perseverance with the presence of Randy Wilson. Lynah went mad. In those days the glass was lower, and all the Faithful turned into amateur hurdlers throwing themselves onto the ice to create a giant mosh pit of jubilation.

This article goes out to Randy Wilson, wherever he is now. You were the real victor of that game. Whatever was happening internally as you skated uncontested towards the empty Big Red net, whatever internal battle was waged, you did the right thing. Either this knight’s vorpal sword was untrue, or this forward Friar acknowledged that a Cornell victory was the ordained conclusion to the game. I’m not going to say his heart grew three times that day, but his silvery uniform had a definite red tinge when he got on the bus bound for Rhode Island.

So happy Randy Wilson Day to all, and don’t forget to completely sabotage a seemingly intuitive activity in honor of this Big Red holiday.

Photo from The Cornell Daily Sun, March 6, 1981

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