NCAA Hockey – Thoughts on this Year’s Playoffs and Championship Final

As far as I’m concerned, the NCAA Division One hockey championship game will be one of those clichéd contests where it’s too bad that one of the teams has to come out as the loser. There’s ample reason to cheer for Quinnipiac or Yale. And whichever one wins, we can feel good that two teams from the ECAC are going at it for the national title. This hasn’t happened since BU 5, BC 3 in back in 1978 when there was just one major college hockey conference in the East.

Why Yale

YaleI’d like to see Yale prevail to show that student-athletes can win a national championship in college hockey. One of the TV commentators said that Yale has never won a national title in anything. Perhaps the Elis were the best college football team in the land in the days of Walter Camp and Pudge Heffelfinger. But they didn’t have NCAA championships back in those days.

Yale – like all of its fellow Ivy League institutions – would never stand a chance of going all the way in football or basketball, so it would be good to see them make it happen in hockey. They’ve not had a great deal of success in hockey over the years, and only once before, in 1952, did they even make it to the NCAA’s semifinal round. Coach Keith Allain has done a great job in New Haven.

Why Quinnipiac

quinnipiacI’d like to see Quinnipiac prevail for two reasons. First, this is a school that has come out of nowhere to national prominence in hockey. They’ve invested in the program and supported Rand Pecknold and his coaching staff all through the team’s rise. Not all colleges will make that kind of commitment.

Hockey is expensive, and it will never bring in the television-related revenues of basketball and football. You must choose to make hockey an important part of your school’s culture, and you must be prepared to reap comparatively modest financial returns. Bravo to the schools that do so, and to Quinnipiac for being the latest. They can thank athletic director Jack McDonald for making it happen.

The second reason is personal. I’ve known Jack for many years. He is BC ’73, a Hall of Fame track man, and a superb human being. He worked in the athletic department at BC and had a successful tenure as A.D. at Denver before coming to Quinnipiac. It’s wonderful to see his vision and determination pay off.

Why the ECAC

ecaCTwenty-nine years ago, ECAC Division One was the only hockey conference that mattered in the East. There were 17 teams and three divisions – East, West, and Ivy. The scheduling was uniform, at long last, and the politics of playoff qualification were finally a thing of the past. “The ECACs” were the best hockey weekend of the year, period.

Then the Ivy league schools decided that they did not want to subject themselves to games with every one of those teams from the Great Unwashed. I was covering the sport for the Hockey News at the time, and I could never get anyone from the schismatic six to return a phone call or give an adequate explanation. It appeared that Princeton was the prime mover, and they were conveniently removed from the Boston media and could easily fend off inquiring reporters.

Fortunately for the Ivies, they were able to persuade Clarkson, Saint Lawrence, and RPI to stick with them instead of going over to the league that eventually became Hockey East. I heard it took a special appeal from Ivy presidents to their counterparts. Had it gone the other way, Ivy League hockey might have atrophied into a Division Two backwater. But the ECAC remained viable even though Hockey East has been vastly more successful on the national level in the almost three decades since then.

I’m still angry at those people, but they’re long gone. So bravo to the coaches and players of the current ECAC generation, and to the league’s classy commissioner Steve Hagwell. They are doing Eastern hockey proud.

What About the Future?

hockey eastI maintain to this day that the ECAC-Hockey East split was unnecessary and driven largely by Ivy snobbery. Some fabulous rivalries of bygone days have died off. I can only speak as a BC fan here, but I say that it’s terrible that my team rarely if ever plays Cornell, Brown, St. Lawrence, or Clarkson. There is absolutely no reason that ancient rivals BC and Harvard not have a game every year, but they don’t. Ditto for Eagles’ games with Yale and Dartmouth.

I like the intensity and the quality of Hockey East competition, but three regular-season games with each league rival are too many. With Notre Dame joining Hockey East next season, they’ll have to cut back to two Hockey East league games apiece. This should open up more available dates for the continuation or resumption of some the fine, old rivalries. We’ll probably see Penn State’s new team playing a few games in this area too, and more as time goes on.

Will there ever be a formal merger, a recombining, of ECAC and Hockey East? Doubtful, but not needed, especially if we see a few more interleague games along the way. In a way, there’s already one big national conference anyway. The pairwise rankings and power ratings pit your team against those of all conferences. The tougher your schedule, the better. Non-league games count as much as league matchups in figuring eligibility for the 16-team national tournament. Everyone knows what it takes to make it into that dance. All good stuff.

Final Thoughts
UMLI can’t end without a tip of the fedora to UMass Lowell. They were almost left for dead five or six years ago but have come all the way back and then some. It started at the top when Marty Meehan took over the reins at the school. It took more than a little lobbying with the Trustees by Marty and a number of others to keep UML in the big time. Hiring Norm Bazin to coach was a stroke of genius, or luck, or both.

The River Hawks were a jewel of consistency ever since January and all through the playoffs. They laid an egg against Yale, but they’ll be back. Like Quinnipiac, they’ve made the institutional commitment to the sport of hockey, and we’re better off for it.

And lastly, I want the Frozen Four to be a regular event at the TD Garden in Boston. It belongs back here, perhaps one year out of every four or five. Play the game of hockey in hockey cities, guys.

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