Despite assumptions that the ECAC was to make an announcement by now, the fate of the conference’s postseason tournament remains unknown, though it’s looking increasingly clear it will move.
Three weeks ago, USCHO reported that the ECAC was seriously pursuing Albany as a new site for its postseason tournament, effectively cancelling the remaining four years of a five-year verbal agreement with Lake Placid.
Though the ECAC wouldn’t comment at the time — and still refuses to — officials from both Lake Placid’s Olympic Regional Development Authority and Albany’s Pepsi Arena said they were told to expect an announcement within a week.
Three weeks later, there is still no announcement.
Pepsi Arena president Bob Belber said he hasn’t heard from the ECAC, but can understand the reason for the delay.
“I think [ECAC commissioner Phil Buttafuoco] has been caught with his own time,” Belber said. “He’s heavily involved with lacrosse. There’s no huge rush on his part or ours at this point. He needed to have time.”
For ORDA officials, the lack of dialogue is somewhat more frustrating.
“With the commissioner [Buttafuoco], there’s been no dialogue for months,” said ORDA’s Director of Communications, Sandy Caligiore. “We get some dialogue between e-mail and brief phone calls with [assistant commissioner] Steve Hagwell.
“We haven’t been told that we’re out. Then again, there’s been no dialogue either.
“The biggest thing that is hitting us is, why won’t phone calls be returned? That’s the thing right now which is the biggest cause for consternation.”
Belber said he was unaware of any existing deal with the ECAC and ORDA, and that the 14,000-seat Pepsi Arena was just taking advantage of an opportunity presented to them.
“We were a little surprised when we got the phone call,” Belber said. “It’s not like we chased after the event and tried to get it. But the conference is an excellent conference, the schools in it are outstanding and ice hockey is one of its premiere sports, and I can understand where they’re coming from.
“Phil is a very aggressive individual, but at the same time is fair. If there was a way they could’ve grown the conference and kept it [in Lake Placid], I’m sure he would’ve done so. But when the phone call came and asked if we were interested, we couldn’t turn away from that. If it wasn’t us, it would be someone else.”
ORDA said it had been working on a formal contract with the ECAC, but wasn’t too concerned about it given the relationship that has been in place since the tournament moved to Lake Placid from Boston in 1993. In retrospect, Caligiore said finalizing the contract should have been a priority.
“We were working in good faith towards drawing up contract,” said Caligiore. “Hindisght is 20-20. We could beat ourselves up all day on that. But you figure, after nine years, and working with this group for three, there was no reason to think it would come down to this.”
While the ECAC continues to decline comment, Belber did a good job summarizing what is probably the conference’s rationale.
“I’ve been there [to Lake Placid] and they do a fantastic job of rolling out the carpet throughout that village, and frankly it’s a very nice and quaint place,” said Belber. “I love going there myself. But the facility is small as far as what the conference is looking for [in] looking to grow.
“Unfortunately, sometimes events or conferences grow like this. Wrestling just increased the minimum capacity on its championship to 18,000. We hosted it in March and it was a fantastic event. At the same time, we recognize we may not be able to get it back. And those things happen in sports. The same kind of thing might have happened here.”
Nonetheless, the lack of communication continues to annoy and frustrate ORDA officials, who believed a deal was in place.
“We were dealing in good faith and in trust with our partners,” said Caligiore.
Verbal contracts can be binding under certain circumstances, but Caligiore does not expect ORDA to take legal action should the ECAC officially pull out of the agreement.
“If it takes legal action to force someone to make good on their handshake, then what does that say?” Caligiore said. “[It's about] honor among men.”