This Week in the ECAC: October 20, 1999

The ECAC And In-Season Tournaments

To say that last weekend’s ECAC/Crowne Plaza Faceoff Classic in Albany was a success would be true. There were four spectacular games and the hockey was riveting. To say that it was a failure would also be true, since the Classic wasn’t the best-attended showcase in college hockey history.

A crowd of 500 took in the first game between Niagara and Quinnipiac. Friday’s nightcap between Rensselaer and Boston University brought in 2,267. The next day was also a disappointment, as 527 showed up for Niagara and Boston University and 1,975 witnessed Rensselaer and Quinnipiac.

“Anytime you hold an event for the first time there are always bugs to be worked out,” said Rensselaer head coach Dan Fridgen. “It’s a great concept and I’m sure they want it to be successful. This certainly has a lot of potential to grow and get better.”

“I would say that it’s a work in progress,” said Niagara head coach Blaise MacDonald. “It has the opportunity to be very successful, but like anything the first year you run it, you have to iron some things out and it’s a work in progress. The potential here is terrific, and five to ten years from now it will be an outstanding tournament.”

But the big question is whether or not it will last five to ten years, or even into next year.

“That depends,” said ECAC Commissioner Phil Buttafuoco. “There are issues that we are working on right now. We’ve got to find ways for it to be financially viable first so that it will be successful. We’re in meetings to see if we can continue this event to springboard into something even better.”

That “better” would lift college hockey by bringing something new to the East.

“[The Classic] was formed to create a tournament here on the East Coast that is very attractive and rivals the Ice Breaker and the other tournaments out west,” said Buttafuoco. “I’ve told our coaches that we need to get the teams out West to come East for something like this.

“It certainly is good hockey, and it’s great to allow these teams to play at an NCAA Regionals site this year and a Frozen Four site next year [in Pepsi Arena]. Our hope is that a team like Rensselaer will be playing here in March.

“One thing is that we want to market the ECAC, and if there was a tie to this event with the NCAA, that would bring us into the limelight.”

This second attempt at an ECAC in-season tournament followed a disappointing attendance figure for last year’s ECAC/Hockey East Holiday Hockey Doubleheader, which drew only 3,205 in Hartford.

Despite those numbers, the ECAC is continuing in its efforts to promote the in-season tournament. One plan is to go back to Hartford for next season.

“The [Hartford Civic Center] management has to make a decision as to how much they want to be in involved in college hockey,” said Buttafuoco. “That event has room to grow as [the Faceoff Classic] does.”

There are also plans to try to work out a tournament or showcase in Lake Placid next season that would involve St. Lawrence and Clarkson, as well as something in Syracuse, but those plans are not finalized.

“One of the challenges is to continually find ways to expose the ECAC and ECAC Hockey,” said Buttafuoco. “We thought that this was a great way.”

Hagwell Named New Ice Hockey Guru

As we speculated this past weekend, Steve Hagwell has been named assistant commissioner of the ECAC, with his focus being on ice hockey operations. Hagwell came to the ECAC in July from the NCAA, where he was the assistant manager of publishing, to become the league’s assistant commissioner for public relations.

Hagwell will sit down with ECAC Commissioner Phil Buttafuoco in the near future and the two will iron out how to run the ice hockey portion of the ECAC. Plans include the hiring of a full-time director of public relations. Whether or not the new hire will be part of the ice hockey operation remains to be seen, but public relations will still be a big part of the hockey concern.

“Given that we don’t know who person X is, [public relations] will be my primary focus, as it was [Fanter’s],” said Hagwell. “Phil wants to get involved and he should get involved. Whether the Director of Public Relations is involved is something that Phil and I have to discuss.

“I am certain that it will be two people running things. But to say who will work with who and in what sport in regards to the director of public relations, that’s still not known right now.”

Let us be among the first to congratulate Steve on his new position, and to welcome him to the exciting world of ECAC Hockey.

Let us also say “thank you” to Jeff Fanter and his wonderful work over the last two seasons in the ECAC. He brought the ECAC to new heights over the last two years; it has been a pleasure to work with him and we wish him the best of luck at Indiana.

Preseason Favorite Clarkson Opens

The Golden Knights of Clarkson open their season on the road with a pair of games at #8 Northern Michigan this weekend. They follow that up with a pair of games at home against #4 North Dakota.

“We’ll probably get our teeth kicked in,” joked head coach Mark Morris. “But there’s no better reality check than to make guys realize where they are. We’ll be playing at a brand new rink at Northern and then home to Dean Blais and those guys will have games under their belt.”

The Knights played the same two teams four times last season to begin their 1998-99 campaign. Four losses later, they were in the midst of one of their worst starts ever. The Knights would lose two of the next three games after that to start off 1-6.

But as it turned out, the Knights only lost four times in their next 29 games, winning the ECAC regular-season title and the playoff championship.

Speaking of the Lion’s Den…

OK, so it’s actually the Tigers’ den, but the Colgate Red Raiders will take aim at the World Arena against #7 Colorado College this weekend.

“That’s the philosophy I want to take,” said head coach Don Vaughan. “We want to take on that challenge. And to be honest, we’ve done quite well in those games. Two years ago we beat eventual national champion Michigan at Yost and last year we tied eventual champion Maine. I would rather face those teams in April when it really matters. You have to play them early and get those guys on your schedule so that your guys can realize that they can compete with those perennial powers.”

Let’s see, the Red Raiders played Michigan and the Wolverines won the NCAA championship. The Red Raiders played Maine and the Black Bears won the NCAA Championship. Perhaps a sign for the Colorado College Tigers? It’s probably just coincidence — after all, Boston College, New Hampshire and Ohio State also played these teams.

Cats Come Home

The Vermont Catamounts will play their home opener this weekend when they host the Terriers of Boston University. The Cats lost their season opener 7-4 against New Hampshire and certainly have some injuries to deal with.

The Cats lost defenseman Thomas Hajek after he sprained the MCL in his left knee last Saturday. Add defenseman Martin Wilde’s foot problems and the Cats are a little shorthanded on defense. They are also shorthanded on offense as sophomore Don Richardson will continue to miss the next three weeks with a separated shoulder.

The good news for the Cats is that Kevin Karlander, this year’s captain, picked up two goals against New Hampshire. Perhaps he is the go-to guy that head coach Mike Gilligan is looking for this season.

Saints Come Marching In

St. Lawrence will open up their season this weekend by hosting Merrimack. The Saints started the regular season last year with a second-place finish in the Ice Breaker Cup, then swept the Warriors in North Andover. That began a season that brought the Saints back to prominence, in the form of the ECAC championship game and an NCAA tournament bid.

“With the success we had last year the expectations are a lot higher,” said head coach Joe Marsh. “There’s certainly a lot more to prove, to try to get back there and it may be a little tougher coming in the front door than coming in the back door, like we did last year.”

ECAC Player of the Year Eric Heffler has graduated, and the Saints will probably try start different goaltenders on each night, as Marsh wants to go with the platoon system to start out.

“We’re certainly going to miss Heffler and to fill his shoes the three guys will be battling it out,” said Marsh, referring to Jeremy Symington, Sean Coakley and Derek Gustafson. “I don’t think we’ll see a situation where we have the same guy in there every night.”

So it will be a different look in front of the cages when the Saints take on the Warriors.