Scheduling. It’s not a lost art, but it’s something that oftentimes gets overlooked in the face of preseason excitement. It’s a behind-the-scenes process that entails countless phone calls, painstaking negotiation and hundreds of dollars worth of travel money. It’s something that head coaches finesse, muscle and throw their heart and soul into each and every year.
You are only as good as your last game, and scheduling is the process of making sure that each game means something.
The ECAC, more than any other league, is a true study in the art of scheduling. No other conference is presented with such a variety of conflicts. The Ivy League will not allow its teams to step on the ice before October 15. The ECAC limits its teams to 32 regular-season games per year (for more on this topic see below). The Ivy League permits teams to play only 29 regular-season games. Harvard has to make room for two Beanpot games on the first two Mondays in February. All teams have to respect the month-long hibernation by Harvard and Princeton in January due to exam periods. In short, there is nothing easy about scheduling in this league, especially when it comes to nonconference contests.
And contrary to popular belief, the goal is not just about strength of schedule. Teams in the midst of rebuilding need to provide their players with a healthy mix of competition that will promote both challenge and confidence. Other, most mature teams, look to face the best in the country in order to establish themselves on a national level.
Teams like Brown spend more time focusing their efforts on the in-league schedule as a means of building in to out. Wasting energy and effort on nonconference games has only caused the team to tire out heading into crucial stretches of its league schedule. After finishing with a 2-5 nonconference record last season, head coach Roger Grillo always has only seven out-of-league contests lined up each year.
“I’m not too concerned with my out-of-league coaching record,” said Grillo. “I just want to prepare the guys and play the best teams. I feel confident that we can knock some of these teams off.”
Other teams like St. Lawrence and Clarkson — two teams that have experienced the most success in the league over the past few years — have more aggressive, ambitious nonconference schedules that include games against teams such as North Dakota and New Hampshire. Even teams rising to the top like Harvard are starting to decorate their nonconference schedule with marquee matchups at Michigan and Colorado College.
“This is an easy school to schedule for, believe me,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “People remember the years from 1983 to 1993 when Harvard was in the NCAA tournament. It can be done at a school like Harvard. We can still compete for a national championship. I wouldn’t have taken the job if it wasn’t in our grasp.”
Most teams are not in a position to book the marquee games at this stage of the program, but all head coaches have their sights set on the day when they can have that luxury. They also know that challenging nonconference schedules invariably lead to better recognition for the league as a whole.
“We’ve had a couple of tough seasons. We’ve had some great teams, but we haven’t had as much success as we would have liked in the national scene,” said Union head coach Kevin Sneddon, who has been able to match his team up against the likes of Notre Dame and UMass-Lowell this season. “We would like to have more than two teams in the NCAA’s. You look at the SLUs and Colgates and the tremendous runs they have, you think we’ll get back there. I think it’s just a matter of time before one or two of our teams emerge and becomes a national champion.”
“The ECAC has always been a strong league,” said Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle, who has seen the league evolve over the years, first as a player and now a coach. “It’s one of oldest leagues in the country. The ECAC is strong from top to bottom, athletically and academically. We have a reputation for that.”
34: The Magic Number?
In conjunction with the ever-present scheduling, there is a new wrinkle to the mix for next season. The passing of the rule that allows the ECAC teams to play up to 34 regular-season games.
Under the new guidelines, the regular-season game limit will be expanded from 32 to 34 for all men’s ECAC Division I institutions in ice hockey.
This immediately affects only six teams — Clarkson, Colgate, Rensselaer, Union, St. Lawrence and Vermont — because the other six institutions in the ECAC are also members of the Ivy League. Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale, under Ivy guidelines, are only permitted to play 29 regular-season games, meaning that Ivy League directors would have to vote to accept the ECAC’s new limit to make the full 34 games available to Ivy schools.
It certainly provides some interesting questions to the scheduling question. The main question would be, how do teams find those extra two games next season? Almost all of the other 48 Division I schools have their schedules full at the present.
It should prove to be interesting next year when the schedules come out. In fact, it is probably interesting right now, as six coaches try to fill those two games.
The Battle Begins In Earnest
Four teams get underway for the first time this season, while one gets ready for its second battle.
Erasing A Bad Memory
The Clarkson Golden Knights had won the regular-season title and were at home in Cheel Arena for the playoffs. The Knights had never lost at Cheel in the playoffs. But game one went to Vermont.
The Knights came back to win game two in overtime to force a game three, but again in overtime, the Knights fell for the second time that weekend and left the ice for the last time that season.
“Ending the season on the note it ended on was tough to swallow, but that also acts as incentive for us to be play extremely determined this season,” said head coach Mark Morris. “The chain of events that led to us being left out on the outside looking in, left a nasty taste in our mouth and we want to make things right.”
This is a new season, and the Knights are right back at it. They head to Maine, where they will be the ECAC participant in the Ice Breaker this season. The Knights will take on the defending WCHA tournament champions, St. Cloud. Then they will follow with either Maine or Bowling Green.
The Knights hope that a successful Ice Breaker will get them rolling this season, which follows with a tough Miami team the next weekend.
“Momentum is such a critical thing in college hockey that good teams get better over the course of the season, as our guys mature we hope to get more and more solid,” said Morris. “We like to get off to a solid start. There’s some competition that will heighten our awareness as to where our weaknesses lie. St. Cloud won’t be a pushover nor will Bowling Green and Maine. That should be a huge challenge and then we turn around and play a good Miami team. We’re going right into the heat of battle in a hurry and it’s important that we get off to a good start.”
Go To The U.P. Young Man
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan — for the second straight time — is where the two-time defending ECAC champion St. Lawrence Saints are headed to begin the season. First it’s off to Houghton to take on Michigan Tech, and then to Sault Ste. Marie to take on Lake Superior State.
Saints fans are starting to wonder if they’ll ever see the Saints at Appleton playing more than one or two nonconference games. Last season the Saints spent some time on the road as well.
“We traveled to North Dakota, Michigan and Maine and we didn’t win any of those games,” said head coach Joe Marsh. “But I thought we got a lot out of it. You can come away with some real good experiences out of that. It impresses upon the guys where they’re at and how hard they have to work.
“We’ve got a little history with Lake State and people look at me like I am out of my mind. You get on the road and it’s time to bond a young team. We want to have the best schedule year in and year out.”
This team will be young as the Saints lose student-athletes such as Erik Anderson, Mike Gellard, Alan Fyfe and Matt Desrosiers.
“You don’t…can’t…replace the things that guys like last year’s senior class brought to the table,” said Marsh. “They played in three straight ECAC championship games and won two of them, and made three straight NCAA appearances.
“They did, though, leave us something…they taught the younger guys how to go about it, and now this year’s seniors and juniors will do the same for this year’s incoming class. It is one of the bigger ones we have had lately, but we as a coaching staff feel it has a lot of potential.”
To The Golden Dome
The Union Skating Dutchmen got off to a great start last season, going 6-1-2 to begin the season and cracking the national polls. But it went south from there; the Dutchmen were humbled, but remained strong — a lesson coming into this year for their pair of season-opening games at Notre Dame.
“We learned a lot last year,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “It certainly was a great year and a step in the right direction for our program. I think we learned a lot about what it’s going to take to sustain a high level of play for the entire season. The middle drought last year was a learning process for us.”
The Dutchmen will take the bus all the way to South Bend, but it will allow them a chance to bond and come together.
East To Boston
The Rensselaer Engineers will head to Boston University to open the season for the second straight year. The Engineers won the opener last year against the Terriers and this year’s Engineer squad has many who were there last year to experience that win.
A lot of people have mentioned that this year’s team is very similar to last year’s, with 21 letterwinners returning and five freshmen. But it’s not the same.
“Even though you have only lost one player and you have five guys coming in, you’re a totally different team this year,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “It’s already evident now. It seems like we’ve got more guys that are focused and we really want to make sure that we start off on a right foot instead of having a roller coaster season to have a more consistent season in terms of our play. You learn from last year, and we’re more experienced. We’ve got more leaders this year ready to apply themselves whereas last year we were too young to have guys step forward.”
Isn’t Anyone Playing At Home?
The fifth ECAC team in action this weekend is Vermont. The Catamounts dropped a home game to Boston College last weekend and now travel to New Hampshire.
Vermont got off to a slow start last season, dropping decisions to Boston University and New Hampshire before getting into a groove. Then it went downhill for awhile after that.
“We were 5-0 and surprised a lot of people. I’m not sure if it was all the energy from sitting still or that they didn’t know what we were up to the year before,” explained head coach Mike Gilligan. “We were a solid team and we ran into a January funk and that is something that we are trying to change a bit. We gave them two weeks off in December and that really hurt us in January.”
The Cats are hoping that despite losing the first game of the season, they will roar back and surprise some people again this season.
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
Well, last season, only one of our challengers defeated us. We will not name him, for we are shamed. It’s time for you, the readers to step up and challenge us once again.
The first episode of the Iron Columnists will take place on November 2. What will you challengers bring to the table? How will the Iron Columnists strike back?
So line up if you are interested in putting your money where your mouth is, drop us an email to be eligible to take on the Iron Columnists this season.
But now, on to the Iron Columnists’ standings challenge. We’ve tallied all of your predictions. We had 32 entries. Of those 32, 14 of you have picked Harvard to win the regular season. Eight of you have taken Clarkson, six Cornell and the remaining four Dartmouth.
When you add up the points, you have collectively chosen Clarkson. The official challenge poll against the Iron Columnists is as follows:
Challenge Range Becky and Jayson
1. Clarkson (8) 1- 4 1. Cornell
2. Harvard (14) 1- 7 2. Dartmouth
3. Cornell (6) 1- 6 3. Harvard
4. Dartmouth (4) 1- 6 4. Clarkson
5. St. Lawrence 2- 7 5. St. Lawrence
6. Rensselaer 2-10 6. Vermont
7. Vermont 5-10 7. Rensselaer
8. Union 8-11 8. Union
9. Colgate 7-12 9. Colgate
10. Yale 6-12 10. Yale
11. Princeton 7-12 11. Princeton
12. Brown 9-12 12. Brown
Chairman Kaga will be pleased.
To all of those who lost their lives in innocence and acts of heroism on September 11. And for all of those who will continue to fight for our freedom, you are the heroes.