The Last Word*

… on Scheduling

I’ve taken a fair amount of flak in my time manning USCHO’s ECAC Hockey (nee ECACHL) desk. Some of it has been perfectly valid, and I’ve tried to acknowledge as much. Some has been bred of confusion or misinterpretation; some of ignorance; and no small amount has been borne of the bat**** lunatic North Dakota fringe, with which all college hockey writers are well-acquainted.

The picked-bone-du-jour (though really, it’s an issue every year around this time) concerns my treatment and perspective of the league’s (and/or individual programs’) non-conference scheduling. I’ve been criticized by representatives of every house on this one at one point or another, and perhaps I should make myself clear in a specifically devoted piece… i.e., this blog entry.

* for this week**
** maybe

As I see it

I believe that ECAC Hockey is not only a unique league, but the most unique in the college hockey universe. I don’t have figures in front of me, but I would be floored to learn that any other conference might beat this one in student GPA and/or general academic achievement (except maybe the NESCAC?). Princeton’s Landis Stankievech (’08) won a Rhodes Scholarship just three years ago, for crying out loud. The history is as deep and tenured as anywhere else, the hockey programs tend to be the athletic pride of the member institutions, the rivalries and passions invoke generations of extraordinary teams and players.

The long and short of it is, I love this league.

So when I criticize, I try to make the incisions constructive, and at the bare minimum factual. In this case, the facts are that many ECAC teams schedule a lot of Atlantic Hockey opponents. So far, the league has played 16 games against the AHA out of 33 total (all non-conference) games.

But wait, there’s more

The facts are also that it is surprisingly, even incredibly difficult to fill a 12-game non-conference schedule. AHA and Hockey East teams only have seven non-league slots each year. The WCHA and CCHA, six. While this may seem like a great opportunity to get nationwide exposure with games against far-flung foes, or to boost the ol’ RPI in anticipation of the PairWise rankings, it’s nowhere near that easy. For starters, the 14-point bucks – the real big game of the college hockey landscape – are limited in number: Boston College, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, Boston University, Maine, Notre Dame and New Hampshire draw very well and make regular appearances in the NCAA tournament. (Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, Ferris State, and Western Michigan are on that cusp, but don’t yet have the long-term cachet.) Everybody wants them on their schedule.

But who do they want to play? Each other, of course. North Dakota has undeniably little incentive to play Colgate, Brown, or St. Lawrence, home or away… at least until the Raiders, Bears or Saints start becoming regular fixtures in the Sweet 16. Even the powerhouses of neighboring Hockey East frequently feel that they are better served by making Western road trips than by visiting or hosting local ECAC squads.

At this point in time, the ECAC Hockey programs that play the toughest non-conference opponents are a) optimally located geographically (Harvard), b) have earned recent and/or regular “contender” status (Yale, Cornell, Rensselaer), or c) play a lot of road games (Brown). It doesn’t hurt to have a well-connected coach, but it doesn’t always help, either.

So that’s why half of the league’s out-of-conference docket reads like an AHA visitors’ guide. It’s not anybody’s idea of ideal, but “optimal” is a relative term.

Bearing the barbs

As I noted earlier, I do my best to acknowledge valid critiques, and one that holds water now is that I have been too tough on programs for not scheduling more big-name opponents. Even I have a learning curve, and I have – at times – lost track of how challenging it can be to get one national power to commit, much less 10. For that, I apologize. Furthermore, isn’t a game against RIT or Air Force as likely to boost the strength-of-schedule as a game against Lake Superior State or Vermont? Maybe, maybe not – but today it’s worth considering.

Great expectations

So what do I really expect from ECAC Hockey? Where is the threshold below which teams become targets?

I’ll put it simply. Schedule all the good teams you can – gotta beat the best to be the best, as the idiom goes – but when your opponents leave you uninspired, just take care of business.

The frustrated slights come from weak results against weak opponents, because this league – and everyone in this league – is supposed to be better than that. Off nights happen. Upsets happen. Underrated opponents happen, too. But not everyone is underrated, every night can’t be an “off night”, or else the upsets are no longer upsets… and the league is diminished just a little bit more.

Right now, ECAC Hockey is 16-12-5, all against non-conference opposition. So far, teams that the ECAC has already played are 33-47-6 against everyone else. (My math may be slightly off, but to the best of my knowledge I’ve tallied correctly.) The teams the league has beaten are a combined 12-25-1 (again, against everyone else). Teams that ECAC programs have lost to are a combined 15-16-3, and the ties are 6-6-2.

That’s all I’ve got. At least I’ve avoided mentioning North Dakota in any kind of judgmental light… I think. (I hope.)

95 COMMENTS

  1. “and no small amount has been borne of the bat**** lunatic North Dakota fringe”.  Just wondering what you mean by that exactly?

    • There is a small but vocal minority of nuts who bombard anyone who will listen (in this case, USCHO writers, editors, probably photographers…) with unsolicited emails whenever the Sioux are in the news for any reason at all.

      Yes, I am aware that there are small but vocal minorities of lunatics everywhere, but UND’s minority seems to be the most prolific. That is all.

      • I get ya, thanks for the clarification!  I can see how Sioux fans can go a little nuts and maybe even a little overboard (like last year come playoffs).  It is only a game but I know that some fans identify themselves (who they are) with the team that they cheer for and I know alot of UND fans personaly that do this.  Its not necessarily the worst thing to do in life but like I said, people do get a little carried away sometimes:) and forget their class and the people, teams, universitys, etc. they represent when they talk without consequence on this site or anywhere else.  This is something all college hockey fans should remember regardless of which team you cheer for, myself included 

  2. “and no small amount has been borne of the bat**** lunatic North Dakota fringe”.  Just wondering what you mean by that exactly?

    • There is a small but vocal minority of nuts who bombard anyone who will listen (in this case, USCHO writers, editors, probably photographers…) with unsolicited emails whenever the Sioux are in the news for any reason at all.

      Yes, I am aware that there are small but vocal minorities of lunatics everywhere, but UND’s minority seems to be the most prolific. That is all.

      • I get ya, thanks for the clarification!  I can see how Sioux fans can go a little nuts and maybe even a little overboard (like last year come playoffs).  It is only a game but I know that some fans identify themselves (who they are) with the team that they cheer for and I know alot of UND fans personaly that do this.  Its not necessarily the worst thing to do in life but like I said, people do get a little carried away sometimes:) and forget their class and the people, teams, universitys, etc. they represent when they talk without consequence on this site or anywhere else.  This is something all college hockey fans should remember regardless of which team you cheer for, myself included 

  3. I think that some of the ecac teams have to have “special events” at bigger arenas to draw the larger, better schools to come east. Have Colgate play in cuse at the war memorial, brown at the dunk, clarkson or st Lawrence at lake placid, rpi/ union at the Pepsi arena. That will give the schools coming to the ecac an incentive monetarily. Secondly, you have up and down scheduling years. Colgate had a down year last year, games including 2 or 3 against niagara and army and then sacred heart, but look at their schedule this year and it includes Merrimack, Miami, and ferris state. But ultimately ecac teams should do “events” to draw in the western and even hockey east schools

    • That is what I really like about what Clarkson is doing with SLU.  For the 2nd year in a row, the 2 are facing off in lake placid.  Clarkson is also playing Maine in portland at the AHL arena there and playing UND in winnipeg.  As soon as Clarkson returns to prominence and plays like it did in the 70s and the 90s, all will be good in the world.  Lets go tech!

    • Why wouldn’t a UND or a Minnesota or a Michigan want to come to Lynah? It’s a cathedral of college hockey. The only school we’ll do an event game for is to keep the BU rivalry alive and besides taking more than half the gate receipts for an MSG sellout ain’t bad. Still would be great to have BU at Lynah again someday.

  4. I think that some of the ecac teams have to have “special events” at bigger arenas to draw the larger, better schools to come east. Have Colgate play in cuse at the war memorial, brown at the dunk, clarkson or st Lawrence at lake placid, rpi/ union at the Pepsi arena. That will give the schools coming to the ecac an incentive monetarily. Secondly, you have up and down scheduling years. Colgate had a down year last year, games including 2 or 3 against niagara and army and then sacred heart, but look at their schedule this year and it includes Merrimack, Miami, and ferris state. But ultimately ecac teams should do “events” to draw in the western and even hockey east schools

    • That is what I really like about what Clarkson is doing with SLU.  For the 2nd year in a row, the 2 are facing off in lake placid.  Clarkson is also playing Maine in portland at the AHL arena there and playing UND in winnipeg.  As soon as Clarkson returns to prominence and plays like it did in the 70s and the 90s, all will be good in the world.  Lets go tech!

    • Why wouldn’t a UND or a Minnesota or a Michigan want to come to Lynah? It’s a cathedral of college hockey. The only school we’ll do an event game for is to keep the BU rivalry alive and besides taking more than half the gate receipts for an MSG sellout ain’t bad. Still would be great to have BU at Lynah again someday.

  5. “I don’t have figures in front of me”
    Maybe you should find them out. That’d be a good thing for a REPORTER to do, no?

  6. “I don’t have figures in front of me”
    Maybe you should find them out. That’d be a good thing for a REPORTER to do, no?

  7. The bottom line is, for ECAC teams to get better scheduling, we have to play better on a national level. And for that to happen, we are talking about more funding/scholarships and removal of Ivy restrictions on recruitment and when the season starts – the same old horse that’s been beaten over and over again. 

    Before you wrote this Brian, are you in the opinion that some coaches don’t schedule the best teams they can? If not, then I don’t think I learned anything from this post other than some ECAC NC opponents were subpar this season.

    • I wrote this mostly to educate the fans who don’t understand why their program isn’t playing against the big boys “often enough”… but also to clarify my own perspective on the matter, for you – USCHO’s regular audience – as well as for myself.

      Re. the first half of your note, might I present Cornell, Yale and Union? The Big Red have been by far the most consistently successful program in the league over the past decade-plus. Yale has been the strongest team in the league in the past few seasons, and Union is certainly asserting itself as a consistent contender on both the ECAC and national stage… and all three are non-scholarship programs. Success breeds success(ful recruiting, which breeds success), and leaving school with a top-notch diploma doesn’t hurt matters, either.

      • Fine. It would’ve been a much better column if you could offer more personal opinions on what else could be done to get a stronger scheduler other than “beat NC opponents.” That’s a given, unless these players and coaches don’t give a c*** about their respective hockey programs. 

        On your second point, Yale and Union were only able to gain national prominence in recent years. If you look at Yale’s schedule this year, it’s quite pathetic for a team who was on top of the polls for a good number of weeks – BC is the only NC opponents that’s worth playing. Union and Cornell have relatively stronger schedules, but if Union starts losing this year and doesn’t end up being a TUC, do you think its 2013-2014 schedule will be as strong? Cornell is the exception with a strong history, strong fan base, and adequate funding – that’s the exception, not the rule. Hypothetically, if Cornell left the Ivies (which would never happen) and joined HEA or the new NCHC, its hockey program will undoubtly improve dramatically with the same coaching and athletics staff. I understand success breeds success, but how likely are you to become successful in the first place when you’re ham stringed by various factors (each ECAC school’s issues differ) the first place?

        • Honestly, that’s my take: the best, most practical, most empowering thing any team or coach can do to improve a program’s schedule and national status is to win, win, win. If you can’t get big-time opponents, you’d better win with the schedule you’ve got. Get to the NCAAs with some consistency, and your scheduling options will invariably improve. Sure, money and school support matter, but the right coach makes a huge difference in the recruiting (and hence, improvement) process.

        • As a Yale fan I am disgusted at their weak non-conference scheduling. This is not football where the big programs schedule many years in advance. I understand that Yale loses potential slots early in the season because of the “Ivy league” rules. But only scheduling The Russian Touring Team during the Xmas break? They have the money to travel westward to play. 

  8. The bottom line is, for ECAC teams to get better scheduling, we have to play better on a national level. And for that to happen, we are talking about more funding/scholarships and removal of Ivy restrictions on recruitment and when the season starts – the same old horse that’s been beaten over and over again. 

    Before you wrote this Brian, are you in the opinion that some coaches don’t schedule the best teams they can? If not, then I don’t think I learned anything from this post other than some ECAC NC opponents were subpar this season.

    • I wrote this mostly to educate the fans who don’t understand why their program isn’t playing against the big boys “often enough”… but also to clarify my own perspective on the matter, for you – USCHO’s regular audience – as well as for myself.

      Re. the first half of your note, might I present Cornell, Yale and Union? The Big Red have been by far the most consistently successful program in the league over the past decade-plus. Yale has been the strongest team in the league in the past few seasons, and Union is certainly asserting itself as a consistent contender on both the ECAC and national stage… and all three are non-scholarship programs. Success breeds success(ful recruiting, which breeds success), and leaving school with a top-notch diploma doesn’t hurt matters, either.

      • Fine. It would’ve been a much better column if you could offer more personal opinions on what else could be done to get a stronger scheduler other than “beat NC opponents.” That’s a given, unless these players and coaches don’t give a c*** about their respective hockey programs. 

        On your second point, Yale and Union were only able to gain national prominence in recent years. If you look at Yale’s schedule this year, it’s quite pathetic for a team who was on top of the polls for a good number of weeks – BC is the only NC opponents that’s worth playing. Union and Cornell have relatively stronger schedules, but if Union starts losing this year and doesn’t end up being a TUC, do you think its 2013-2014 schedule will be as strong? Cornell is the exception with a strong history, strong fan base, and adequate funding – that’s the exception, not the rule. Hypothetically, if Cornell left the Ivies (which would never happen) and joined HEA or the new NCHC, its hockey program will undoubtly improve dramatically with the same coaching and athletics staff. I understand success breeds success, but how likely are you to become successful in the first place when you’re ham stringed by various factors (each ECAC school’s issues differ) the first place?

        • Honestly, that’s my take: the best, most practical, most empowering thing any team or coach can do to improve a program’s schedule and national status is to win, win, win. If you can’t get big-time opponents, you’d better win with the schedule you’ve got. Get to the NCAAs with some consistency, and your scheduling options will invariably improve. Sure, money and school support matter, but the right coach makes a huge difference in the recruiting (and hence, improvement) process.

        • As a Yale fan I am disgusted at their weak non-conference scheduling. This is not football where the big programs schedule many years in advance. I understand that Yale loses potential slots early in the season because of the “Ivy league” rules. But only scheduling The Russian Touring Team during the Xmas break? They have the money to travel westward to play. 

  9. Grammar police: “I believe that ECAC Hockey is not only a unique league, but the most unique in the college hockey universe.”

    Unique means one-of-a-kind. There are not degrees of uniqueness, so something can’t be “very unique” or “most unique.”

    I know, I know….It’s a pet peeve….

  10. Grammar police: “I believe that ECAC Hockey is not only a unique league, but the most unique in the college hockey universe.”

    Unique means one-of-a-kind. There are not degrees of uniqueness, so something can’t be “very unique” or “most unique.”

    I know, I know….It’s a pet peeve….

  11. Its hard to get a read on Duluth. They’ve looked good against better opponents at times and mediocre against lesser competition.

    • Up until this weekend the goal tending has been suspect and their special teams horrid.Also,from what I can tell they are out shooting their opponents by a wide margin but are having trouble putting the puck in the net some nights.That being said,six of their top seven scorers are either freshman or sophomores as is Hunter(So.) so they’ll get better as the season progresses I think and next year if everyone stays put they’ll be a force to be reckoned with…I hope.

  12. Its hard to get a read on Duluth. They’ve looked good against better opponents at times and mediocre against lesser competition.

    • Up until this weekend the goal tending has been suspect and their special teams horrid.Also,from what I can tell they are out shooting their opponents by a wide margin but are having trouble putting the puck in the net some nights.That being said,six of their top seven scorers are either freshman or sophomores as is Hunter(So.) so they’ll get better as the season progresses I think and next year if everyone stays put they’ll be a force to be reckoned with…I hope.

  13. Good call on both Wisconsin and North Dakota being overrated. Can probably throw BU, Minnesota, and Duluth in that mix as well. A lot of mediocre hockey being played this season by the big programs.

  14. Found it strange that Murray decided to split time with the goaltenders both games, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the offense this year after losing 4 of our top 5 in scoring last year to pros or graduation. It’s early, but the team still struggles mightily away from home, so this upcoming weekend will be tough.

    • He “split time” because the starting goalie, both nights, was not good. It was more a case of pulling them, not a planned thing.

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