All apologies

It’s been a long time… and we’re sorry.

ECAC Hockey fans are sorry that the league hasn’t put a team in the title game in 23 years. We’re sorry it’s been two dozen seasons since a conference member finished on top. We apologize for being dismissed, marginalized, underrated, ignored, and downright insulted for our opinion, pride, and belief that ECAC Hockey is as competitive a league as any other in Division 1 (and twice as smart). We’re sorry that half of the league’s teams are Ivy League institutions, and that the other half are small private schools that prioritize the “student” part over the “athlete” part. We’re sorry that ECAC teams have to travel so often to play top programs, because top programs are loathe to play dangerous teams in small markets.

And we’re sorry to be so damned thrilled by this year’s national title tilt. Yale, we’re proud of you; Quinnipiac, we’re proud of you, too… and to the rest of the nation, we are sorry about one thing most of all: We’re really not sorry at all.

Notes from home

I’ve known all year that I would be unavailable for the Frozen Four – life calls, ya know? But boy, is the universe rubbing it in with the Connecticut Derby match for all the marbles. Not only did ECAC Hockey put a team in the title game, but two… and both from my soon-to-be home, as I’m moving to New Haven in the summer. (Just watch, next year Harvard will play BU for the crown.)

A few notes from the Twitterverse, and some info for the uninitiated:

• It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again until it stops being amazing and hilarious: The NCAA National Championship game is a rematch of the ECAC Hockey Consolation Game. The freakin’ third-place game!

• Yale and Quinnipiac are eight miles apart, in the neighboring cities of New Haven and Hamden, Conn, respectively. The last time there were two teams from the same league in the championship game was 2005, when Denver topped North Dakota in Columbus, Ohio. The last two rivals (if Yale will ever admit to the rivalry) to compete in the title game were Maine and New Hampshire in Anaheim, Calif. in 1999.

The last time there were two teams from the same state fighting for the trophy was also the last time there were two squads from the same metropolitan area in the championship game: Boston University downed Boston College in Providence, R.I. in 1978. (Those teams were each in the ECAC at that point, as well, so there’s that trivial tidbit to boot.) BU and BC are about three miles apart… so that was the last time the championship featured two teams so geographically close.

The last time two current ECAC teams played each other for the whole shebang was 1970, when Cornell beat Clarkson 6-4.


• Some love for the pep bands: The Yale Precision Marching Band (YPMB) plays my all-time favorite pep-band tune following Bulldogs wins – “Beatdown Stomp”, originally by Skabba the Hut. The original song is fitting, and it sounds so delightfully perky in YPMB form, with tubas leading the way. You caught some of it at the end of ESPN’s Game 1 coverage last night.

Meanwhile, the QUPB (Quinnipiac University Pep Band) honors Connecticut’s hockey legacy with a solid rendition of “Brass Bonanza”. This was the Hartford Whalers’ theme and goal song (Brian Burke’s influence notwithstanding), and it is a staple of Connecticut hockey fandom to this day.

• The ice seemed incredibly hard, especially during the Yale-UML game. Players’ edges were failing to catch, leading to lots of awkward and unusual slips and falls, and the puck was bouncing funny… it was uncomfortable to watch. For those who do not skate often, there is a relatively wide range of playable surfaces, with last night’s being at the coldest end of the spectrum. (The colder the ice, the harder it is, and the less traction players get.) Note Wetmore’s breakaway attempt against Yale, where he simply could not dig in and control his movements in close after a speedy half-ice rush. Also note Hartzell’s failure-to-catch on St. Cloud’s only goal: Hartzell’s skate simply slid out instead of catching for a push-off, leading the goalie to slip and fall, giving SCSU an effectively open net.

Colleague Paula Weston confirmed that the arena itself was positively frigid during the first game; perhaps the CONSOL Energy Center ice crew didn’t anticipate a late-arriving crowd and therefore failed to compensate for the ambient temperature. Just a theory; we’ll see how the sheet looks on Saturday.

Coverage criticism

Now for the compulsory annual rant against ESPN. I’m happy that college hockey gets any coverage at all – it’s a niche sport, and fans of, say, NCAA field hockey or water polo or cross-country would kill for the airtime we enjoy. That said, it is a shame that ESPN has (and will have for quite some time) the rights to the NCAA hockey postseason when other networks (notably NBC Sports Network) actually show interest in the game during the regular season. Every sports fan knows that ESPN doesn’t give a lick about hockey at any level, but they are required to broadcast a multitude of NCAA championship events as part of their agreement to show big-ticket sports like basketball and football.

John Buccigross is a swell guy; he is kind and enthusiastic and a sincere hockey fan… but he simply isn’t as much of an expert as he thinks he is (and it’s hard to blame him: ESPN probably doesn’t give him much time or opportunity to research sports it doesn’t cover). He also isn’t a polished play-by-play announcer, so his affectations and presentation are a bit… well, unusual. (Note to Bucci: We get it; Jesse Root is from Pittsburgh. You don’t need to mention that fact literally every time you say his name.)

Meanwhile, Barry Melrose has done little to shed his reputation as an apathetic bumbler when it comes to college players. He certainly knows his X’s and O’s – he was an NHL head coach, he knows strategy just fine – but he is clearly uninterested in the research aspect of broadcasting. He mis-pronounces names (last week referring to QU goalie Eric Hartzell as “Hartnell” on multiple occasions, and utterly surrendering on Canisius goaltender Capobianco, ultimately settling for “the goalie” when required). He confuses teams (introducing Massachusetts-Lowell as the RedHawks – a la Miami – rather than the Riverhawks). He and Dave Starman were filling essentially the same role last night, except I have much greater confidence in Starman’s ability to stick the landing on “Laganiere”.

Proposed drinking-game triggers for Saturday’s coverage:
• Any variation on “Pittsburgh native Jesse Root”
• Melrose butchers a name
• Buccigross shifts awkwardly from an excited call to a hushed whisper
• Images on the screen don’t match the commentary (e.g. discussion about Hartzell while the screen shows Hellebuyck)
• Explanation of college-specific rules (e.g. hybrid icing)
• Buccigross uses cutesy phrases (e.g. “holy shnikes”, “twisted wrister”, “ziggin’ and zaggin'”… all of which were used last night)
• Any variation on the phrase “For the first time…”
• On-air ads for, or mention of, golf coverage

There was an awkward moment during Game 1 action when UML took a penalty, and as ESPN was cutting to commercial, it showed the Riverhawks fans chanting – up close and very clearly – “bull****”. Well done, production crew. Elsewhere, I’m not sure what the true volume in the arena was like of course, but it sounded awfully muffled on TV. I hope it wasn’t that quiet in person.

All that said, credit to ESPN for finally giving us college hockey analysis during a college hockey intermission. In years past, the network had simply cut to SportsCenter-style highlights from other sports, effectively ignoring what had just happened or what was about to happen in the game at hand.

Showing my true colors

Finally, I engaged in a brief Twitter discussion with other fans and writers about the appropriateness of purchasing championship apparel from whomever wins Saturday night. My take: As a journalist, I try to be impartial, which is to say I make every effort to be fair in and about my coverage. That said, I do not prefer any ECAC Hockey team over any other, but I do prefer ECAC programs over all others (excepting, occasionally, BU – my alma mater). Therefore, given the circumstances, I would like to commemorate this historic occasion (I mean, 23 years is a long time) with a hat or t-shirt.

Nobody has argued that it would be inappropriate or unprofessional yet; colleagues have said that they have or would have done the same for their leagues’ title-winners, too. So, is there any reason why I shouldn’t revel in this impossible dream to the fullest extent?

Moment(s) of Zen

I’m saving these pictures forever.