ECAC Hockey commissioner sees title game as confirmation more than validation

PITTSBURGH — ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell isn’t out to change anyone’s perception of the league. He’ll let Saturday’s national title game between Yale and Quinnipiac do that.

“I think that speaks volumes to where our programs are currently. For me, it isn’t validation,” Hagwell said. “It’s a testament to what people in this league know, that these programs are capable of getting to this level.”

Speak to any coach or player around the league and they’ll tell of the tightness in the league standings, something that was widespread around college hockey this season but has been a staple in the ECAC for some time.

“You’re one poor penalty away from a loss or one power play away from a win,” Princeton coach Bob Prier said earlier this year.

The ECAC is a slightly different from other conferences across the country, as a player can get a top education while still playing hockey at a high level.

“Maybe it’s come around a little but parents are looking at institutions and saying, ‘Hey, I want my son to play at the NHL level but I also want him to have a world-class education and he can do both,” Hagwell said.

That factor, in addition to facility upgrades, have helped league teams win over recruits they might not have gotten in the past.

“Quinnipiac coming in with the new facility they have, and some of the institutions have worked off that and said we need to enhance our facilities as well,” Hagwell said. “As [Bobcats coach] Rand [Pecknold] was just saying, they’re winning battles on the recruiting front that maybe before they weren’t.”

A number of league teams got off to a hot start in non-conference play, and several were ranked highly in the early editions of the PairWise Rankings. But the consensus around the league seemed to be: Just wait. They’ll beat each other up soon enough once conference play starts.

That’s almost the case again Saturday. The ECAC is guaranteed to have a team win a national title for the first time since 1989, but it will come at the expense of another league team.

“Our teams will not have lost a game in the NCAA tournament to a non-league team,” Hagwell said. “I’m sitting here thinking we have a national championship game tomorrow night. I’m not really there yet, but tomorrow I will be.”