This Week in Hockey East: Incoming commissioner Metcalf ‘respected by all,’ comes in with ‘a proven national reputation’

Steve Metcalf will be the next Hockey East commissioner, assuming the role at the conclusion of the current 2019-20 season (photo: New Hampshire Athletics).

For months now, Hockey East, along with an executive search firm, have looked high and low for its next commissioner, someone who will replace 23-year Hockey East veteran Joe Bertagna.

When all was finished, the committee revealed 60 candidates applied, 40 of whom were considered, and 11 received interviews in person.

And when the dust settled, the next commissioner was right under their collective noses.

On Monday, Steve Metcalf was announced as the fifth commissioner in league history.

For the last 20 years, Metcalf has worked in an around the league in various positions with New Hampshire, culminating in his current job as deputy athletic director. Metcalf is also the current chair of the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee.

So why such an involved process to eventually land on someone who has been around the league much of his professional life? According to Boston University athletic director Drew Marrochello, chair of the Hockey East executive committee who led the search, it was about the need for a process.

“We went through a long process, many rounds and a lot of speculation,” said Marrochello. “And we ended up with a candidate from a member institution. It was good for us as a league to get together and continue to discuss ways we want to move our league forward.”

Marrochello said that one thing that attracted them to Metcalf, besides just having a general knowledge of the league and its challenges, is the fact that he’s not just focused on one professional area. His 20 years at UNH have given him a well-rounded approach professionals.

“I heard a lot along the way about what we needed, was it a marketer, was it someone with experience in expertise and branding? Was it a hockey lifer?” Marrochello said. “I think for several factors, today’s commissioner needs to be adept in several areas so we’re not slanting towards one particular area of expertise.

“At the end of deliberations and going back and forth, [the question was] ‘Who do [the member schools] want to work with?’ The level of expertise that Steve showed during this process and the ability he showed to move this league forward. He’s respected by all. He’s got a proven national reputation.”

Though Metcalf won’t assume the duties of commissioner until after this year’s Frozen Four, when he completes his formal duties as the ice hockey committee chair, no doubt he will need to build a plan to attack certain issues.

Some may not understand, though, that Bertagna did not leave the commissioner position voluntarily. The league searched for his replacement because the 12 athletic directors saw enough problems in the league as it currently operates that they felt there was a need for change. Metcalf will meet the immediate challenge of implementing that change, even though most people from the institution side – athletic directors, coaches and other administrators – seem to struggle to articulate what needs to change.

Metcalf, this week, tried his best to articulate what needs to change. He is taking an approach often heard in boardrooms throughout the country — implementing best practices.

“There are great people throughout our conference who, over the next few months, will be diving into best practices,” said Metcalf. “[We need to know] what’s been successful on our campuses, what’s been successful elsewhere or on the NCAA level that we can bring to Hockey East. The relationships I have throughout college hockey will make that process easier.”

Metcalf hesitated before using that word “easier” because, as a seasoned veteran, he understand when you’re trying to combine opinions of an answer to 12 different member institutions, nothing is easy.

Almost immediately, Metcalf will tackle the issue of overtime.

As a member of the NCAA committee, he’s watched the six leagues bicker over how best to proceed with overtime – whether it be 5-on-5, 3-on-3, using or not using shootout. Metcalf said “shame on us” that the six leagues haven’t been able to come to a consensus over the last half-decade.

There also will be the issue of adding a 12th member school on the men’s side and, potentially, continuing to grow the game on the women’s side.

Another area that comes up immediately is exposure for the on-ice product. Prior to this season, the league completed a league-wide deal to distribute school-produced broadcasts to both NESN on the TV side and CBS All-Access on a streaming platform.

According to sources, both deals are positive revenue generators for the league. But even as such, those relationships with the broadcast partners need to be maintained and expanded if there is to be success going forward.

“We’re always trying to expand our brand and expand our revenue streams to have as much success as possible,” Metcalf said. “We’re in the first year of a TV deal that is great exposure for our league, but just expanding all those platforms to showcase our student athletes and our teams. We want to get more recognition for our programs and tie this all together with getting as having as much success on the ice as we can.”

Ah, success.

The magic word that is certainly out of the hands of a commissioner, but something that when it lacks the commissioner often bears the brunt of the blame.

We’re currently in a stretch where the NCHC has won four straight NCAA championships. In 2017, in fact, it was two NCHC teams that faced one another in the national title game.

Throughout this process to find a commissioner, multiple people involved – coaches, athletic directors and administrators – all told me that they were looking for the next Josh Fenton (the NCHC commissioner, for those who don’t know).

Certainly, Fenton has been a popular figure since helping launch the NCHC in 2013. He’s successfully put together eight schools where, for the most part, hockey is the focus athletically. Because of that, there hasn’t just been a level of on-ice success, but also solid revenue generation and unmatched exposure through the league’s successful product.

You hear coaches all the time talk about blue-chip players – whether it be Johnny Gaudreau at Boston College, Jack Eichel at Boston University, Adam Gaudette at Northeastern or Cale Makar at UMass.

When these players depart, these coaches are inevitably asked how this player or that player that follows might compare to those superstars. Repeatedly, the coach usually says that it’s unfair to make a comparison to their all-everything talents and the next generation. It’s because those who replace superstars need to forge a path for their own.

As Steve Metcalf replaces Joe Bertagna, it’s not fair to try to compare one to the other. It’s also unfair to expect him to be Josh Fenton. Hopefully, coaches, administrators and fans alike all give Metcalf the ability to create his own legacy, to become the leader that he is chosen to be.