USCHO GAME OF THE WEEK: ECAC Hockey teams hoping for exciting end to regular season, but ‘too many variables in play’ for perfect finish

 (Josh Lavallee/Anaheim Ducks)
Jack Badini has compiled six goals and 14 points this season for Harvard (photo: Josh Lavallee/Anaheim Ducks).

When a commissioner starts out to create a schedule, certainly every single one of them hopes to ensure that the final weekend of a regular season might have some excitement.

Defining that excitement is difficult.

Is it about how close a league is (check out Hockey East or the Big Ten if you need to understand that)? Is it about having your two top teams compete for a league championship? Maybe it’s even about great positioning races, like home ice, first-round byes, or whether or not your program will make the playoffs.

This weekend, as the ECAC plays its final games, there stands a chance that on the final night of the regular season, in Ithaca, N.Y., there could be a battle for the Cleary Cup in a single-game event between No. 7 Clarkson and newly-minted No. 1 Cornell.

It’s a commissioner’s dream. Perfect scheduling has the potential to bring either a winner-take-all (or at least a winner-takes-a-co-championship) situation to the ECAC.

When asking ECAC commissioner Steve Hagwell about the possibility, he strongly emphasizes that this is more a moment of chance much more than strong planning on his part.

“I’d like to say that I did some great planning,” said Hagwell. “But we plan out some years in advance, so it just played out that way.”

Pressed further because, c’mon, most commissioners have an inkling of what teams are going to be their strongest at certain times, Hagwell went back to his league’s unique scheduling format arrangement just how lucky it is to have teams possibly battle for the league title on the final night.

“We have travel partners, so that brings some different parameters into the league scheduling,” Hagwell said. “Throw in the fact that some of our institutions have different exam schedules that creates, not obstacles, but issues we have to deal with.

“Throw in issues like Harvard in the Beanpot. The Ivies open later and would like to open against similar opponents, [so] we have a lot of variables in play.

“For the most part, we try to avoid certain scenarios. Our farthest trip is Clarkson/St. Lawrence to Quinnipiac/Princeton, so we try to avoid that in the final weekend to the extent that’s possible.”

Said easiest: “There’s just too many variables in play,” to create the perfect finish.

Understood, but as college hockey fans, we still eat up the moment, so this weekend’s situation where the final night could decide which team wins the regular season, which team earns the top seed in the ECAC playoffs creates the buzz you want as a commissioner whether intentional or not.

Hagwell went on to talk about this league, which is looking for its first Frozen Four appearance since Harvard in 2017 and first national title since Yale and Union won back to back in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

With Cornell entering this weekend as the top-ranked team, it makes sense that anticipation of bringing a team to college hockey’s ultimate national stage would be front and center on Hagwell’s mind.

He admits, though, right now, that’s not.

“I haven’t looked that far ahead, to be frank,” said Hagwell. “I don’t know whose going to come out in [Lake] Placid. The way it’s playing out, every time I think I have it figured out, I’m so far off the mark.

“I want to be anti-myself, because every time I think [a team] had a shot, I want to take the position that they don’t, because it goes against me every time.”

“It’s been interesting. It’s always positive from a league standpoint when you have teams in the mix. We want it as tight as it can be and nationally, do I look at that? Sure. Do I put much credence into polls, I don’t.”

All of that said, Hagwell still finds a strong rooting interest as this season ends and the national tournament begins.

“At the end of the day, the PairWise and getting into the championship doesn’t always match up,” Hagwell said. “But we hope when we get to Detroit as a staff, we hope we get a team there.”