Welcome Back To The ECAC
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Who says the hockey offseason is boring?
It certainly wasn't that way in the ECAC, where upheaval has been the buzzword and a complicated labyrinth of movement had the wheels spinning and everybody talking.
But with the season finally in full swing, it's time to reflect upon those changes.
It wasn't just the usual array of big names that are gone — Harder, St. Louis, Perrin, Thomas. No, commissioners and coaches were also on the merry-go-round. In fact, other than Air Force, the ECAC saw the only two head coaching changes in the nation among major Division I teams.
It began before the end of last season, when ECAC Commissioner Joe Bertagna resigned to take the same job with Hockey East. On July 7, Jeff Fanter became the new commissioner of ECAC hockey. It's a move that, for better or worse, everyone in the league is talking about.
It was at the Final Four in Milwaukee that USCHO broke the story of Bob Gaudet leaving Brown to become the head coach at his alma mater, Dartmouth. He took assistant Jamie Rice with him, while former Brown assistant and longtime friend Brian McCloskey left New Hampshire to join Gaudet's staff.
The search for Brown's replacement became tumultuous when Brown AD Dave Roach took a long time to make his decision, partially because he was turned down by his first choice, former NHL and Brown defenseman Tim Bothwell.
Brown eventually hired Vermont's top assistant, Roger Grillo, in a move that seemed to come out of nowhere. Not that Grillo was a bad choice, but he was never considered a candidate until very late.
Lately, the ECAC has even felt the unexpected sting of departed undergrads. Princeton's all-rookie defenseman Dominique Auger decided to forego his last three seasons to play one year of major junior hockey in his native Quebec. And St. Lawrence junior-to-be goalie Clint Owen decided to leave school after he and head coach Joe Marsh concluded it was in everyone's best interests — which leaves Marsh with two freshmen and an inexperienced junior in nets.
Other departed undergrads include Harvard's Craig McDonald, who left to join the Canadian national team, and Clarkson's Mike Bushaw, who had his scholarship revoked by coach Mark Morris for an offseason incident, the same one that got sophomore Matt Reid suspended until mid-season.
And even the higher-ups in the ECAC office are feeling the winds of change.
The hiring of Fanter — or at least the approval of that hiring — was the last major move by ECAC Commissioner Clayton Chapman, who will retire after this school year.
Chapman replaced Scotty Whitelaw (for whom the regular-season hockey championship trophy is named) in June, 1990. Prior to being commissioner of the ECAC, Chapman was an assistant to the commissioner, and an assistant athletic director at Cornell, where he is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame.
Grillo Takes Over
Roger Grillo was known as a top-notch recruiter as an assistant at Vermont. Now we'll see if he can recruit Ivy Leaguers.
Grillo was named the new coach at Brown in June, a surprise to some who thought the job would go to someone with more Brown and/or Ivy League connections. But Grillo beat out people like Boston University's Brian Durocher and New Hampshire assistant Brian McCloskey.
One applicant who was never interviewed was Stan Moore, Union's top man and the 1997 ECAC Coach of the Year.
It may surprise some that Moore, at Union for just one year, would seek to leave the Schenectady for the Ivy League, but it shouldn't. The situation at Union is far from ideal, and it goes past the simple, everyday difficulties of recruiting at a small school.
Schools like Clarkson, St. Lawrence and RPI are Division III institutions that give scholarships for hockey. Vermont is a full-fledged Division I school, and Colgate, while not giving scholarships, is also D-I. The other six schools have the attraction of being Ivy League institutions.
Union doesn't even allow preferential aid.
This puts the Dutchmen in a near-impossible situation, and if you listened closely to Moore over the past year, it's clear he wants to make Union as quick a steppingstone as possible — and good for him, because he deserves it.
The message to Union's administration is: if you want to play ball with the big guys, you've got to pay the price.
Jamie Rice, the assistant to Bob Gaudet at Brown for five years, was a minor-level candidate for the head coaching position with the Bears. He was interviewed more out of courtesy than anything else.
With Grillo getting the job, Rice has decided to join Gaudet at Dartmouth, where the pair will try to relive the success they enjoyed for most of their time together in Providence. They are joined by Brian McCloskey, another Dartmouth graduate, who had been an assistant at New Hampshire and before that also with Gaudet at Brown.
Word association: Bertagna, Hockey East, TV...
It didn't take long for former ECAC hockey commissioner Joe Bertagna to secure a new cable television deal for his new conference, Hockey East. Bertagna took over July 1. The deal was announced July 9.
Bertagna called SportsChannel from his hotel in Milwaukee while at the Final Four in March. The Hartford Whalers had just announced they'd be leaving for Carolina, and SportsChannel was without hockey. Bertagna, forever opportunistic, didn't hesitate to call.
Sticking to his philosophy that he works for all of college hockey, Bertagna tried to include his old friends in the deal.
"In my first meeting, I tried to sell them on a college hockey game of the week with both leagues," Bertagna told USCHO. "It was part of what I've told the athletic directors here. I want to do things in general for both sides. Every once in a while they remind me that I'm not working for those other guys anymore — 'Don't worry about doing things for all of college hockey. Remember who's paying you.'
"But I did what I thought was right. Personally, I believe a college package with as many games for both leagues would be terrific, but SportsChannel was quite blunt. 'With all due respect to your old league,' they said, 'we're interested in Hockey East because it's a definable package. It's all in our audience's geography. We're not interested in the other guys.' Having done that, I could take the dual hats off and zoom in."
He knows who signs his paychecks, but he also knows what's good for the sport is good for his league. Everyone should take a page from his book.
We can only dream that one day he can realize his goal of a national TV contract. College hockey is underexposed in relation to the money it brings in and fans it attracts.
That day is coming, brother. I don't know when, but the sport will get its due. Bertagna and friends are moving it in the right direction — let's just hope the ECAC doesn't fall on its face trying to get on the bandwagon.
Cornell hockey stays on the air — barely
Cornell was almost off the air for the first time in decades this coming season. What is probably the nation's most popular college hockey program was apparently not enough of a money-maker for the company that owns the station which has aired the games.
Play-by-play man Grady Whittenberg, who worked full-time in sales for Q104, was fired.
The management situation of the Ithaca station was in flux over the last few years, but the one constant was Whittenberg, the consensus as best play-by-play man in the league.
You'll have a hard time convincing people that Cornell hockey broadcasts don't make money. That's like Peter Angelos trying to convince people the Baltimore Orioles don't make money.
The Big Red finally got back onto Q104 thanks to a last-minute change of heart, but not before flirting with a new home on WVBR, a quasi-Cornell home (hence VBR: "Voice of the Big Red"). But the latter's signal was never strong enough to be a legitimate contender 'til now.
Incidentally, the games are on AudioNet this year, too, thanks to a monetary contribution from an alumnus.
St. Louis and Perrin: reunited
Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin are together again. The tandem was separated this fall as each went to separate NHL training camps — St. Louis to Ottawa and Perrin to Montreal.
The former All-Americans had deals with Cleveland that prohibited any other IHL team from using them. So if Ottawa and Montreal didn't want them, then that's where they would go.
It's been a good start. St. Louis is third on the team in scoring, while Perrin has two goals in the recent week, the first two of his pro career.
At 5-foot-8 apiece, they may get discriminated against for a while. But keep playing well, and the NHL will have to take them seriously.
Tim Thomas has had a tougher time. He was released outright by Colorado, the team that had his rights through college. Thomas was faced with an organization that was deep in goal, with a couple of younger prospects in the organization. And reportedly, the former Vermont standout displeased Colorado management with some comments in the press.
Thomas is a good kid, but he has been known to run his mouth, so it's no surprise. He landed on his feet in Houston with the IHL's Aeros, replacing another former Vermont All-American, Christian Soucy, who broke his wrist.
Also, congratulations to Todd White, the Clarkson standout and Hobey Baker finalist, who has made the Chicago Blackhawks' roster. He's wearing No. 49.
Undergrads fly the coop
Players are disappearing from the North Country.
St. Lawrence goalie Clint Owen, who last year got into hot water and was suspended for half the season, has left the school. Saints coach Joe Marsh called it a "mutual understanding" that the two sides would part ways, and Owen is now plying his trade in the West Coast League.
Meanwhile, SLU's neighbor 10 miles to the north, Clarkson, lost promising forward Mike Bushaw when the school revoked his scholarship. Bushaw and fellow sophomore forward Matt Reid, both North Country natives, got into some trouble over the summer. Bushaw won't play at all, and Clarkson coach Mark Morris suspended Reid for several games, though he is now back in action.
In addition, freshman forward Erik Cole was suspended for the Ice Breaker Invitational by Morris for disciplinary reasons.
Already hurting offensively with the loss of top scorers White and Houle, Clarkson is scrambling, hoping Devils draftee Willie Mitchell can step in and provide some offense, and Buddy Wallace and Philippe Roy will play offense full-time this year.
Clarkson is off to its usual slow start. The Golden Knights usually follow an eerie pattern: rough start, scorching hot in January and February, fall short of an ECAC tournament title, and lose in the first round of the NCAAs. But unless things improve, perhaps Clarkson won't get that far this time around.