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Friday, July 11, 2008

On Hockey

Silver Sticks
Twenty-five years later, Lamoriello recalls conception of Hockey East


On Monday, June 30, Hockey East stamped the official 25th Anniversary crest on its website, acknowledging the basic beginning of the league’s 25th year of operation. But, as is chronicled in its official timeline, the league’s actual “birthday” falls on Friday precisely twenty-five years to the date of a historic convention between PC’s own Lou Lamoriello and the governing personnel of four other New England programs.

Lamoriello at the time was just in the process of relinquishing his protracted coaching tenure with the Friars so as to fixate his energy on his duties as the PC athletic director. The founding convention, he explained, was led by the likes of himself, Boston College’s Bill Flynn, Boston University’s John Simpson, New Hampshire’s Andy Mooradian, and Northeastern’s Joe Zabilski as well as the head coaches and presidents of those five colleges.

All components of a 17-member Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) at the time, the converging representatives settled on a unanimous decision. They would break off to establish a new league entitled the Hockey East Association, ready for launch in the autumn of 1984.

Though expectably sopped up in his current three-billed duties with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils –as their President, CEO, and general manager- Lamoriello took roughly five minutes of his time Wednesday to offer his thoughts on the silver anniversary via phone.

Considering all that has blossomed in the time since that landmark meeting, he offered, in a nutshell, “I think it shows that the decision by these schools, including Providence College, was not only the right one but a very progressive one.”

Indeed, through its first 24 active campaigns, Hockey East, which had accumulated the likes of Maine and UMass-Lowell before it began play, has grown to ten member schools, branched out to established a women’s league, and enjoyed a collective five NCAA Championships, 13 national finalists, and 33 Frozen Four participants. Not to mention, six Hobey Baker winners to help underscore a myriad of prominent alumni.

Incidentally, that level of attainment has come to dwarf what the ECAC –the very league that the HEA’s founding inhabitants ditched- has garnered in the same time frame. Since 1983, the ECAC has sent ten teams to college hockey’s final frontier and has not produced a champion since Harvard in 1989.

That aside, Lamoriello recalled the premise to break off having more to do with the multi-sport ECAC’s specific treatment of hockey.

By the 1982-83 campaign, ECAC teams were only playing one another 21 times a year and, as Lamoriello sensed, “What transpired was the ECAC at that time was trying to reduce the schedule of hockey and quite frankly we thought it was a black mark on hockey and so we decided we would go in another direction.”

Once they exercised their independence in 1984-85, Hockey East teams were locking sticks with one another 34 nights apiece. Between that and some slivers of non-conference action, nobody played fewer than 38 regular season games that year.

The NCAA has since enforced a balancing act on all six of its Division-I conferences, allotting everyone 34 regular season games. These days, the ten teams making up Hockey East are confined to 27 intra-conference games.

Come what may, the encouraging evolution, Lamoriello said, is undeniable. And the modern godfather of Friar Puck ought to know growth and accomplishment when he sees it. Previously the catalyst behind the upbringing of PC’s Schneider Arena in 1973, Hockey East’s first commissioner, and the namesake for the league’s playoff trophy since 1988, Lamoriello has essentially led his brainchild league by example since moving to New Jersey in 1987. Most telling to that are three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and last autumn’s opening of Newark’s Prudential Center.

As for those whom he’s left Hockey East to, the Johnston native said, “I certainly do communicate with the Hockey East office and I have a lot of respect for what (current commissioner Joe Bertagna) and (associate commissioner Kathy Wynters) and that whole office has done…and the number of student-athletes that have come through is just tremendous.

“I think the league speaks for itself. It was a real pioneer for college hockey. It was the first league to have an interlocking schedule with the WCHA. It was the first to have a national television deal. I don’t recall (every exact milestone), but there are a lot of great things that have transpired.”

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