Harkness himself was no stranger to the Union campus. Born in Ottawa, he spent much of his childhood in Glens Falls, N.Y., where his father, Pop Harkness, ran a plumbing and construction business and commuted 40 miles south to Schenectady, where he coached hockey and lacrosse at Union. Pop Harkness is in the Hall of Fame of both hockey ( U.S.) and lacrosse ( Canada); son Ned also coached lacrosse at both RPI and Cornell.
"From a little boy I grew up on this campus," Ned says. "In 1929 I watched Union win its only national championship. In lacrosse. Dad was the coach. My brother Bill went to school here. I guess it is fitting that I ended up here."
Looking back, Harkness is glad he left the college scene for five years to join the Detroit Red Wings; he coached the club briefly, then moved upstairs as general manager. The pros refused to buy his work ethic and in the end prompted Harkness to quit. "I made a lot of close friends in Detroit, people who are still close to me now," he says. "I learned a great deal. And the contacts have been unbelievable. But I think now that no coach, no owner, no general manager can control his destiny in the pros. The players are excellent athletes. But the player associations take over. Motivation is gone and money takes over. If you like being a puppet, great. Not me. If I am going to be blamed for a decision, I want it to be my decision.
"The Detroit experience has made me appreciate being a college coach more. Here at Union I'm close to my kids. I control my own destiny. I can mold kids and do things for them, and down the road I'll know I played a very important part in a kid's life. I kind of bask in their glory, in their accomplishments when they leave college. You can't pay your bills with that, but can you think of anything more wonderful?"
Harkness has prepared his Union teams well. He is a demanding drillmaster with only one criterion: perfection. Well acquainted with the frailties of mankind, he begrudgingly will settle for superb conditioning, precision teamwork, stunning stickhandling, bruising defensive play, a lightning attack and 60 minutes of overall excellence. A 6-1 victory sloppily won means a long and hard practice the following day.
Harkness unleashed his industrious freshmen a year ago. Union opened with a 14-4 victory over Cortland and romped through a 21-1 season, losing only to Merrimack, 5-1. Led by Kip Churchill, who had 26 goals and 36 assists for 62 points, Union outscored its opposition 177 to 59. Then Army reminded the Dutchmen how young they really were, defeating Union 3-2 in the opening round of the Division II playoffs.
As the school year ended, Harkness was content. "Not too bad a record." he said.
"Only two losses," said Bob Fusco. Union's sports information director. who, when the recording system breaks down, has been known to wing The Star-Spangled Banner before a game.
"Not that," said Harkness. "Their grades."
Of a possible 4.0, the team finished with a cumulative 2.61 grade average. Nine players made the dean's list. Leading them all was Grant Judge—the second highest scorer behind Churchill—who had a 3.67 average in engineering. Athletes can't hide at Union. There are no crip courses, no basket-weaving majors.