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Or maybe the Flyers vs. Oilers. The physical style of the big Western teams has usually prevailed against the generally smaller Eastern teams, which lean more toward the skating game. In the last 12 years, WCHA teams have won nine NCAA championships, while Eastern teams have reached the final game only three times and won it but once, in 1978, when Boston U. turned the trick.
"But the gap will get smaller with interleague play," says Gasparini, who has noticed a trend toward tougher checking in the Eastern game. Last weekend Gasparini got a hard lesson in how right he is. After Providence had swept a bruising two-game series with the Fighting Sioux (5-4 Friday night and 7-3 Saturday), Friar defenseman Peter Taglianetti said, "By the third period tonight, they didn't want to bang with us anymore." Hockey East teams won a surprising six of eight games against WCHA opponents last weekend.
Given that kind of showing, Hockey East should win itself more paying customers. And even fans who stay home will have a chance to watch league games, thanks to a 27-game live television package Lamoriello negotiated earlier this month. The deal includes eight Sunday night games on Boston's WSBK, and 19 on cable via the New England Sports Network, the two stations that also carry the Bruins' games. While the rights fee is negligible—"five figures" says Lamoriello—the exposure is impressive. "I don't think there's ever been a college hockey TV deal like it," he says.
There also haven't been many hockey commissioners like Lamoriello. With Hockey East members facing budget increases of 15% to 20% for Western travel, Lamoriello has turned his considerable powers of persuasion on airlines and hotel chains, negotiating low group rates for league teams. "Most of our members now find they've overbudgeted for this year," he says.
Lamoriello the coach recruited and got letters of intent from three of the best schoolboy players in U.S. history: Bobby Carpenter, Brian Lawton and Tom Barrasso (although all three ultimately chose to sign with the NHL instead). Lamoriello the commissioner has been so effective in launching Hockey East that there's a joke that the league logo—a vertical sequence of three hockey sticks—should actually be read as three Ls, standing for Lou Lamoriello's League.
But he's fully aware that all isn't perfect. The new East-West schedule has eliminated some traditional rivalries in both regions. "I think it's terrible that I don't have Northeastern and BU on our regular-season schedule," says Harvard coach Bill Cleary, who will meet those old foes only in the non-league Beanpot Tournament. "Can BU versus Colorado College ever mean as much as Harvard versus BU?" Similarly, Minnesota won't play at Wisconsin this season, and Wisconsin won't go to North Dakota. So the question is, when the current East-West scheduling agreement ends in 1986, will teams still be willing to forgo traditional rivalries and shoulder extra travel costs? And, if not, will Hockey East be able to sustain itself only as a seven-team league? Will it try to expand by luring teams away from the ECAC? Is it possible it might even rejoin the ECAC?
Quoth the Penguin on the worst-case scenario, "I don't even want to think about it."
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