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So now the twain shall meet
Jack Falla
October 22, 1984
Rugged Western college teams face a tough new rival in Hockey East
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October 22, 1984

So Now The Twain Shall Meet

Rugged Western college teams face a tough new rival in Hockey East

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THE SI COLLEGE TOP 10

1. Minnesota

25-9-2*

2. Michigan State

34-12

3. Minnesota-Duluth

24-9-2

4. Boston University

28-11-1

5. RPI

32-6

6. Boston College

26-13

7. Wisconsin

21-17-1

8. New Hampshire

20-17-1

9. Providence

21-11-2

10. North Dakota

25-10-2

* 1983-84 records

The Penguin, propelled by a case of pregame jitters, was hustling down an aisle toward his press-box seat in Providence College's Schneider Arena Friday night at what can best be described as maximum wpm (waddles per minute). Was Providence athletic director Lou Lamoriello, a.k.a. the Penguin because he walks as though he has a hockey stick for a spinal column, sweating it? Well, he did take a shower an hour before the Friars' hockey game with North Dakota.

To be sure, it was more than just another season opener for Providence, for which Lamoriello played right wing from 1960-61 to 1962-63 and coached from 1968-69 to 1982-83. When the puck was dropped between the Friars' Tim Army and the Fighting Sioux's Brian Williams at 7:32 p.m.—about the same time Michigan Tech was facing-off against Northeastern in Boston and Northern Michigan-Lowell was getting under way in Lowell, Mass.—it marked the start of play in a new seven-team hockey league, Hockey East. Lamoriello is a founder and the commissioner of the league.

More significantly, these face-offs also inaugurated regularly scheduled intersectional play between Hockey East members Providence, Boston College, Boston University, Lowell, Maine, New Hampshire and Northeastern and Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams Colorado College, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Northern Michigan and Wisconsin. Lamoriello was also one of the driving forces behind the advent of that competition, which will include 112 East-West encounters this season, excluding tournaments, as opposed to the nine games in 1983-84. "It's one of the greatest things that ever happened to college hockey," says Gino Gasparini, coach and athletic director at North Dakota. "In effect, it creates a national college hockey league."

So Lamoriello had a right to be nervous; he had a big chunk of his reputation riding on the success of Hockey East and the East-West schedule. But the Penguin remained philosophical in spite of the stress. After all, this is the man who, as a coach, used to tell his players before playoff games, "Men, I was nervous on my honeymoon, but I performed well."

In the case of Hockey East, the honeymoon was preceded by a divorce. A rift in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) began four years ago. At that time, when the ECAC had 18 Division I hockey-playing schools, the six members from the Ivy League voiced opposition to what they viewed as, in the words of Brown athletic director John C. Parry, "the growing intensity of Eastern college hockey as seen in such things as the longer schedules some schools were playing." Non-Ivy powers like Providence and Boston U. wanted to play more hockey—35 to 40 regular-season games over five months—while the Ivies wanted to keep the number of games in their schedules down to the customary 26 over four months.

In July 1983, after Lamoriello heard "rumblings that the Ivies were going to form their own league," he and John Simpson, his Boston U. counterpart, called a meeting with the athletic directors of Boston College, New Hampshire and Northeastern and together they formed Hockey East. Maine and Lowell were admitted later.

"I'd say Lou proacted rather than reacted," says Dave Gavitt, Lamoriello's friend and predecessor at Providence and the founder and commissioner of the Big East league.

"I'm from the school of going straight at 'em," says Lamoriello, the consensus choice for commissioner of Hockey East. "We weren't going to wait around just to see what the Ivies might do."

Thus was the old order split into Hockey East and a 12-team ECAC that's sometimes snidely called Hockey Least. Although that designation is somewhat unfair to strong ECAC teams like Harvard, Clarkson and RPI, most of the region's iron appears to be in Hockey East, where BU, BC and New Hampshire figure to be national championship contenders (see box below). Indeed, over the past five seasons, teams now in Hockey East have a 232-168-11 record against the ECAC 12.

But competing with the ECAC isn't one of Lamoriello's priorities for Hockey East. Challenging the six-team WCHA is. "The East-West schedule is a stroke of genius," says Parry. "It offers outstanding exposure for college hockey."

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