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
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
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
"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
"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."