If, as a coach, Harkness tends to nettle the opposition, he gets along better with his own players than perhaps any other coach. There is genuine rapport between them. Harkness prefers that the boys call him Ned—not Coach or Mr. Harkness—because "I think it makes them feel a little closer to me." Frequently on nights before a varsity game he will take his team down to the Cornell boathouse, away from the life of the campus, and there they relax together over cards or billiards.
"Sure, he's a doubletalker," says Defenseman Harry Orr, one of the best, "but he doesn't mean any harm by it. He'll come up to me before a game and say, 'Harry, we won't win this one without you,' and I'll get all fired up. Then he'll stop and say the same thing to the guy sitting next to me. Sure, I know, it makes you wonder if he means it. But at the same time you always feel you're the one that's indispensable."
On a bus trip to Potsdam, N.Y. for a game with Clarkson a few weeks ago, Harkness pointedly told everyone how Paul Althouse, another defenseman, scored 17 straight points and whipped him in a Ping-Pong game. "Hey, Paul," Ned asked, "why don't you teach me that backhander of yours?"
"First of all," grunted Althouse, "you've got to learn how to hold the paddle." Harkness laughed longer than anybody.
It's possible that Harkness may never learn how to hold a Ping-Pong paddle (after all, it's better for Cornell hockey morale if he doesn't), but few can match him at the ploys of recruiting. "He snows you with stories about the school and everything," says Dave Quarrie, a senior goaltender, "and when he gets talking to your parents it's all over. I mean, he gets your folks so they like him right off, and soon they're the ones who are selling you on the merits of Cornell."
Another Cornell goalie is Ken Dryden, a sophomore, whose brother, Dave, substituted for Glenn Hall in the Chicago Black Hawks' goal last season. "Ken," says his father, Murray Dryden, "thought he was going to Princeton, but Ned talked him out of it. He sold the school to all of us, and he kept saying that he was building for a national championship. Ken never did get to Princeton."
The striped tie and the button-down shirt of the Ivy League have produced some notable changes in the Harkness exterior, and Ivy success has done something of the same to his psyche. He always has been recognized as a fine teaching coach, a persuasive recruiter and a man with a tremendous ability to incite his players to a greater effort. Now, because of the vast numbers of talented players who come to Cornell on their own to play for him, Harkness can even be pleasant to opposing coaches. But, says one often-bested rival, "It's hard to like Ned, because you remember all those things he pulled down at Troy."
The one thing no rival will forgive Harkness is his ability to latch on to better players, and the peg they hang the charge on is patriotism. By going to Canada for his talent, say his competitors, Harkness downgrades American youth. But the charge is unfair. Hockey players grow in Canada, and almost every U.S. team depends on them. Of all U.S. collegiate coaches, only Snooks Kelley of Roman Catholic Boston College seems able to get by with homegrown talent, and Ned Harkness has the answer to that. "Snooks has the best recruiting system in the country," he says. "Every priest in Boston went to BC, and every parochial-school hockey coach in Boston went to BC. So guess where they send all their good players? To BC, naturally. When Snooks gets finished, there aren't many good players left. Even the other coaches down in Boston, which is the hotbed of hockey in the States, have to go up to Canada for their players. What am I supposed to do?"
So Ned goes up to Canada, recruits his players, brings them down to Cornell, wins games with them, and the people come to watch. This season, when reserved tickets for Cornell's 4,200-seat rink went on sale, anyone not in line by 6:25 a.m. was just out of luck.
The coach himself is a sight worth seeing. He has generally had only a poached egg all day because of his stomach troubles, and he looks very un-Ivy as he stands at rinkside wearing a blue baseball cap tugged down over his ears and a gray coat with CORNELL on the back and HOCKEY STAFF imprinted on the left breast. "What about that?" he yells, pointing out a fancied infraction of the rules to Referee Bob Dupuisas he swings open the gate to direct a line change while play continues. A second later he shuffles nervously behind the bench, almost knocking over one of the Cornell managers, who is carrying two dozen cups of water. Harkness grabs a cup, guzzles once and sprinkles the rest on the floor next to the boards. He guzzles again, and sprays the ice. A Cornell rush proves fruitless, and he squashes the cup and throws it to one side, simultaneously muttering a few profanities. It's time for another line change, and Ned calls the three forwards together for a brief conference. He must have said something right, for Cornell scores almost immediately and eventually wins by five goals.