October 12, 2011

ECAC Hockey Journal: Opportunity trumps loyalty

By Dan Guttenplan

When three ECAC Hockey teams qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, it brought hope to the idea that the conference would become more respectable in the eyes of college hockey enthusiasts. 

But an offseason of coaching changes in the ECAC has brought us back to a harsh reality: The ECAC will always be a stepping stone on the career path of opportunistic coaches.

New Clarkson coach Casey Jones directs a recent practice. (photo: Clarkson Athletics)

New Clarkson coach Casey Jones directs a recent practice. (photo: Clarkson Athletics)

We saw evidence of this when reigning Division 1 Coach of the Year Nate Leaman left Union College to take over the head position at Providence College. Leaman couldn't be blamed for leaving Union, a program he’d built into a national contender, for his dream job as coach of a Hockey East team.

However, Leaman may have shown better appreciation for the opportunity Union gave him to be a head coach in 2003 by not steering a former Union commit, goalie Julien Laplante, to his new landing spot in Providence. After all, the Friars already had a three-year starter, Alex Beaudry, prepared to return for his senior season.

At Princeton, Guy Gadowsky also left for what he feels will be greener pastures at Penn State. Again, it was a case of an ECAC coach leaving for a head position in a larger conference. No hard feelings, I suppose.

However, one could argue that Princeton made a backdoor hire in former St. Lawrence assistant Bob Prier. Prier had been earmarked by St. Lawrence to replace current coach Joe Marsh (Lynn, Mass.), who missed games last season due to illness. Marsh may not be ready to move over this season, but he has said he won't be long for the job.

Is it bad form to hire an assistant within the same conference who has been earmarked as the next head coach at his current stop? Tough to say, but Princeton appears to have learned it's kill or be killed in ECAC Hockey.

At Clarkson, George Roll was left to twist in the wind for six weeks last spring following his third losing season in a row. It seemed that Clarkson lined up former assistant Casey Jones, an assistant at Cornell, to be the team's next coach once the Big Red's season finished.

From Clarkson's perspective, it seemed the school was only prepared to fire Roll if Jones, a former Clarkson assistant, was available. Still, that didn't do much for Roll, who didn't have a lot of coaching options in late April, as the typical NCAA coaching hiring period had passed.

Perhaps the one ECAC school that can say it did right by its own employees is Union. After losing Leaman, Union promoted from within, giving assistant Rick Bennett the head job. The team should be stacked again, and Bennett appears to have a school and administration ready to invest in him for the long haul.

If anything, we've learned a mutual feeling of loyalty between a coach and a university is rare in college athletics.

Game of the Week

Canisius at Quinnipiac, Saturday and Sunday

With the Ivy League teams not yet starting, it’s a light weekend in ECAC Hockey. But fans will be anxious to see Quinnipiac in its first home games after an impressive start to the season.

Last weekend, Quinnipiac (1-1) split a weekend road series with Ohio State, outshooting the Buckeyes both nights. It received a spark from junior Jeremy Langlois, who netted two goals in the second game, a 4-3 Quinnipiac win. Quinnipiac's twins, Connor and Kellen Jones, accounted for a goal and two assists in Sunday's win.

Canisius, out of Atlantic Hockey, was 13-19-6 last season, its fourth losing campaign in the last five years. The Golden Griffins were 0-1-1 against Quinnipiac in a January weekend series at home last
season.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.