I’m reminded of a very old sketch, I believe on Saturday Night Live, about a mall that was getting so little business that the barbers from all the hair salons had little choice but to sit around giving each other trims and shooting the breeze all day.
That’s pretty much ECAC Hockey now, after the six Ivy League schools that make up half the conference were told by the Ivy Presidents Council on Thursday that all winter sports were canceled, leaving the six other teams with the prospect of maybe playing each other … a lot.
The ECACH’s response — commissioner Steve Hagwell didn’t return calls on Thursday — was a two-paragraph statement on Friday saying they respect the decision, and that “ECAC Hockey is committed to conducting a season in 2020-21 with those institutions that are able to play, and continues to work with staff at member institutions on the best path forward. Details on the plan for returning to play will follow in the coming days.”
So, it’s a go. Sort of. Maybe. Whatever the plan is, it will be revealed well after the rest of the college hockey conferences have not only come up with schedules, but even begun to play (Notre Dame hosted Wisconsin in a Big Ten game on Friday).
The ECACH didn’t have any choice but to wait, since, unlike the other Division I conferences, the Ivy component was hanging over whatever schedule the ECACH settled on. Based on how the Ivy League was on the front edge of shutdowns in the spring, Thursday’s announcement came as no surprise.
“If you’re going by the spring, then no,” Union head coach Rick Bennett said on Friday. “To sit here and say it’s a total shock, no, I’m not. If you’re trying to read between the lines, it was evident.”
So the next question is how many teams and games will constitute the trimmed-down ECACH, especially since there’s reason to doubt whether RPI will be among them. I don’t believe Union should necessarily be considered out of the cancellation woods, either, despite the fact that the Dutchmen have been participating in full team practices, albeit with no-contact, physical-distancing limitations.
Although teams have been lining up potential non-conference games, a meaningful ECACH schedule would entail the teams playing each other more than the usual single home-and-home.
RPI has already operated independently — and ahead of — the conference this year.
The Engineers had a breakout 2019-20 season and were poised for an interesting playoff run, but after Harvard and Yale pulled out of the postseason at the quarterfinal level in March out of caution because of the COVID-19 pandemic, RPI followed suit. Then the ECACH canceled the rest of the playoffs.
So there is precedent that RPI could make a similar move now, which would leave the ECACH with just five teams for 2020-21.
It isn’t a stretch to connect the potential for an RPI shutdown with a tweeted report on Thursday from Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that RPI’s star goalie, Owen Savory, had put his name in the NCAA transfer portal. On Thursday, RPI head coach Dave Smith declined to confirm that Savory was in the portal.
Savory has been vital to the Engineers’ turnaround and by all accounts loves to be at RPI, but one impediment to deciding to transfer — facing accusations of disloyalty and letting the team down — doesn’t really apply here, considering the circumstances of the pandemic. If the Engineers are worried about the season being canceled, perhaps Savory isn’t the only one thinking about leaving, even if it’s an awkward time on the hockey calendar to get into the transfer process.
Bennett said none of his players are in the transfer portal. Based on the ECACH statement, he’s optimistic that a conference schedule is forthcoming.
“I like to think so. There’s only six [teams] left. I’m not a math major, but that I do know, and who knows from there. Like I said, you don’t know. You’ve got to adjust as a program to what the ECAC puts out.”
The pandemic continues to make its relentless march. On Friday alone:
— The Siena men’s basketball team put all team activities on pause after two positive tests among Tier 1 personnel, which includes coaches, players, team managers and staff.
— Section II pushed the start of some winter high school sports back from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14, while “high-risk” sports will need approval from the state Dept. of Health to start on that date.
— One of the opponents Union has lined up, Army at Messa Rink on Dec. 28, announced that it was postponing its season opener against LIU on Saturday and next Friday’s game against Holy Cross after some COVID-19 positives in the program.
Throw in the general COVID-19 surge nation-wide, and it’s natural to be pessimistic that there will be college hockey in the Capital Region this season.
Goalies always say you have to have a short memory, but the coronavirus just keeps hitting the back of the net.