Opening Faceoff: ECAC Hockey Commissioner Hagwell reflects on his career

ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell, left, presents former Union men's hockey head coach Rick Bennett with the ECAC Coach of the Year trophy in Lake Placid on March 17, 2017.

ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell, left, presents former Union men's hockey head coach Rick Bennett with the ECAC Coach of the Year trophy in Lake Placid on March 17, 2017.

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OPENING FACEOFF – On Dec. 22, ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell announced that he was retiring at the end of this season.

The announcement caught me by surprise, and I may have not been the only one. Hagwell is the fourth commissioner I have dealt with since I started covering Union College hockey in 1991, and I can say he has been a pleasure to deal with, whether it’s been a positive story or if I needed to be critical of a decision he made.

Ken Schott - Opening FaceoffAfter working with the NCAA, Hagwell, 60, joined the ECAC in 1999 as assistant commissioner under commissioner Phil Buttafuoco. At that time, the hockey league was part of an ECAC that ran Division II and Division III sports.

In 2004, the 12 hockey teams split to form the ECAC Hockey League — it was shortened to ECAC Hockey a couple years later, and Hagwell became the commissioner.

The conference hit its stride in the 2010s, winning five national championships — two for the men (Yale in 2013 and Union in 2014), and three for the Clarkson women in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Yale’s win in 2013 came against New Haven, Connecticut-rival Quinnipiac, which guaranteed the ECACH’s first NCAA title since 1989, won by Harvard.

Hagwell oversaw the return of the ECACH men’s tournament to Lake Placid in 2014. The tournament was first played there from 1993-2002 before moving to Albany (2003-10) and Atlantic City, New Jersey (2011-13).

I spoke with Hagwell on Wednesday about his impending retirement and his time leading the ECACH. The answers are lightly edited for clarity.

Q: What led you to this decision to retire?

A: I’ve been thinking about it for a while. My wife’s brother passed away this summer. He was going to be 63. My father passed away in his mid-60s. And the landscape is changing. It’s a combination [of things]. And I’m a dinosaur. I know it, and in some ways, that’s who I am. It’s just time for me to step out and hand over the reins to someone else who can lead this league to greater heights.

Q: About the landscape changing, what do you mean by that?

A: The NCAA is going through a huge restructuring, and college athletics is different, and not in a bad way. It just is. I grew up in the NCAA environment and was fortunate to spend some time there before my current role. Time flies, and here I am. I just turned 60 in September, and it’s time. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Q: What did you like about the job?

A: I love the people. It’s been the best part, far and away. If you take the people out of it, it’s just a desk job and I’m pushing paper. It’s always been the people, the administrators, the coaches, the student-athletes, staff, volunteers, the fans.

Q: You got the conference tournament back to Lake Placid in 2014 after a 12-year absence. How important was that?

A: It’s the only place that this league should be. And if that would have happen with the women, as well, down the road, I’m a huge advocate for Lake Placid. I will admit that being a Michigan guy and the first time I was on the Cape [Cod] and traveled to Lake Placid, I was like, “Oh my gosh, where is this place?” It was a little bit of a ride from Centerville, [Massachusetts]. I say that [Lake Placid is] magical, which may sound a little corny, but there’s just something about it. I love Lake Placid and will always be a huge advocate. I think it’s definitely the home for this league.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: The entire league. I’ve never looked at it that way. It’s not about me. I’ve been blessed and privileged and honored to be in this role. Sometimes I wonder, “Gosh, I don’t deserve to be in this role, but I’m in it.” I guess what I’m most proud of is the relationships I have with everybody in this league. The administrators and coaches treat me better than I deserve. I’ve met so many good friends and colleagues and people that I interact with. That’s been the best part for me and will always be the best part for me.

You can hear my entire interview with Hagwell on “The Parting Schotts Podcast.” The latest edition also features interviews with Union’s Ben Tupker and Cornell’s Zach Tupker as the twins prepared to play against each other for the first time. I also preview the Union women’s hockey team’s weekend at Cornell and Colgate.


There is more to Friday’s ECAC Hockey matchup between Cornell and Union, even more than the Tupker twins facing each other as opponents for the first time.

The game marks the return of former Dutchmen forward Gabriel Seger to Messa Rink. Seger spent three years at Union, playing in 71 games in two seasons — the Dutchmen didn’t play in 2020-21 because of the COVID pandemic. He had 14 goals and 29 assists in those two seasons.

Seger entered the transfer portal after last season and joined Cornell. He leads the Big Red in scoring with two goals and eight assists in 12 games.

Seger declined an interview request ahead of this week’s matchup with Union.

Cornell head coach Mike Schafer is pleased with Seger’s performance.

“Gabe has done a great job,” Schafer said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “He suffered an injury early on, and it really hampered him, I thought, the first half of the season. He played through it and had to sit some games out with it.

“He’s been awesome for us on the power play. He created a lot of offense this past weekend [against AIC]. He’s probably one of the better power-play guys I’ve seen and coached in a while.”


Union women’s hockey freshman defenseman Stephanie Bourque was named ECACH Rookie of the Week on Thursday.

Bourque had a goal and three assists in Monday’s 6-1 non-conference victory over Saint Michael’s.

The Dutchwomen return to ECACH play this weekend with games at 10th-ranked Cornell on Friday and at sixth-ranked Colgate on Saturday.


After a few weeks off, here are my latest ECAC Hockey men’s power rankings.

1. Quinnipiac — The Bobcats keep rolling along.

2. Harvard — The Crimson suffered a tough overtime loss to Boston U. last Friday, but got a nice bounce-back win Sunday against Northeastern.

3. Clarkson — The Golden Knights won the Kwik Trip Face Off tournament title at Wisconsin. They had an impressive 6-3 win over UMass in the semifinals. They scored the final six goals of the game.

4. Colgate In case you haven’t noticed, the Raiders are tied for third with Cornell.

5. Cornell — The Big Red had a couple of interesting games against AIC last weekend.

6. Princeton — The Tigers got a split last weekend at Colorado College.

7. Union — I’m still trying to figure out how the Dutchmen swept New Hampshire last weekend while getting badly outshot and outplayed for most of those games.

8. St. Lawrence — The Saints split a two-game series at Omaha.

9. RPI — The Engineers have lost four straight and five of their last six.

10. Dartmouth — The Big Green gave Merrimack all it could handle in their Ledyard Bank Classic semifinal game before falling in overtime.

11. Brown — The Bears have been shut out in their last two games.

12. Yale — The Bulldogs scored a season-high five goals against Army West Point on Monday.

Contact Ken Schott by email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @slapschotts.

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