I’ve been fairly critical of Hockey East recently. And to be fair, the criticism is legitimate. But for what it is worth, there is a lot of good that Hockey East has done this year, especially given what is happening in the world. In all fairness to the league, I wanted to talk about all of the things where, amidst some of the problems the league encountered, Hockey East has exceeded expectations, creating a good experience for players, staff and fans alike.
1. Broadcast reach was good.
I remember back in the old days of the mid 2010’s when college hockey streaming was a wasteland. So many colleges had their own streaming services, and in order to truly follow the sport, college hockey fans had to throw away hundreds of dollars just to watch games. Realizing the issue, and that there was a profit to be made, leagues moved toward consolidation.
Hockey East has partnered with ViacomCBS to broadcast its games. And this year, games that were on NESN were included for people outside of New England. For those of us outside of the New England bubble, that was huge. For schools like BC, BU and Northeastern who profess to have a national reach, having a footprint outside of New England is key, and Hockey East truly provided every game from every team in the league on the service.
It was not without bugs—nothing in the viewing experience is more frustrating than watching a hockey game with no commentary, or even without ambient sound —and due to some unnamed legal issues, that came up during NESN games. With that said, this is the best that streaming has been in a while. I’d like to see Hockey East try to get on a national network of some sort, but this is a very good place to build off for the league office.
[Editor’s note: Please provide me all games without commentary so I don’t have to listen to non-BC commentators.]
2. Accessibility, When It Came To Non-HEPI Stuff, Was Actually Good This Year
I’ve written a lot about the league’s vexing reticence to release the HEPI formula. There is no need to go more into that. But once you get past that, Hockey East has made itself more accessible in a variety of ways.
The league is a lot more visible on Twitter. Anyone who follows Hockey East has been following now Associate Commissioner Brian Smith, but now Steve Metcalf, the commissioner of the league, has a Twitter @hecommish, and while his tweets can only be described as inclusive, creative and strategic (which led to one of the best Twitter trolls in recent memory), that’s an improvement from the last administration. Metcalf does tweet, too! Metcalf has also done a number of media appearances this year, more than I remember Joe Bertagana doing.
Nothing will make up for how ridiculous the HEPI fiasco became, but accessibility has become a lot better in other facets. Hockey East is explaining officials’ calls on the ice, Brian Smith brought some clarity to HEPI before the last weekend. This is all really good, and Hockey East should try to build on it.
3. Hockey East, For Better Or Worse, Played A Full Regular-Season In The Midst Of A Brutal Global Pandemic
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t think we would get this far in the college hockey season. The fact that we have is a credit to the hard work in the league office and across the league to get to this point.
It was not without hiccups, and clearly there were issues with players getting COVID, which is something that shouldn’t just be accepted as a matter of course. But, here we are in mid-March. Every team played enough games to have a proper body of work for evaluation. For all of the issues with HEPI’s transparency, the standings seem pretty ok, shaking out about how they should be. That doesn’t excuse the lack of transparency with HEPI, and if HEPI is ever used again the first priority for the league should be releasing the formula, but it feels like the league dodged a major crisis of legitimacy.
Look, this was always going to be an imperfect season. Granted, a lot of Hockey East’s errors were self inflicted. But it got to the end of the season with things intact, and that’s not a small accomplishment, and there are a number of people who deserve some credit.
4. Hockey East Is A Damn Women’s Hockey Power
Say what you will about the NCAA bracket this year, and a lot can be said, but the fact remains that Hockey East got three teams into the tournament. Northeastern, in my eyes is the best team in the country until something proves otherwise. BC has been a perennial power. And Providence… apparently is a thing now!
The bracket this year is not without its criticisms from The State Of Hockey©®™, but for all of the gnashing of teeth, Hockey East fairly has three teams in the tournament. That’s not a this year thing per se, this has been a long time coming and comes from a lot of hard work from a lot of people throughout the league, but this year feels like a culmination of that hard work. We’ve always known that Hockey East had some pretty good programs, and this year, albeit with a significantly weakened ECAC, Hockey East has had a watershed moment.
Now, will Hockey East be able to maintain its success? Probably not. COVID has made for an unusual year, and this bracket is a reflection of that. Once the Ivies and their ilk come back to the ice next year, the dynamic of the tournament will change. For what it’s worth, once we get back to actually using Pairwise this type of thing probably won’t be able to happen again. But this year Hockey East took its rightful place amongst the nation’s best women’s hockey conferences. That is a credit to how far the league has come in that front, and I’m excited to see what’s ahead.