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TUESDAY @ THE RINK WITH JOE BERTAGNA

Welcome to CollegeSports.com and USCHO's "Tuesday At The Rink" series of moderated chats.

This week is special, as Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna kicks off a tripleheader at 2:00 p.m. ET. He is followed by USCHO Hockey East columnist Dave Hendrickson at 3:00 p.m. ET and CSTV's Mike Emrick at 4:00 p.m. ET. Come for one, stay for all!


At The Rink


One of the most respected college hockey leaders in the country, Joe Bertagna is in his 23rd season as a Division I college hockey administrator. He became the fourth Commissioner in Hockey East history on July, 1, 1997, after serving 15 years with the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

Nationally, Bertagna has served as the Executive Director of the American Hockey Coaches Association since 1991. In that role, he has overseen the growth of AHCA membership from just under 300 members in 1992 to over 1,300 members today. He also served a four-year term on the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee, the final two years as chairman.

The 1973 Harvard graduate has enjoyed a fruitful playing and coaching career. After starring in goal at Arlington (MA) High School, Bertagna went on to Harvard University and played for Hall of Fame coaches Ralph "Cooney" Weiland and Bill Cleary. He started every game in goal during the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons, leading the Ivy League with a 2.45 GAA in 1972.

He has authored a number of instructional books and videos on goaltending and edited "Crimson in Triumph", a book dedicated to Harvard athletic history. His creative skills have also led him into video production, freelance writing and producing highlight tapes for Harvard University and the Boston Bruins. He has continued to contribute to the college hockey community as a freelance writer and television commentator.

Joe won't be joining us until Tuesday, February 8 at 2:00 p.m. ET - but feel free to leave him a question in advance.

CollegeSports.com Moderator: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another edition of Tuesday @ The Rink. We have a tripleheader this afternoon. Kicking it off is Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna.
Joe Bertagna: Hi. I'm happy to be here to answer your questions.

Al (Middlebury): What was the process by which you added Vermont to HE? Did you consider any other schools?
Joe Bertagna: Vermont came to us with an inquiry. From that point, we first discussed the situation internally and then invited them to make a presentation. After they were offered a spot and accepted, we really did not discuss any other schools.

Al (Smithfield,RI): Hi Joe, Please share the league's thoughts about what Vermont's addition will do to scheduling of confernece and non-conference games. Will teams continue to play each other three times or will something different be put in place (two games, unbalanced schedule, etc.)? Thanks.
Joe Bertagna: We will stay with three games each. And we will stay with an 8-team tournament for now. This gives our schools 27 games in the league, instead of 24. And it adds the second longest trip, after Maine. That will necessitate often scheduling two games up there, like we do with Maine. But in the larger scheme of things, neither of those trips are really all that "long."

Lou (Burlington): What do you think the Cats will bring to Hockey East next year?
Joe Bertagna: Judging from this year's success, another playoff contender, another hot goalie (Fallon), another full building, another group of fans that really love their home team and, I hope, a group that will travel well, regular season and playoffs.

Lynn, MA: With the addition of Vermont, I am assuming that Hockey East will have five games being played each weekend next season. That will necessitate a fifth set of officials. Where will they come from? Other college leagues, high school and prep leagues?
Joe Bertagna: We have felt the need to add officials anyway, even if we stayed at 9 teams. We have more than 5 head refs and five sets of assistants already. But you are right. The need for more officials is underscored by this. We have been assigning some of our linesmen to Atlantic games and to the Eastern Junior League. We have some ready to move up and others who have had a limited schedule will get their schedule expanded.

Gary (Warwick, RI): Picking up on your answer, can you envision a scenario where Hockey East would grow any further?
Joe Bertagna: While we haven't discussed any specific schools, we have discussed growth as a concept. The consensus seems to be the following: 1) We would never expand just for the sake of expanding. A school would really have to bring something of value to improve our league. 2) We think 12 is likely the maximum number, playing a home and home schedule, much like the ECACHL does now.

Eddie (Smithfield): What do you know about schools like URI, Navy or Syracuse considering D-I hockey?
Joe Bertagna: Of those three, I haven't heard anything about Syracuse. But geographically, they would certainly be attractive. URI is a club program coached by former BC defenseman Joe Augustine and Navy's AD is former BC AD Chet Gladchuk. I've heard the usual rumors but nothing imminent. Both would be attractive. URI, as a New England state school, fits our profile more readily. Navy might be attracted to the Atlantic, with Army there now and USAF always a possibility. Both programs have merit and potential.

Jay (Dover): The Hockey East schools all have rinks that are very nice and have a lot of character. The only facility that lacks is Merrimack and Providence is OK. Does Merrimack have plans to improve their rink?
Joe Bertagna: Yes. Very much so. They have already completed the first two phases, participant areas and lobby. They have moved the fund raising out of an independent drive and into the school's regular campaign. It will happen.

Jeff (Boston): Do you like BU's new building? Are you worried it is too commercial?
Joe Bertagna: That's a good question, Jeff. Certainly I like it. It is spectacular. But I do worry a little that with each new building, the marketing and financial picture changes. So far, our buildings have done a good job at meeting their financial pressures without going overboard with promotions. But your question reflects some of my concerns going forward.

Denny (Brighton): What's the craziest rink you have ever been in?
Joe Bertagna: "Craziest?" Hmmmm. I once played in Sioux City, Iowa where the team benches ran perpendicular to the ice and were on ramps. I think they used the place for cattle shows. Guys would yell for a wing coming off the ice, the gate would open and their momentum would take them down the ramp. Back-up goalies sat in the stands.

JK1977: What is the biggest challenge facing college hockey right now? Is there anything unique to Hockey East that you are addressing?
Joe Bertagna: Well, we are all balancing marketing issues without compromising the game. There is more TV than ever, which is good. But with TV comes things like TV timeouts. They have gotten longer and impacted the game. So with growth comes issues. We are trying to get the game called tighter and more consistently. We are trying to eliminate diving and other deceptive practices. And we'd like to see more schools start or add hockey. But sometimes NCAA legislation impedes that.

Douglas (Utica): Has the NHL lockout helped college hockey? Are there schools that have benefitted more than others?
Joe Bertagna: I don't think it has made that much of a difference, at least now where I am, here in Boston. We will probably sell a few more tickets come March at our tournament, but we didn't have that many more to sell. It has given the Atlantic League a great opportunity like their double header in The FleetCenter this Saturday. But in New England, where there is still a lot of AHL hockey, I think the pro crowd and the college crowd are two different groups. There have been a few sponsor dollars loosened that might not have been there. But not huge dollars.

Pat South Lyon, MI: Joe...LOVE your color coded article a lot but love your (and the other commissioners) efforts to stop the wrestling even more. Any chance Olympic ice sheet will become mandatory in College Hockey anytime soon?
Joe Bertagna: I doubt it. Financial issues like that usually are not legislated or mandated. And I know of some schools with large sheets that wish they had a smaller surface. Given the size of the players these days, I personally would love to see a somewhat larger sheet.

Sean (Boston): Do you think Beanpot still has the same stature that it did in the Garden?
Joe Bertagna: Not right now but that will dissolve in time. The FleetCenter is a great place but it hasn't had the time, or success among its pro tenants, to hold the same aura or the same bank of memories. It's kind of unfair to compare it to the quirky building that gave us Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, et al. Give it time. I'm sure it was special enough for the 80+ players who skated there last night.

Dave (Brewer, ME): Just noticed that in addition to Northeastern and BU playing in the Beanpot Final, they still have all three league games to complete. Isn't this unusual scheduling?
Joe Bertagna: Yes, that's unusual. Sometimes my original schedule separates those games and the two teams move one of them.

Roy (Cambridge): What makes BU own the Beanpot?
Joe Bertagna: Well, since the players change, I'd suggest the head coach probably has something to do with it. And there is something to believing in yourself in certain circumstances. The only experience I have ever had to equate it to was back in high school. I played for a town that was very successful and when we got to the tournament, we just thought we were supposed to succeed. And we often did even when we had inferior talent. Believing something is your destiny, and really believing it, is a powerful force.

Joe (Cambridge): Might any action be taken to cancel the men's Beanpot consolation game and include the women's Beanpot championship in it's place?
Joe Bertagna: I know it's being discussed. I'm a big backer of women's hockey but I personally have never embraced this particular idea. I think there are logistic issues. OT's, TV, etc.

Dean (Milton): Do you worry about programs that are non-competitive over a number of years? Is there anything a conference does about it?
Joe Bertagna: Almost every conference has a pecking order of perennially strong schools and those who have to work harder to be at or near the top. It is not ideal but it is life. The conference relationship to schools is tricky. The ADs can vote standards and create policy. But in the end, the schools have to make decisions based on their philosophy, mission statements, and, more directly, available resources.

Ryan (Dracut): How surprised are you to see Lowell currently ahead of everyone but BC in Hockey East as far as the Pairwise Rankings go?
Joe Bertagna: The PWR still remain a bit of a mystery to me but this is a school that has, what, one loss since Nov. 20? And no seniors playing some nights? I think we might want to get used to seeing them up that high.

Fredbird 22: Do you think college graduates in the NHL should do more to help support their teams and their programs?
Joe Bertagna: I guess I'd cut them a little slack if their gifts are smaller this year. But seriously, I would hope they would recognize the role the college and the coaches played in their development. In my experience, most do and are generous.

Scott (Providence, RI): Which of the Hockey East goalies do you think have an NHL future?
Joe Bertagna: Jimmy Howard, definitely. Keni Gibson is having a great year but his size gives him very little margin of error. Every school has solid goaltending. You have to be pretty special to start talking of "an NHL future."

Jim (East Lansing): Do you think the rules changes are working? What revisions do you think need to be made?
Joe Bertagna: For all the attention our "initiative" has garnered, it was really not a change of rules but an attempt to identify a very limited number of specific situations (three) and call them according to the actual intent of the rule book. That it has become such an issue says volumes about where we have let the game go. Should it really be so shocking that we want illegal actions actually called? As for going forward, I think we have to stay on this track and continue to change the culture vis-a-vis calling penalties.

Danny D.: Is there a phase 2 of the rules enforcement planned?
Joe Bertagna: The "Meeting Season" begins at the Frozen Four, continues to the Coaches' Convention in Naples, FL in late April and then ends up at the NCAA Office in June. At these venues, we will look back and look ahead and hopefully identify new areas to tackle.

Ed (Manchester): One of your comments about reactions to officiating last week was that complaints about a call being bad at a certain point in the game imply that the "Let Them Play" mentality should take over late in games. Can't it also mean that the penalty in question wasn't being called earlier in the game, and that that's a bad time to *start* calling it?
Joe Bertagna: I personally have a problem with the whole concept of changing standards. I think what you call in the first period should be called in the second, in the third, and in OT. I don't care if puts a team down 5 on 3 or it's the fifth in a row on Team X. Set the standard. Call it. Always.

Ryan (Dracut): I was wondering by what protocol the league makes corrections/apologies for errors made in officiating during games. For example, the league was quick to apologize to UMass after Lowell scored a goal off a questionable faceoff on 1/07 and Lowell went on to win 4-3. However, I have been to several games this year featuring teams other than the one I root for where an offsides or icing was not called and eventually led to goals. In these instances, no apologies were issued. What, then, made that goal in the UML/UMA game so egregious that it demanded an immediate apology?
Joe Bertagna: Good question, Ryan. In 23 years as a conference official, I probably haven't publicly acknowledged a ref's mistake more than a handful of times. Obviously, I've seen mistakes more often. That situation, I thought, was egregious and handed a goal to Lowell in what ended up as a one goal loss for UMass. I think the officials' jobs are tough enough without a commissioner throwing them under the bus on a regular basis. But in some cases, just as coaches and players are held accountable, so too should the refs. Division I hockey brings a bigger paycheck but also more TV, more replays, more scrutiny. You have to take the bad with the good.

Will (Boston): Who would you say are the Hobey Baker candidates from Hockey East?
Joe Bertagna: At the risk of offending 250 other players.....Patrick Eaves, Ben Walter, Bryan Schmidt, Ryan Shannon, Sean Collins, Andrew Alberts, and all 27 goalies.
CollegeSports.com Moderator: That is all we have time for with Joe.
Joe Bertagna: Thanks for all the questions. I wish we had more time. I was really getting into it. I look forward to doing it again.
CollegeSports.com Moderator: If we didn't get to your question, feel free to submit it for our next chat, which will start momentarily with USCHO Hockey East columnist Dave Hendrickson.

 
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