ECAC Hockey pride (with NCAA final pick)
Sportswriters are, 99.9 percent of the time, are supposed to be neutral. No cheering in the press box, no complaining about an official's call. You're just there covering the game, writing what you see, getting postgame reaction and writing about it (or, in this day and age, blogging about it or editing video).
But as the third period of second Frozen Four semifinal wound down Thursday night, I felt enormous pride for ECAC Hockey. After 23 years of being chastised by college hockey fans for being a supposed push-over league who could never beat the alleged big boys, which spawned the nickname "EZAC," ECACH will have not one, but two teams battling for the NCAA hockey title Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
New Haven-area neighbors Quinnipiac and Yale will face off for the championship. Yale beat UMass Lowell, 3-2, in overtime in the first semifinal, while Quinnipiac scored three times in the first period of the second semifinal and rolled to a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State.
The victories ended two long streaks for the ECACH. It's the first time that an ECACH reached the final since 1990, when Colgate lost to Wisconsin, 7-3. More importantly, the league will have its first NCAA champion since 1989, when Harvard beat Minnesota, 4-3, in overtime.
I will admit that the league has had its issues on the national stage. The league when nine years between Frozen Four appearances, when Union ended that drought last year. The other leagues -- CCHA, Hockey East and WCHA -- were always sending teams to the Frozen Four. In 2005, the WCHA had a monopoly on the Frozen Four.
But the people who follow the ECACH knew it was only a matter of time before the league was going to emerge from its doldrums. Yale has been a strong team for several years since Keith Allain took over as coach. Union has been rising, first under Nate Leaman and now under Rick Bennett. Up until this season, Cornell has been consistent. Quinnipiac has had the resources to be a dominate team since it entered the league in 2004, and it finally manifested itself this season. RPI seems to be a team on the rise.
Still, there are naysayers out there, particularly out West. I have been getting Tweets from Minnesota and WCHA fans, especially after Quinnipiac became the top-ranked team in the country, that ECACH teams play a weak schedule. Unfortunately, ECACH teams don't have the luxury of playing a 27- to 28-game league schedule because the six Ivy League schools are only allowed to play 29 regular-season games, five less than the six non-Ivys.
Then there is the non-conference schedule. If the naysayers want ECACH teams to have a stronger schedule, then have schools like Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin start playing games against ECACH teams in ECACH barns. Stop hiding out at home and come to places like RPI, Union, Quinnipiac, Yale, Brown, etc. Heck, if you come to Union, I'll take you on a tour on some of the places in Schenectady where "The Place Beyond the Pines" was filmed.
Even during Thursday's games, some of the Western hockey fans still weren't giving the ECACH its due. That's just pure selfishness.
I have had my issues with the ECACH. But I can tell you this, in the 22 years I have been covering this league, I have never been more proud of it. To see one league team reach the final is amazing. To have an all-ECACH battle for the NCAA title is something I never could have envisioned.
Quinnipiac 3, Yale 2