There was a sense of panic for Stu Haskell.
When he was the athletic director at the University of Maine, he had to miss the annual athletic directors meeting in San Diego in 1983 due to budgetary constraints.
After the meeting, he found out that because the Ivy League schools decided to form their own Division I hockey league under the ECAC umbrella, the athletic directors at Boston College, Providence College, Boston University, New Hampshire and Northeastern announced they were going to create their own league beginning in the 1984-85 season.
“I was stunned by the announcement,” recalled Haskell. “There were doubts and concerns in my mind about what would happen to (Maine). I contacted (Providence AD) Lou Lamoriello and (UNH AD) Andy Mooradian and they told me what I needed to do was come down next week and see the ADs at the five campuses.”
Haskell did just that and found the athletic directors to be receptive to allowing Maine into the league.
“The following week, they met in Providence and I got a call saying we were in,” said Haskell. “That gave me a big sigh of relief. The Ivy League schools weren’t going to take Maine. I didn’t know where we would be.”
Five years later, Haskell became Hockey East’s third commissioner and he served in that capacity for five years. He was also serving as the commissioner of ECAC North which has evolved into America East.
Haskell will be honored with the prestigious Founders Medal from Hockey East before Friday’s game between Maine and Vermont in Orono. Former Merrimack College athletic director and Hockey East commissioner Bob DeGregorio and former supervisor of officials Brendan Sheehy will receive Founders Medals before Saturday’s New Hampshire-Merrimack game in North Andover, Mass.
“I feel honored,” said the 77-year-old Haskell, who was born in Lincoln and graduated from Houlton High School.
Haskell said being the Hockey East commissioner was “a lot of fun.
“Having Nonni Daly handle the publicity work and organize the tournament was a godsend. I never would have made it five years without her. She was terrific,” said Haskell, who resigned in 1993 because America East had blossomed into a 21-sport conference and required his full-time attention.
He said one of his proudest moments as the Hockey East commissioner was “throwing my support behind bringing Merrimack and UMass into the league.”
Merrimack came into the league for the 1989-90 season and UMass was approved as the league’s ninth member on March 23, 1993, and joined the league for the 1994-95 season.
His final year as commissioner was capped by the University of Maine becoming the league’s first NCAA titlist in 1993, going 42-1-2 and being led by the only freshman Hobey Baker Award winner to date: Paul Kariya.
“It was a great thrill being out there (in Milwaukee at the Frozen Four),” said Haskell. “You got to participate in all the great activities surrounding the national championship. That was nice.”
One of his other fond memories was the meetings with the commissioners of the other three major conferences: WCHA, CCHA and the ECAC.
“Those were great meetings. For me, they were a great learning experience. The other commissioners were tremendous people,” said Haskell.
He also recalled the one major failure during his tenure.
“At one of the commissioners’ meetings, I suggested that we have a preseason tournament involving the four defending tournament champions,” said Haskell, who got the idea from the preseason NIT basketball tournament. “And we were going to have it in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
“We set up a meeting with the people at ESPN and it turned out to be a resounding defeat for us,” said Haskell. “The ESPN people said nobody would watch it. They wanted us to pay them $60,000 per game to televise them. That put us back on our heels.”
It never came to fruition.
“I still think it’s a great idea. I think they could do something like that today,” said Haskell.
Haskell, who retired in 1997, has enjoyed watching Hockey East rise to prominence including producing last three national champions.
“We have great coaches in the league and great coaches recruit great players,” said Haskell. “You aren’t going to be successful unless you have the best talent.”
Since his retirement, Haskell has written The Maine Book, a book covering Maine athletics from 1881-2007.
Haskell and his wife, Gloria, have four children and six grandchildren.