Like so many who have been social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve Metcalf took a moment to have some fun on Twitter. In this case, the exercise involved listing five jobs a person has had, and then tagging five friends to do likewise. The list from the newly appointed Hockey East commissioner was enlightening.
1. Ice cream scooper;
2. Keg delivery guy;
3. T-shirt salesman;
Wait, what? Bouncer? Was the mild-mannered Metcalf trying to play a joke on his followers? Maybe it was an exercise where he lists four jobs he’s held and one he hasn’t, leaving it up to the reader to guess which one isn’t true.
“The way to approach those kind of jobs is talking to the people, and trying to talk them out of there, but sometimes that didn’t work,” said Metcalf. “They had to be physically escorted out, but the first choice is obviously to talk to them, reason with them, but that’s not always successful. I certainly learned some great skills dealing with the cast of characters that came into that place.”
Those traits served Metcalf well down the road. He returned to UNH for graduate school, earned a master’s degree in 1998, and took a job helping coordinate athletic events. He continued to climb the ladder in the UNH athletic department and was promoted to deputy director of athletics in 2010.
“He’s one of the great connectors that I’ve been around. He’s just somebody that in an understated way just gets things done. I think that’s because people want to work with him,” said Boston University athletic director Drew Marrochello.
Marrochello, as chair of the Hockey East men’s executive committee, led the search for a commissioner after Joe Bertagna announced that the 2019-20 season would be his last on the job. Bertagna was wrapping up a 23-year tenure that had seen the men’s league expand to as many as 12 teams, as well as the formation of a women’s league that now has 10 teams.
In his tenure at Durham, Metcalf served on committees for NCAA Division 1 men’s ice hockey, women’s ice hockey, and skiing, among others. He is the chair for the men’s tournament. Through both the hockey and skiing committees, he worked with Mark Bedics, associate director of media coordination and championships for the NCAA.
“He’s just a great person to be around, the type of person you want to do your best for,” said Bedics, who met Metcalf shortly after starting at the NCAA in 1998.
Bedics said he believes Metcalf’s experience on the different committees has prepared him for this next step.
“I think from a Hockey East standpoint, it was a home run,” said Bedics. “One of the things you have to do as a commissioner is build consensus, which is the same thing you’re doing when you’re on a committee. The biggest thing he does is get people to buy in and see where everybody’s coming from and finding that common ground, which is a huge piece, because he’s not going to be telling the coaches, telling the administrators this is how it’s going to happen, or he won’t last very long.”
Metcalf was born in England and came to the United States when he was a teenager, when his father’s job with an international drug company brought the family to New Jersey. After graduating high school, he enrolled at UNH. He confessed to having no knowledge of college hockey when he arrived as a student, but enjoyed going to games at Snively Arena.
He got a crash course in the sport in his first few years on the job. The women’s team won the sport’s first recognized national championship in 1998 at FleetCenter, and Brandy Fisher won the inaugural Patty Kazmaier Award given to the nation’s best player. The following year, the men’s team advanced to the national championship game in Anaheim, Calif., before falling to Maine. Jason Krog took home the Hobey Baker Award, and Metcalf was hooked.
“Two national championship games and two national players of the year, and I thought, this hockey is pretty good,” Metcalf said with a laugh. “Going to Anaheim and being with that team all through that run, I really came to love and appreciate the Frozen Four almost instantly.”
Metcalf was content working in Durham, having spent the majority of the last 35 years there, but the opportunity to pursue the Hockey East opening was too good to pass up, so he decided to throw his hat in the ring to be the league’s next commissioner.
“I felt like my knowledge of the league, and my relationships throughout our league and throughout the country, I felt like that was a real asset,” said Metcalf.
The search committee agreed.
“I didn’t consider him an internal candidate, but I would say he benefited from knowing the operation — knowing the strengths and weaknesses, knowing the opportunities that exist — he used this to his advantage,” said Marrochello. “We thought he shouldn’t be penalized for knowing some of these things. He certainly did take advantage of his wealth of knowledge.”
Metcalf will have to draw on that familiarity given the present circumstances. He was announced as the new commissioner Feb. 17, and was scheduled to begin his tenure upon completion of the Frozen Four, which would have wrapped up April 11 in Detroit. But the season was halted March 12, just as the conference playoffs were set to begin.
“The timing was extremely unfortunate,” said Metcalf. “If it had hit 10 days later we would have played through the Hockey East championship. Obviously that would have been great with regard to crowning a champion, and we would have been able to host our playoffs and the revenue that goes with that. But I think we’ve done a good job of adjusting.”
Two issues confronting the league are overtime rules and the possibility of adding a 12th team.
Across college hockey, overtime is five minutes. In some conferences, games can end in ties. Others go to shootouts, or a five-minute 3-on-3. Hockey East plays one five-minute session of 5-on-5. Last week, the NCAA men’s and women’s ice hockey rules committee proposed moving directly to the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period. Proposals must be approved by the NCAA playing rules oversight panel, which is scheduled to discuss proposals July 22.
“I know the coaches in our league are in favor of it. Maybe two years ago they weren’t, but now they are, and it seems to be very popular amongst the other conferences,” said Metcalf. “Having something that is the same across all of college hockey I think is really critical, because having different overtime formats in different leagues I just think is something that doesn’t make sense to anyone.”
Since Notre Dame left to join the Big Ten at the end of the 2016-17 season, Hockey East has been operating with 11 teams, which has led to an imbalanced schedule, and a different playoff format. While Metcalf would like to expand, he does not sound like he’s in a rush.
“On the men’s side, we’ve got 11 great institutions. We would only be looking at a 12th team if it was an institution and a program that brought some value to the league,” said Metcalf. “I don’t think it makes sense just for scheduling purposes.”
Notre Dame’s four-year run in the league created its own issues, as the 11 other teams were all in New England. Metcalf acknowledged that geography could be a factor in considering a 12th school.
“It’s perhaps even more important in the current situation. Obviously the economy, and some of the stresses that it has placed on schools and conferences is real,” said Metcalf. “Hockey East is very fortunate because we’re relatively compact geographically, so we can drive to our games. I think that’s a real advantage for our league, that some of the other leagues don’t have.”