Nevin D. "Ned" Harkness (b. September 19, 1921, Ottawa, Ontario) was one of the pioneers not only of collegiate hockey but of the game of hockey in general in the United States. During his illustrious coaching career, Harkness won three NCAA championships and firmly established programs at Rensselaer, Cornell, and Union.
Early Years[edit | edit source]
Harkness grew up in Ontario, but before coming of age, his family moved to the Glens Falls region north of Albany, NY. He graduated from the Worcester Academy in 1939. In 1941, Harkness became a volunteer coach for a group of students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy who were interested in forming a lacrosse club. Through that year and the next, the team practiced and scrimmaged with Harkness leading the way, eventually playing games against four varsity programs. World War II led to the disbanding of the team, but when the school formally established a varsity lacrosse program in 1945, Harkness was asked to become its first coach.
Within a year of its establishment, Ned Harkness had Rensselaer ranked among the best lacrosse teams in the country. In 1948, he took the team to the Olympic Games in London, England, where the team would tie the British All-Star team before 60,000 at Wembley Stadium while amassing an 8-0-1 record in nine games played in England.
Reviving RPI Hockey[edit | edit source]
Following World War II, RPI President Livingston Houston began looking for a way to re-establish hockey at the Institute, and Harkness was willing to lend his assistance. After the construction of the RPI Field House was completed in late 1949, the team began play under Harkness in January 1950.
After leading the team to a 4-6-0 record in its first year, Harkness helped form the Tri-State League, which would become the first attempt at league organization of college hockey in the east. Later that year, Harkness devised the RPI Holiday Tournament, which has taken place every year since 1951, making it the oldest in-season tournament in the nation.
Harkness coached both hockey and lacrosse at Rensselaer throughout most of the 1950s and continued coaching hockey into the 1960s. In 1952, while continuing to establish a serious hockey program, he coached the lacrosse team to an undefeated record and the national lacrosse championship, which predated the NCAA.
That same year, Harkness led the hockey team to its first Tri-State title with a 15-3 overall record, though the title was later revoked when the team was found to be using an ineligble player.
The team continued to improve rapidly on the ice under Harkness' guidance. In 1953, the team won its first official Tri-State championship and was invited to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, winning third place. The next season, Harkness guided RPI to an 18-5 overall record, a second straight Tri-State title, and a second straight trip to Colorado Springs for the NCAA Tournament. Though heavy underdogs, Harkness and his team upset traditional powerhouses Michigan and Minnesota to win the 1954 NCAA Championship.
Though the team limped to a 9-11-2 record in the following year, Harkness would finish out the 1950s at Rensselaer with five straight winning seasons, taking the team back to the NCAA Tournament after the sixth in a row in 1961. He would leave the lacrosse team in 1958 to focus on RPI hockey after leading the team to a record of 112-26-2 in 14 years, and left RPI hockey in 1963 after three NCAA appearances, two Tri-State titles, one NCAA championship, and a record of 176-96-7 record in 14 years.
Moving to Ithaca[edit | edit source]
In 1963, Harkness moved to Cornell University, where he replaced Paul Patten as the head coach of the hockey team. In his first year at Cornell, Harkness helped the team to a 12-10-1 record in the fledgling ECAC league. His sophomore effort saw the school amassing a team record 19 wins, an effort which paled in comparison to his next five years, which saw his stature rise to legendary status along with that of his star recruit.
In 1966, Harkness bested the previous year's total by winning 22 games while losing only 5 times. The following season, Ken Dryden came to Ithaca to play in net, and the team began reaping dividends immediately. 1967 saw an astounding 27-1-1 season for Cornell, which included a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, topped off by Harkness' second NCAA championship as the Big Red defeated North Dakota and Boston University for the title.
The domination continued for the remainder of Harkness' time at Cornell. The next season, Cornell again went to the NCAA Tournament, again with 27 victories, but would lose to North Dakota in the semifinals before defeating Boston College for third place. Harkness again won 27 times in the 1968-69 campaign, the only regular season loss coming at the hands of his old team at Rensselaer in a game which later proved to save hockey at his old school a second time. Cornell would defeat Michigan Tech in the NCAA Tournament before dropping the championship game to Denver.
Seemingly with little opportunity to improve upon the team's success, Harkness and his Cornell team achieved something no team had ever done and has never done since - run the table for a perfect record, undefeated and untied. Cornell capped a 29-0-0 season in 1970 with victories over Wisconsin and Clarkson in the NCAA Tournament, bringing Harkness his third and final NCAA championship, Cornell's second title in four years. Ironically, Harkness and his team accomplished this astounding task without Dryden, who is most often associated with the dominance of Cornell during the late 1960s.
Amidst his success at Lynah Rink, Harkness returned to coaching lacrosse, coaching the Cornell lacrosse team to the 1966 and 1968 Ivy League titles, and reaching an astounding 35-1 record during his three years at the helm. A popular story credits Harkness with introducing the color red - perhaps a familiar color from his days at Rensselaer - to Cornell's hockey and lacrosse teams, which later spread throughout the school's athletic squads leading to the nickname "Big Red."
Following the 1970 NCAA championship, Harkness left Cornell on top to take on a brand new challenge - coaching in the National Hockey League.
The NHL[edit | edit source]
Ned Harkness became the first college coach to become an NHL coach when the Detroit Red Wings took notice of his dominating teams at Cornell. At the time, the team was mired in a gradual downturn that Harkness had been brought in to rectify.
It became obvious rather quickly that Harkness was in over his head. Over the course of 38 games, the Red Wings produced a dismal 12-22-4 record, and cars around Detroit began sporting bumper stickers which read "Darkness with Harkness." Harkness was kicked upstairs to the general manager's position with the hope that he would flourish better making team management decisions rather than the on-ice supervision. He would hold that position for the rest of the 1970-71 season and for the next three seasons before leaving Detroit in 1974.
Union College[edit | edit source]
After his departure from the NHL, Harkness set his sights on college hockey once again. He returned to New York's Capital District, where he had lived in Glens Falls and coached the RPI Engineers.
Union College had fielded a hockey team in the early 20th Century but had been unable to bounce back from the loss of the program during World War II. Harkness went to Union and helped create a new program from the ground up. Achilles Center was built, and Harkness was made rink manager and the team's coach. The school began play in NCAA Division III and with Harkness behind the bench, the team was instantly successful. The Skating Dutchmen finished with a 20-4-1 record in the 1975-76 season, their first since the 1940s, with a roster full of freshmen. Harkness followed up this initial success with a 22-3-1 season, and the young program was well on its way to becoming a Division III powerhouse.
The 1977-78 season started off well for the Skating Dutchmen, as Harkness guided the team to a 4-1-1 record in their first 6 games. However, in late December, Harkness abruptly quit the team, and news began to leak that he had been having disputes with Union administration for quite some time. Upon hearing of their coach's decision to leave, the entire varsity roster of the Skating Dutchmen refused to play the remainder of the season in a show of solidarity with their coach. With a team made up of Junior Varsity and intramural players coached by an inexperienced coach, the Skating Dutchmen would lose their next game 19-1 and go on to lose every game remaining on their schedule.