History of the Tri-State League/ICAC
|The Tri-State League (later the Independent College Athletic Conference, or ICAC) was a victim of the success of its members. It became impossible to expand a league whose only three members were the strongest teams in the east outside New England. As a result, the conference was in decline almost from the start.|
Six teams played the initial Tri-State season in 1950-51: Clarkson (the champion), St. Lawrence, Rensselaer, Colgate, Middlebury and Williams. Colgate left after the inaugural season, dropping their program entirely because of the lack of an indoor arena. This was a preview of things to come, as St. Lawrence, Rensselaer and Clarkson were the powers in this conference in the 1950s and all those schools had indoor arenas, with only Clarkson lacking artificial ice. Williams and Middlebury struggled to compete without an indoor arena. In fact, Williams played some of their home games at the RPI Field House in Troy.
The second season saw St. Lawrence top honors while Williams dropped out, going 2-8 over two seasons and unable to compete with the other powers, including a Rensselaer team on the upswing. This reduced the number of states represented to two, so the 'Tri-State' designation was no longer apt. Rensselaer became the first (and only) league member to win a national title, defeating Minnesota 5-4 in overtime in 1954 at Colorado Springs. Interestingly, that year they were only able to tie for the league title with St. Lawrence.
The next seven years were all from the same script. Two or all the teams from the Rensselaer-Clarkson-St. Lawrence group vied for the league title while Middlebury tried to avoid the cellar. They did this once, in the 1957-58 season when they finished ahead of St. Lawrence. Overall, they were 2-31 during that seven-year stretch and saw a not-so-bright future. Middlebury departed the league after the 1958-59 season, leaving only New York schools represented in the Tri-State League.
Three teams constituted the league until its demise. The Tri-State League's one selling point, that it was the only conference the member schools were part of, was rendered irrelevant when all three schools became part of a more organized ECAC in 1961. In 1964, the ECAC separated the good schools from the bad and all three Tri-State members were in the top division. The Tri-State league quickly became an afterthought.
In 1964 Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer joined other upstate New York colleges and formed the Independent College Athletic Conference (ICAC), prompting the question of how a conference could use the word 'independent' in its title when, by definition, an independent school is not part of a conference. The Tri-State league was renamed and came under the ICAC's fold, but little attention was paid to it, except the awarding of a trophy at the season's end. The final season was in 1971-72, when Rensselaer won the final title. By this time no one truly cared and the league was allowed to die, while the ICAC's other leagues continued until the 1990s.
The Tri-State League/ICAC was an early attempt to organize eastern hockey, but the experience of Middlebury in the 1950s was a discouragement towards any other schools joining the league, since the three powerhouses in the league were among the eastern elite. From the founding of the league to the inception of the ECAC Tournament (1950-51 through 1960-61), eleven of twenty-four (46%) of the eastern representatives to the NCAA Tournament were from the Tri-State League. Overall, St. Lawrence led the way with seven NCAA appearances, Clarkson with six and Rensselaer with four (and one championship). Two Clarkson coaches were recognized nationally as the coach of the year, William Harrison for the 1955-56 season and Len Ceglarski for the 1965-66 season (shared with Amo Bessone of Michigan State). The league always had good teams, just not enough teams to prosper and survive.