During last year's 29-0 season. Cornell hockey coach Ned Harkness was approached by the NHL's Detroit Red Wings. He accepted a position as assistant coach, but before leaving he took it upon himself to appoint his successor.
He chose Dick Bertrand, the tri-captain of the undefeated team. Bertrand's credentials extended way beyond his 17 goals and 30 assists. He was 28 years old, had been a policeman before coming to Cornell, and was on the staff of a boarding school for problem teenagers. He did not fit into the traditional stereotype of Cornell hockey players.
Bertrand, one of nine children, grew up in Connaught. Ontario, a logging and mining town of 150 people. Junior B Hockey brought him to Toronto where he earned his living as a policeman. He took courses at York College at night, and played on their hockey team over the weekends.
On a road trip to Cornell he met Ned Harkness, and came back the next year as a 24-year-old freshman.
Harkness was a hard coach to succeed. He made a great impact on every player, but insisted on unchallenged authority. He was a perfectionist, and anyone who did not live up to his high standards ran the risk of being benched.
Bertrand's first problem was to establish himself as coach after having been a teammate the year before. He has departed from the Harkness style by being much more approachable. Since Cornell has plenty of talent and experience, he sees coaching as "just a little coordinating, nothing more . . . If a guy makes a mistake. I take him aside and explain it to him."
Bertrand's job includes much more than managing the team on the ice. "I'm selling education and the greatest college in the nation." he said., College hockey enables hockey players to have an education and a chance to be something else besides an athlete. "So many Junior A players have NHL stars in their eyes. But often they get injured or just don't make it, and then it's tough to get back to school."
Bertrand feels that college hockey provides the discipline and conditioning necessary for going into the pros. And with the increasing number of players looking for an education, he predicts that in a few years there will be a college draft similar to football and baseball.
As an obvious example, he cited Ken Dryden, who he thinks will be go-attending for Montreal in the next year or two. Dan Lodboa, a defenseman who graduated last year, is leading the Central Hockey League in goals scored.
An interesting sidelight to Bertrand's career has been his role as house parent at the George Junior Republic School, which is primarily for problem children. Many of the students there have police records or have been involved with drugs. Harkness thought that Bertrand's police experience would be valuable and suggested he take the job.
"Sometimes you have to stare a kid down or take him into a corner to get things straight. But mostly it's just a question of listening. Usually people don't listen to what the kids have on their minds, and that's where the trouble starts." Bertrand said.
He intends to work at the school this summer, but has no plans for going back to college. "You don't need a degree in psychology or sociology to handle kids. All you need is a little common sense." he said.
Bertrand has a degree in business administration, and says he will leave hockey eventually, but not in the near future. "I could be making a lot of money elsewhere, but that's not what I'm interested in right now."