Four years ago, Ken Code thought about playing Division I hockey, but a coach at Cornell told him he didn't have a chance. Harvard Coach Bill Cleary probably had the same idea.
But after Code's appearance in two j.v. games his freshman year, Cleary realized he'd make a mistake. The defenseman joined the big club and four years later he's the 86th Harvard men's hockey captain.
Code finds little unusual about his present position. "There are lots of Division I hockey players who were unrecruited," he says.
But not many of them are now captains of their teams.
To hear Code talk about it, his position as captain makes him no different from any of the other players. "I'm just one of the guys," he says.
Most of Code's efforts as captain come from example, and he is considered to be a "rah-rah" type of leader. "I just try to keep things up, in the locker room or on the ice, keep things looking positive," says the Eliot House senior.
Code's own Cinderella story seems positive enough for anyone. A native of Carleton Place, Ontario, a "bedroom community" outside Ottawa, Code actually applied to Harvard on a dare. "The need-door neighbor said that I'd never apply to someplace like Harvard, and dared me to do it," the 5-ft., 7-in. Code remembers. "When I got in, I expected to play j.v. or maybe intramural."
Code had played "town" junior B hockey in high school but Carleton Place was too isolated for alumni resulting networks to reach. After taking a year off before college to work as a mechanic in his father's Volkswagen dealership, the defenseman began writing coaches about their hockey programs. He got no positive responses.
Cleary recalls first recognizing Code when he saw him skating around. "I said, 'Gee, that guy can skate pretty well, who's he?' and it turned out he could play hockey pretty well, too." Cleary supposedly mispronounced Code's name most of his first year at Harvard, until the player's father corrected the coach.
Don Vaughn, a St. Lawrence player who was on the same junior B team as Code, says the Harvard captain probably knew he would play varsity. "He's the type who knew he would make the team from day one," Vaughn says, adding that the same Cornell coach had told him he couldn't play Division I hockey either. "Ken showed me that I could play Division I when he made the Harvard squad," Vaughn says.
Few people are questioning the 1983-84 Harvard hockey captain's ability to play Division I hockey today. The issue now is whether this year's team can equal last year's Crimson successes, which included the Ivy League and ECAC Championships and a second-place NCAA finish. Although he says, "The last three and a half years have been the most fun in my life," Code feels that the comparison should not even be made.
"Teams change," he remarks, explaining, "You're always growing up. We have a much better thing than most people expected or realize, and comparing the two teams does not give us credit for what we've been trying to do."
It has been especially difficult for Code to lead in a season which has invited much comparison to last year, but he says he tries to follow "the Cleary philosophy. If we lose and play a good game, I just say, 'next time we'll have to knock 'em off.'"
Playing hockey with Mark Fusco was the highlight of his career, Code says. And St. Lawrence's Vaughn says the experience changed his old teammate's game the most. "Ken was always strong on his skates and hard to check into the boards, a smart hockey player. Playing with Mark Fusco helped a lot."
Code himself has a less favorable evaluation of his own playing ability, stating that he is not a star, like Fusco, but simply a member of the second tier. "For the first tier, those players can see the game much slower in their minds and know what to do. Wayne Gretzsky probably can change the pace of the game and see it twice. I just see things as they come." Code says he's not in the same realm as some of the players on Harvard's team last year. "There are players in Division I hockey who can play pro, and I'm not one of them.
"So at the end of this season, I'm hanging up the skates."