Friday, April 16, 2010

Last Word on Detroit

Bill Bellerose, the chairman of the NCAA's Division I Men's Hockey Committee, wrote an open letter to the college hockey community on the Frozen Four in Detroit.

I think the majority of fans that were able to join us had a great time in Detroit. However, after reading the web (and receiving some emails), I thought I would take this time to address some issues and concerns that have been raised with the 2010 Men's Frozen Four.

Let me first start with the venue. Everyone at Ford Field and the Detroit LOC was tremendous to work with. They bent over backwards to meet the needs of the committee, teams and fans. In addition, the people of Detroit were very friendly, from the security people at the events to the hotel and restaurant staff that I encountered, everyone was welcoming of college hockey fans in Detroit. In addition, there were a ton of things to do, including Tigers home games and a fan festival at the host hotel.

With regards to the selection of Ford Field, my term as a committee member literally started about a month prior to selecting sites. The main discussion of the committee at the time was that by selecting Ford Field we could help promote the sport by allowing thousands more to see our premier event than had ever seen it before (also remember the economy was different at the time) and provide our student-athletes with a tremendous experience. Looking back on the weekend, I think we were very successful in that manner as approximately 19,000 more people were able to share the event with us this year than will be able to see it in Saint Paul in 2011, and in the process set a world record for attendance at an indoor hockey game.

Hopefully we exposed people to the event that were never able to see it before and we can capitalize on that next year during the regular season and for years to come. Not only were more people able to enjoy it from a size standpoint but also from an affordability standpoint because due to the size of the venue we were able to have some tickets priced as low as $40.

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There definitely were opportunities for change if this scenario presented itself again. While the majority of sight lines were very good, there were some issues, especially with the seats right behind the team benches and the pitch of the temporary seating. In addition, some people mentioned the lack of atmosphere, but I thought looking at the seats full of 37,000 plus was a great atmosphere. While the noise certainly wasn't deafening, unfortunately we didn't have any overtime contests, or last minute game-winning goals, so it is very difficult to determine if lack of noise had to do with venue or closeness of games in the last half of the third period.

As a committee, our next order of business is to select sites for 2013 and 2014. As most fans are aware we will be at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul next year and at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2012. With the bids received I can assure you we will be in NHL or NHL-type facilities for 2013 and 2014. This is my last year on the committee so I can't speculate on where the committee will decide to take the Frozen Four beyond 2014.

However, if there comes a time when Ford Field bids again, and the committee at that time reached out for my opinion as the chair of the 2010 Men's Ice Hockey Championships, I would definitely tell the committee that it is something they need to take a serious look at. I am certainly not advocating that this is something we should do all the time, or even every four or five years, but I think it would be a mistake to say that we should never consider doing it again. We need to continue to be aggressive in trying to build and grow college hockey, and where that leads us I am not sure, but we certainly need to keep our eyes open.

It's certainly a fair assessment of what was a very different Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit. I've got my own little list to go along with it.

There were a few things that were bad about the Frozen Four. The ice looked awful. During every media timeout, there was a whole crew of people tending to the ice. The atmosphere was mostly subdued, but I really think that can be chalked up to three stinker games that provided zero drama. When the closest game of the weekend is a 5 goal drubbing, there's just nothing to get excited over, even if you're the team that's winning - atmosphere isn't generated when your team is pounding on its opponent.

But it wasn't entirely due to the crappy product on the ice. It was the pure size of the building as compared to the way it was set up and the number of people that were there. I'm sure that building can get loud during a Lions game, but when only half of the seats are being used, any noise that the crowd is making gets lost in the wide expanse of empty space. A number of RIT fans complained that the national championship was largely devoid of passionate fans from the competing schools, however, they were situated on the far end of the building from the side where both UW and BC fans were. Both of your humble bloggers were seated directly between the UW and BC sections, and we assure you, both were making solid sound (although there was considerably less coming from Badger fans, for good reason). Meanwhile, we had a hard time hearing RIT fans throughout the weekend for the same reason - we were just too far away from them.

Those are really the only complaints, though. The city of Detroit, for the second time this season for us, was an unexpected delight to visit. We had the opportunity to catch a Tigers game ahead of the national championship, visited Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, and Yost Arena during the off day, and met plenty of friendly locals. I personally accounted for people representing the colors of 46 of Division I's 58 programs (sadly, only half of the ECAC, which was almost entirely represented by RPI and Cornell fans). It was an unforgettable experience and - this can't be underscored strongly enough - it's not a trip that any in our group would likely have made if the event was taking place in a traditional hockey arena setting, and we're sure that was true of a lot of the people who made the trip due to the availability of tickets. The event, as flawed as some of it was, exposed more people to the overall event that is the Frozen Four, and future Frozen Fours will be better off because of it.

Now, if the Engineers can make it to St. Paul next year... well, we might just have to do this again.

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