Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We're Low on Frozen Fours

Anyone else notice that after the Frozen Four in Philadelphia at the end of this season... we're going to plum out of Frozen Four locations? We don't know where it's going to be held next year. By comparison, during the 2005-06 season, we were aware of where the next seven in a row would be.

Well, fear not. Word is that the NCAA is going to be awarding the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 Frozen Fours in December. But where will they be? Given the 10 cities that are finalists, odds are pretty good that they'll be in places that we've seen in the recent past - 8 of the 10 have hosted the event at some point in the last 12 seasons.

In 2009, during the last bidding round, I did a thorough run-through of possible 2013-15 Frozen Four sites for College Hockey News. The NCAA ultimately awarded only the 2013 and 2014 Frozen Fours, to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia respectively, making me look like an idiot for suggesting that they wouldn't both get 2 out of 3 when they ended up getting 2 of 2.

Boston (1960, 1963†, 1972-74, 1998, 2004): More and more, Beantown is expected to be a heavy favorite for the 2015 gig, and it's with good reason. Already one of what most would consider the four metropolitan meccas of college hockey (we'll get to the other three down the list), Boston hasn't hosted in 10 years and they're about ready for another one. They are considered to have the infrastructure and experience needed to host the event with the 18 months advance notice, and it's actually a bit shocking that they apparently didn't put in a bid to host last time around. The TD Garden has a bid in for this next round, and it would be foolish not to expect Boston to be one of the host cities, if not in 2015 then in 2016 for sure. The entirety of their bid packet should be "Hi. We're Boston."

Buffalo (2003): The Buffalo Sabres are backing a bid to host the Frozen Four at the First Niagara Center for the second time (along with Niagara and Canisius), and the bid does seem to have a lot going for it. The strong backing from the local NHL team should probably be seen as a good sign, as the 2009 and 2013 affairs in Washington and Pittsburgh had very strong support from the Capitals and Penguins, and Buffalo is the center of a significant hotbed of hockey action. The 2003 event didn't go off very well, but the support by Terry Pegula, who owns the Sabres and got varsity hockey going at Penn State, could be a deal clincher.

Columbus (2005): The last time the Frozen Four was held in Columbus, it was noteworthy for a few reasons. First off, the event featured four teams from the WCHA (none of which are still in that conference), which became a major turnoff for basically the rest of the country, and it was also held on the Ohio State campus, away from downtown Columbus. The Buckeyes' home arena is usually full of lots of empty seats (RPI draws twice as many fans on a regular basis in a building three times smaller), but it's still a touch small for a Frozen Four spot. This time around, the bid comes instead from the Blue Jackets' home, Nationwide Arena. It's bigger and closer to the action, but the location as a hockey destination may leave something to be desired. Not only do the Buckeyes not draw to their own games, the Blue Jackets have routinely been near the bottom of the NHL's attendance figures for years.

Washington (2009): It's hard to find anyone who disliked the Washington Frozen Four. It had thrilling games and was very well organized from top to bottom. At the time the bid was awarded, Washington was still considered something of a hockey backwater, in part due to a history of underachieving Capitals teams that the locals just never got excited about. Alex Ovechkin changed all that, and by the time the Frozen Four was hosted there, attendance had already begun picking up dramatically. Caps tickets are now in hot demand in the nation's capital. On top of that, long time Caps general manager George McPhee is a strong supporter of college hockey, which makes complete sense considering that he won the 1982 Hobey Baker Award while at Bowling Green. And of course, Adam Oates needs no introduction, either. It's not a shoo-in since Boston will be hosting at least over 10 years following its last gig, but it's a very strong contender. The arena's right on a subway line, which makes it easily accessible from lodging all over the area.

St. Paul (1958‡, 1966‡, 1989, 1991, 1994, 2002, 2011): Pretty much everything that was said about Boston could be said about the Twin Cities with one major exception - they hosted the event just three years ago, and while it was absolutely tremendous (speaking from personal experience), it's probably too soon to turn around and go back right away. If not for the Boston bid, the St. Paul bid would probably be the logical choice for a quick hosting job for 2015, but as it is it's probably too soon to bring the event back to Minnesota even in any of the other three years being awarded at this point. As one of the meccas of college hockey, the Twin Cities area can put on a true hockey show without even really trying, so any hockey fan should be hopeful that there will be another Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center in the future, it probably just won't be happening until 2019 at the earliest. If we're wrong about that, it would be quite OK.

Tampa (2012): Talk about a rehabilitation. When Tampa was announced as a surprise choice for 2012 back in 2005 (surprise partially because they were only expected to announce the '09, '10, and '11 sites), there was much caterwauling from the college hockey community. When the Tampa Bay Lightning canceled the mid-season tournament that they had been holding there in preparation, there was more howling. Too far from college hockey's footprint, they said. Non-traditional. Well, by the time 2012 rolled around, and even despite having a couple of difficult draws in Ferris State and Union, most people's tune had changed dramatically. Everyone who went seemed to love Tampa as a host and some even jokingly asked if they could just have it there every year. The bidding school? Wisconsin, of course. (Of course.) Two problems, though. First, the 2012 event, as fun as it was for attendees, did not sell out. Second, it's probably too soon to return to Tampa, given the NCAA's seeming preference for spreading the event around the country a little.

Pittsburgh (2013): By most accounts, last year's Frozen Four went very well, and had a lot of push from the Penguins. Things could have been downright disastrous given that all four of last year's participants were, shall we say, "non-traditional," given that only one (Yale) had ever been to the Frozen Four in the past, and it had been decades prior. But, like with Tampa, it's certainly too soon to turn back to the Iron City right away, not with some bigger hotbeds of the college game waiting their turn.

Philadelphia (2014): Yes, this year's event hasn't even taken place yet and the City of Brotherly Love is already hungry for more. See also Tampa, Pittsburgh, and then apply the fact that it would be even sooner. Not even really certain why they're putting forward the effort to bid again before they even know how the event is going to play out this year - if things turn out poorly it's not like they'd want to be hosting the event so quickly.

Chicago (never): The time might be just about right for a Frozen Four in the Second City. The Blackhawks have won two of the last four Stanley Cups, and in doing so, have vaulted themselves to the top of the NHL's attendance sheet five years running. The United Center holds a ton of people for hockey, and that's got to look attractive from the NCAA's standpoint. Considering the general lack of "non-traditional" college hockey markets besides Tampa, it would be a good move for college hockey in general to get some exposure in a large city that at least has Notre Dame somewhat nearby (and the Irish have played a few regular-season games in the city as well). The United Center isn't really that close to the most happening spots in Chicago, though, and a bit more troubling is that a few years ago, the area around the arena was deemed the most dangerous neighborhood in America.

Brooklyn (never): For years fans have talked about the possibility of hosting the Frozen Four on the grandest stage of them all, New York City. Even though there's no college team located in the five boroughs, there seems to always be interest for bringing the event to the City that Never Sleeps. Three hockey playing schools, Yale, Quinnipiac, and Army, are in the metropolitan footprint, and two of those schools just did battle for the national championship. But it's not Madison Square Garden that is the focus of this year's bid, instead, it's the newer, hipper Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the future home of the New York Islanders which is the center of an entertainment revolution in the most populated of the boroughs. The bid does have some serious problems with it, first and foremost, the small capacity for hockey (15,813, which isn't far off from what Albany holds), and the fact that New York City's a very expensive city to stay in. Still, it would be pretty nice to finally have the event in NYC.

A number of bids either never materialized or were left off the list of the Top 10, including the other two college hockey meccas, Detroit and Denver (which should probably be considered the shock of this round that Denver apparently didn't bid), Milwaukee, Kansas City, Orlando, Cleveland, San Jose, and Nashville.

There used to be a significant east-west balance in Frozen Fours, but that has died out recently - the 2005-09 Frozen Fours were all in college hockey's "west," while the 2012-14 editions have all been in the "east," and seven of the ten bids are in the east. That seems to be pretty much out the window, although you'd have to think at least one western locale will get to host.

So what are we going with? Let's try this on for size.

2015 - Boston: Really, a no-brainer here.
2016 - Chicago: The dangerous neighborhood aside, it makes complete sense for the NCAA to hit a burgeoning hockey hotspot.
2017 - Buffalo: Think the Pegula factor will come into play here - his bucks spent on Penn State and the Sabres.
2018 - Washington: The 2009 event went over well enough for this to be a good spot to bring it back.

† - Chestnut Hill, MA
‡ - Minneapolis, MN

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