The ECAC is in serious negotiations to move its postseason tournament from Lake Placid to Albany, perhaps by as early as the upcoming 2002-03 season, several sources confirm. This despite an agreement, announced in 2001, to extend the commitment to Lake Placid through 2005.
“I’ve had some discussions,” said Bob Belber, general manager of Albany’s 14,000-seat Pepsi Arena, which has hosted NCAA regional and Frozen Four events in the past. “I don’t think we’re prepared to make any kind of announcement yet. We’re in discussions. We’re hoping that those discussions will result in a contract.”
Sources say the contract being discussed is for three years. ECAC assistant commissioner Steve Hagwell declined to comment.
Officials with Lake Placid’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) said the news has come quickly, and as somewhat of a surprise.
“We’re under the impression the ECAC is going to make some kind of announcement next week,” said Sandy Caligiore, Dir. of Communications for ORDA. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of dialogue. We’re just waiting to see what the ECAC officially does. … We’re hearing rumors, innuendo … nobody has told us officially.”
Last year, during the 2001 ECAC tournament, the league agreed to renew its commitment to Lake Placid through 2005. But Caligiore confirmed that the agreement was only verbal, and was never signed.
“That is true. We had a verbal, we had a handshake,” Caligiore said. “A year ago, when the ECAC made this recommendation, we [figured] we’re nine years into it, we have a rock solid relationship. So, yes, a verbal and a handshake and the ECAC made the annoucement … that was good enough for ORDA.”
The issue of moving the tournament was a hot topic at the recent AHCA coach’s convention in Naples, Fla. Princeton coach Len Quesnelle said the matter is now in the hands of administrators and he isn’t privy to the nature of the contract or any further discussions. He said it was just a typical discussion among the coaches on how to make the tournament better, but that any action must come from the administrators.
“As a league, we [the coaches] feel the ECAC tournament should be a big event,” said Quesnelle. “So, how do we make it bigger and better? We talked about it, and there was a general consensus among the coaches [to move].
“Because of the proximity to other campuses, it would make sense.”
According to one source, the seeds of the ECAC’s renewed interest were perhaps planted last year, when officials saw how well Albany hosted the Frozen Four. Past NCAA events in Albany were run of the mill, but last year, city and arena officials did a good job of getting the whole city involved and creating a great atmosphere, the source said.
“Frankly, I think that [ECAC commissioner Phil Buttafuoco], other ECAC officials and even the athletic directors have seen what we have been able to put together for both in the arena, as well as outside the arena for athletes and for the fans with the fan festivals,” Belber said. “It has brought a whole new vision of the Albany market to the ECAC. They want to grow the conference.”
The ECAC tournament was once in the Boston Garden, and stayed there after five teams split from the league to form Hockey East in 1984. As the Hockey East tournament exploded in popularity, the ECAC tournament was overshadowed and the leagued wanted a place to call their own.
The ECAC tournament moved from Boston Garden to Lake Placid starting in 1993, but, despite the location’s exalted history and atmosphere, was never able to attract a consistent sellout in the 8,000-seat building.
“Do I like the setting in Lake Placid? Does it have a nice feel? Absolutely,” Quesnelle said. “It’s a great location. Albany is a better location for a different set of reasons.”
Caligiore said he hopes the relationship between ORDA and the ECAC continues.
“Certainly we want this tournament in Lake Placid,” said Caligiore. “It’s been 10 years, and it’s been a good thing for both parties, especially for this community.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
Thanks to Ken Schott, hockey writer for the Schenectady (N.Y.) Daily Gazette for his important contribution to this story.