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Commentary: Frozen Fenway reprise could be crossroads for outdoor hockey

— Raise your hand if you understand the expression “jump the shark.” (If you don’t, no need to feel bad. You can quickly Google it.)

Now raise your hand if you believe that college hockey has “jumped the shark” when it comes to playing games in outdoor stadiums.

busalute Commentary: Frozen Fenway reprise could be crossroads for outdoor hockey

Boston University and Boston College were featured in the first Frozen Fenway, in 2010 (photo: Melissa Wade).

OK, before you answer that, let me give you some background.

The first outdoor college hockey game — besides those games contested on frozen ponds many years ago, of course — was played between Michigan and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in 2001. A number of other college hockey games have been played outdoors, including the original “Frozen Fenway,” which featured a battle between Boston College and Boston University one week after the Boston Bruins hosted the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

Frozen Fenway was, and likely will always be one of the most successful college hockey events ever. The 2010 college hockey doubleheader that featured New Hampshire and Northeastern’s women teams followed by the BU-BC feature matchup sold out in less than two days.

Since Frozen Fenway, a few have tried to imitate the atmosphere created at Fenway Park.

The most successful of those was Michigan State traveling to Michigan last December, where more than 100,000 fans packed Michigan Stadium. The least successful was Connecticut versus Sacred Heart at UConn’s Rentschler Field, a 40,000-seat stadium that saw 1,911 fans attend a men’s and women’s doubleheader, both featuring UConn.

Given that great variance, pardon me if I have concern that, on the day Hockey East and Red Sox executives announced the reprise of Frozen Fenway this coming January, college hockey’s outdoor games may have jumped the shark.

Understand this: I am hardly the judge or jury on whether such shark jumping has occurred. Truth be told, there are so many remarkable differences between what happened at UConn last winter and what will occur at Fenway on Saturday, Jan. 7.

Start with the teams. Frozen Fenway Part II, if you will, will feature four New England state schools. Vermont and Massachusetts will face off at 4 p.m. EST, with rivals New Hampshire and Maine squaring off in the late game. All four schools have strong alumni bases throughout the Boston area.

Then there is the difference is the marketing effort. The Red Sox marketing arm, Fenway Sports Management, is the engine behind the next chapter of outdoor hockey games. They have a proven track record for bringing anything from rock stars to soccer clubs to Fenway with great success.

Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said that there is no financial risk whatsoever for the league in hosting such an event. In 2010, Hockey East realized a small profit — approximately $12,000 according to tax filings — in hosting the original Frozen Fenway. This time, there cannot be a loss, according to Bertanga, regardless of the success of ticket sales. He did acknowledge that the Red Sox will incur as much as a $1 million expense to install the rink that they will have to offset. Activities such as private skating events will help defray that cost.

That said, Bertagna acknowledged that it’s not yet known how successful this event can be, particularly in bringing four teams from significant distances to Boston.

When asked if there was a fear that this event, or outdoor hockey in general, might have indeed jumped the shark, Bertagna’s answer was direct.

“Not yet. I don’t think so,” said the 15-year Hockey East commissioner. “It’s a legitimate question. I don’t think we’re there yet.

“Now, if we put [tickets] on sale and they don’t go the way we think they’ll move, maybe we’ve misread it.

“That said, I still think it’s not just an outdoor game. It’s an outdoor game here [at Fenway Park]. I still think that all the components of coming downtown, the winter carnival atmosphere and the [Green Monster] looming over you, your event has some staying power.”

Bertagna said that the event may actually grow beyond just the Hockey East men’s doubleheader and may include a women’s hockey component as it did in 2010. That could include a game between Hockey East teams but could also be an exhibition between the U.S. and Canadian women’s national teams, which will compete for the IIHF Women’s World Championship at Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse in April 2012.

The question now, though, is just how well tickets will sell. Bertagna said a sellout would be the goal but that selling 30,000 tickets would be successful. The average ticket price has been set at $40, $13 less than the average for the BC-BU game of 2010 and more than $150 less than the ticket average for the NHL’s Winter Classic that same year.

Schools themselves are enthused, particularly rivals Maine and New Hampshire, who will meet in the event’s nightcap. These two schools have twice faced one another for the Hockey East title. And few will forget the 1999 NCAA title game in Anaheim, Calif., where Maine took an overtime decision for the school’s second national title.

“[Tim Whitehead] and I and [late Maine] coach [Shawn] Walsh talked a lot of years about us playing a game like this in a big venue,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “I can’t think of a better place to play this than Fenway Park.”

Now, though, it is time for the schools — and, more importantly, their fan bases — to put their money where their mouth is. Tickets for Frozen Fenway go on sale Sept. 13. Standing room tickets are between $5 and $20. Lower tier seats, presenting a limited view of the ice, are $10 and $20. Top level bleacher seats are $30, while upper box seats and grandstands, as well as a limited number of roof box seats are $40 and $50. The most expensive tickets are located on the top level in the State Street Pavilion and Green Monster ($75). Private suite tickets will be sold for $100.

Yet another Fenway sellout will certainly prove that outdoor college hockey — at least in Boston — is a more-than-viable event. Anything less, though, and we may have our answer on just whether playing hockey in the most natural state has indeed jumped its shark.


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  • Bob

    I think the Fenway event will succeed, but the Michigan/Ohio State game is going to be a disaster.

    • BuckyPucks

      Just like the Michigan-Ohio St football games the last several years….disasters….at least for Michigan fans…

      • Bob

        Oh, I guess there really is an actual Ohio State hockey fan. Hmm…

      • Bloomercab14

        Hey Buddy, hang around and watch how Michigan does under Brady Hoke, WE WILL OWN NCAA FOOTBALL IN LESS THAN 5 YEARS, AND OH, LAUGH ALL YOU WISH, WAIT UNTIL MY ALMA MATER IS IN THE NC GAME EVERY FREAKING YEAR! OH! AND WATCH HOW TRESSEL’S “BOYS OF THE PAST” INCLUDING TRESSEL AND LOSER PRYOR, YEAH! KEEP TRACK OF HOW WELL OSU DOES IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS, BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MY TEAM IN BASKETBALL WHEN THE NCAA KILLED OUR PROGRAM! GUESS WHAT THOUGH, WE’RE BAAAAAACK! OH, AND HOCKEY HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER, NC GAME LAST APRIL, AND LOOK OUT THIS YEAR BABY!

        • Anonymous

          What the heck does this article have to do about michigan football? Damn midwesterners.

        • Guest

          yeah, I mean Michigan’s probably not going to be very good this year anyways; they’re trying to make a punt returner turned option quarterback stay in the pocket…

        • Vegas Lines

          How does a five dollar bet on that sound?  I’ll give you 1000 to 1 odds so if Michigan does start to win national championships I’ll give you $5000 but if they don’t you’ll give me $5

          Money in the bank 

  • Pucknskivail

     Just wait, them Mainah’s and couple people from New Hampshire and Vermont show up to watch some hockey, and we have one hell of a party!

  • http://twitter.com/chrislerch Chris Lerch

    I think outdoor hockey games are a gimmick. But then again, I still think the DH in baseball is a gimmick.

  • Anonymous

    Its surprising to me that a USCHO writer based on Boston and covering the Hockey East would miss the point so much with this column.  The Fenway event has little to do with college hockey or outdoor hockey in general, its about a New England sporting event that was extremely popular the first time around, and something that should be done every year just for the fact alone that it will increase the popularity of college hockey in the region.  Just like the Beanpot tournament doesn’t hold much significance outside of New England, but still fills the seats at the TD garden every year.  New England sports fans go crazy about novelty events like this, even if the experience for the most part is overrated.  Take the green monster seats for example, which are year after year the most sought after seats at Fenways, despite them being some of the worst seats for viewing in the entire stadium.  But the point is, they are popular so it doesn’t hurt the Fenway experience at all.  Just like these outdoor games won’t hurt college hockey in New England or throughout the country.  

    • Jim Connelly

      I somewhat see your point here that something that takes place at Fenway could be a good draw but is that alone a reason to continue to host this event? Pointing out the Beanpot alone highlights that.

      Anyone who has followed the Beanpot for a signficant amount of time knows that it is hardly the attraction that it once was. They may announce a sellout every game every year but if you’re in the building you see that there are hundreds if not thousands of seats that remain empty for not just the opening round but also for the final. That’s for an event where there is incredible rivalries and bragging rights at stake.

      Like I said in the column, I’m not sure this event – or even outdoor hockey in general - is something that doesn’t have appeal. But if events like this are unsuccessful, they do the exact opposite of drawing positive attention for the sport of college hockey and bring with them a negative appeal.

      • Bob

        And, my earlier point was that this event is probably not one that we have to worry about. But, programs like Ohio State trying to do this is just laughable…especially not in Columbus…on a baseball field in a town that doesn’t have an NHL franchise nor Division I hockey.

  • Anonymous

    I hope it works out…but I had my taste of the Frozen 4 in Detroit on a FB Field,that was awful and to have the National Championship game on that surface was a complete miss imo….every say 3 years would be I guess ok to most.

  • Anonymous

    Bob:
    Get real, dude.  The Michigan – Ohio State outdoor hockey game will be played in Cleveland, not Columbus.  It is a safe bet that attendance at that game will exceed that of Frozen Fenway. 

    • Bob

      That’s what I said…not in Columbus. Only way this works is if Progressive Field is filled with 30,000 Michigan fans and the 5 Ohio State fans.

      • makulu53

        Ohio State averaged nearly four thousand fans per home game last season.  That’s more than Vermont or Massachusetts, two of the four teams playing in Frozen Fenway.  Obviously, OSU is focused on fottball and basketball, but you can figure on about 10,000 OSU fans and >30,000 Michigan fans filling Progressive Field in January, unless the weather is very bad.

    • Anegadatortola

      i am guessing the stands will have more maize and blue than red and gray.  less than 35,000 in the stands.  OSU can’t get 2,000 fans to it’s home games, they have to take this game on the road for a hopeful attendence.  

  • FireJimConnelly

    Connelly is clearly an attention whore.  This story is ridiculous.

  • UVM Cat in Texas

    Lame article. Another example of “we apparently can’t feel good about these games unless they feature BC, BU or, better yet, both!” These teams and their fans will do just fine, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s one mainuh thinking this whole idea is a complete bore.  Been done too many times already, just another worn out gimmick.  I cant believe Whitehead would agree to give up a home game against UHN for this fiasco.

  • Anonymous

    Cannot believe Whitehead gives up a home game against trailer trash UHN for this fiasco.  This outdoor hockey is old and washed up.  Walsh was ahead of the curve.  Whitehead is way behind  it.

    • After Further Review

      UNH is trailer trash huh?  If they are, I’m not sure what that says about your lovely town of Orono!
      I will agree on a couple of things, Walsh was brilliant, Whitehead is useless and outdoor hockey should be kept to the NHL playing ONE novelty game a year.  I’ll be sure to thank Mr. Whitehead though, for giving up the home game, as it is the last weekend of the season and could be very important in the HE standings and NCAA seedings.

  • Anonymous

    Pick your heads up. This is great for college hockey, wait and see.

  • Guest

    Author should have defined jumping the shark. The idea is to communicate effectively, not refer people to another source. As for outdoor hockey, I attended the BU-BC game and have no intention of going back. Outdoor hockey is a gimmick. Very few in the entire place have a good view of the entire ice surface. With a playing surface of 200×90, hockey was meant to be watched in a smaller venue.

  • Adroc

    This event is likely the brainchild of some special events guy at Hockey East looking to pad his resume to get a special events position at the NHL: “Look at me! I can put on a Winter Classic all by myself!” And, was successful in convincing Bertagna its a good idea.  No downside for RedSox -their place is useless anyway in the winter. Put up a rink, charge admission for about 20 public skates to make the $$ back and keep RedSox in the forefront of everyone’s consciousness when there is no baseball being played.

  • Harry Cleverly

    I attended the original Frozen Fenway game. The best thing about it: It was a novel experience. The second best thing about it: I’m not sure there was one. It was cold, uncomfortable and difficult to see the puck even though I had great seats. When it was over, my thoughts were that I was glad I went (for the experience) but hoped if they do it again that it wasn’t a BU/BC game because that would be the only draw. Maine and UNH have a good rivalry, but I don’t see this doubleheader as a great draw. Poor Northeastern, down-the-street and bypassed again.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ltpowers99 J. Isaac Powers

    UConn is also a large state school with alumni throughout the area where the game was held.  Was there some other factor you meant to mention instead?

    • After Further Review

      Maybe that it’s hockey, not basketball…

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