College Hockey:
TMQ: If outdoor games are losing steam, what’s the next big thing?

Boston College and Notre Dame played before a less-than-capacity crowd at Fenway Park (photo: Matt Eisenberg).

Here’s our weekly look at big events and big issues around Division I men’s college hockey.

Jim: For the third time in five years, we’re coming back to outdoor hockey at Fenway Park. Prior to Frozen Fenway part 2, I wrote a piece that said this was an idea that could become overdone. Now that the first part of Frozen Fenway 3 is over, I’m not alone as Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson came out to say that there is simply too much outdoor hockey:

“This is a great event, and Fenway did a tremendous job, and I know all the ice guys tried to do the best they could considering the circumstances. Outdoor hockey is where the game started, but there’s way too much of it going on right now. They’re ruining it. There’s too much. It’s nice to have this event for Hockey East. It’s great. But there’s way too many outdoor games right now in my opinion.”

This time, the Fenway ice really battled the elements. There was a constant need to fix the ice, ruts were deep and dangerous and a two-game doubleheader took a little more than 7.5 hours to play. In the end, the announced attendance was a little more than 31,000, but in no way were there that many fans in the stands. The bleachers at Fenway sat empty the entire night as did most of the seats in right field.

So I’ll ask a question I’ve asked in this space before: When is enough outdoor hockey enough?

Todd: I think we’re getting to the downhill side of the bell curve when it comes to outdoor games. Even though I’m against them, I’ll be the first to admit outdoor games produce a great visual element. But what I’ve seen on TV from both Fenway Park and Comerica Park was a lot of empty seats, and that’s not the kind of visual organizers want to see.

Part of that is the same kind of crowd loss we see on semifinal days of the NCAA regionals and Frozen Four, where some fans want to see only one game so their seat goes empty in the other. But Jackson is dead on in his assessment: This market is oversaturated.

So we’ve had the big years for holiday tournaments, which have fallen from their peak, and now maybe we’re seeing the falloff for outdoor games. What kinds of events can be the next big thing in college hockey?

Jim: I don’t think that there is a next big thing on the scale of outdoor games in the near future. There are some things I’d like to see happen both nationally and regionally. On the national scale, I personally would like to see the NCAA regionals held in two cities. Put eight teams into a mid-size venue and have them play what equals two regional tournaments over a four-day period.

One thing I recently began thinking about on a smaller scale has to do with next year’s Hockey East. With Connecticut joining the conference, all six New England state schools will be in the same conference (UConn, Massachusetts, Massachusetts-Lowell, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont). I would like to see the six count their league games against one another in a round-robin type of tournament. Make it so all of the games are completed by the third-to-last week of the season and, on that weekend, have the top four teams play a Governor’s Cup tournament. It may require the teams asking for some exemptions from the NCAA to play up-to two extra games. And it’s very much a pipe dream but something that’s cool. How about you? Any grand-scheme ideas?

Todd: I liked the idea behind this season’s Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge, where the leagues competed based on the interconference games they played, but with a six-team league and an 11-team league the numbers don’t really match up.

I’ve wondered whether ESPN’s college basketball BracketBuster idea would have any traction in hockey. Let’s get together teams from Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey and the WCHA (i.e., those without big TV contracts) and leave a date open in the second half of the season where we can create nonconference matchups where teams are matched based on their performance in the season so far. It would take a little bit of outside-the-box thinking, but it could create a buzz and give teams a chance at some RPI points.

Jim: I like your thought process on the bracket busters. It might be hard to sell to the masses, but it’s a unique idea for certain.

Anyway, back to hockey. I have to say that Colgate opened a lot of eyes last weekend in Minneapolis. The Raiders nearly beat No. 1 Minnesota but still won in a shootout to advance to the finals of the Mariucci Classic. Then a win over Ferris State certainly answered questions on whether Friday’s semifinal game was a fluke. Pretty impressive weekend for Colgate, I’d say.

Colgate celebrates a shootout win over No. 1 Minnesota last Friday (photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com).

Todd: It makes you wonder where that Raiders team has been all year, doesn’t it? I’m sure you’ll get into that with coach Don Vaughan when he’s a guest on the USCHO Live! talk show Tuesday night. What jumps out at me when I look at Colgate is that it has a lot of underclassmen leading the way, and that kind of formula often includes a healthy dose of inconsistency. If the Raiders are going to be a team to watch in the second half, they’ll have to even that out.

I have to add that I was impressed by Alaska-Anchorage over the weekend. The Seawolves took it to then-No. 13 Wisconsin on Friday and lost on Saturday because of a deflected own-goal. First-year coach Matt Thomas has them playing with confidence as they head into a regular season-closing 14-game stretch of WCHA games.

Jim: Out east you also have to look at Boston College which, without key players away at the World Junior Championship, still grew its winning streak to five games. Massachusetts-Lowell continues to shine with a tie and another win against Clarkson. It was such a strange situation where the River Hawks faced the Golden Knights three times in a week because of a prearranged schedule of last week’s Catamount Cup followed by a two-game series in Lowell.

On to this week. Out east, Quinnipiac will face both Rensselaer and Union this weekend in ECAC Hockey play, while Harvard and Yale will renew their rivalry on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Dartmouth and New Hampshire will square off in Manchester, N.H., in a battle of New Hampshire’s two Division I programs. In Hockey East, Providence will travel to Boston College in an important league game.

What’s to watch out west?

Todd: We get back into putting points on the line in all of the leagues, with No. 14 Wisconsin hosting No. 8 Michigan in the Big Ten and No. 17 Denver hosting No. 2 St. Cloud State in the NCHC. I’ll be interested to see whether Western Michigan can keep its Great Lakes Invitational mojo going when it hosts No. 13 Miami. And we’ll see how No. 3 Ferris State bounces back when it welcomes Michigan Tech.

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  • bronxbomberz41

    I’ve said for years now, that having one ticket that gets you two or more games is hurting the NCAA regionals. When UNH has played/hosted in Manchester, its not so much that I want to only see them play, but I would rather buy a single game ticket because it is a third of the cost. I may not have close to $200 to plop down for two tickets all at once, but I could spare maybe $50-60 for two, and at least get to see my team play once. That is really all I ask for.

  • dking

    The only reason they are being played is called MONEY

    • RBTGT

      And this was one of the reasons North Dakota at UNO was an abject failure. The game was not a a part of the UNO season ticket package and the prices for attending a game with horrific sight lines in a baseball stadium were ridiculous and nobody would pay them (me included). UNO fans were thus outnumbered by North Dakota fans. What UNO fans were at the game in the first place when the weather went south and the game was delayed by hours left, whereas, ND fans had nowhere else to go and you had an outdoor game in Omaha that basically waS attended by a few thousand North Dakota fans.

  • ErixTheRed

    I think it’s because people have learned that the only decent seats are in the upper deck which is something Fenway has very little of.

    • Jack M

      That’s exactly right, the empty seats are the ones where you can’t see more than half the ice. That’s fine when its a novelty, but once the novelty wears off, the product has to be there as well.

  • James Yarbrough

    I guarantee that every single outdoor game played in Minnesota, this year and in the future, will be sold out. Play the outdoor games where people love hockey the most, and this won’t be an issue.

    • mahogma

      What are you offering up with your guarantee? If they were to get a day with a minus 5 degree high and a breeze out of the west at 20 mph, most of the seats in TCF or Target Field will be empty before the middle of the 2nd period. This isn’t the 1960′s when fans would fill Met Stadium for Vikings games regardless of the weather. Today’s fans are spoiled and want to be pampered. Look at Green Bay last Sunday, and Packer fans haven’t been watching games indoors for the last 30 years. Outdoor hockey is a fad that cannot go away fast enough, and I’m a big time Gopher hockey fan that grew up playing the game outside.

    • Bob Neal

      Minnesota fans ALWAYS say that they will sell out all the time no matter
      what. I remember regionals out there with 9000 in the Excel center
      that seats 18,000. Selective memory. Outdoor hockey sounds romantic
      until you get there and nobody can see, you freeze your butt off and pay
      for 2 games when you only want to see one. I am going to Fenway
      Saturday, but I will probably be thinking of getting home to see the
      Patriots game where I will be warm and dry.

      • James Yarbrough

        Bob. Minnesotan fans will always show up to watch their teams. I have been to the Final Five many times at the Xcel and it has been packed. Regional playoffs rarely sell out, because there are teams that people in MN don’t care about as much. How about we see what happens in the upcoming outdoor game at TCF bank stadium and go from there. As far as two games, I am with you. One outdoor game is more than enough.

  • smack_libs_around

    I’ll be going with my son to the doubleheader this weekend…wisely rolled back so fans can get home (or elsewhere) to see the Pats-Colts game. But when you have THREE consecutive weekends of Frozen Fenway, and each comprising two games, then you dilute the appeal of the event. You only attract the people who care about the teams playing…not the casual fans. So because of that, the crowds will be slim…drawing only a handful more people than the games would otherwise see indoors. I think the ONLY game worthy of ‘Frozen Fenway’ is BC-BU. But lacking an NHL game to make the set-up economically feasible, Fenway has to leverage the infrastructure over multiple games; it’s a money-loser otherwise. And who knows: it still may be a money-loser with six ‘Frozen Fenway’ games.

  • ChuckGandCrew

    Who can sit through almost 8 hrs in freezing cold without being allowed to bring in their own water or snacks? It’s stupid. It wouldn’t surprise me if the days total was near 30K, but not many could stick through both games, or would want to. The next big thing for college hockey is more TV coverage, followed by increased attendance, followed by expansion of DI (such as more Big 10 teams joining). Hopefully the NCAA tourney could expand in the 5-10 year timeframe, but at least a few more schools need to make the commitment. If college hockey can legitimately compete with the OHL for top talent, then we’ll know it’s arrived. ESPN blacklisting hockey has inhibited some growth, but when current network contacts are up I see this changing.

  • Kyle Martin

    Jeff Jackson of Notre Dame is just mad because he’s not winning the outdoor games. He simply can’t compete with the dominant teams of Hockey East.

  • hockeyeh

    Hows about NoDak and Minnesota get together at Target Field. Your telling me that stadium wouldn’t sell out? Just saying..

    • goldy

      That does sound pretty awesome

  • Vinnie Vega

    I personally hate the outdoor games when there in person. I was at the Bruins/Flyers, sat in the lower right field box seats. We couldn’t see a thing and froze our azzes off. After a period and a half of not seeing anything, we left and went to the Cask and Flagon. At least there, we could actually see the game (and have a beer or 3).


    For a lengthy list of reasons, North Dakota at UNO, outdoors last February, was an unmitigated disaster, with the biggest problem (although by no means just limited to this issue) being the weather.

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