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College Hockey:
Crowd Control

Welcome, one and all, to USCHO.com’s newest blog. I hope to use this resource to address noteworthy material that falls outside the scope of my weekly ECAC Hockey column (though many of my readers would argue that over the years, precious little has qualified as falling out of range of a carefully crafted tangent).

Turnstiles do the Talking

Thanks to USCHO reader Vic Berardelli for noting this little nugget of college hockey information: the games are popular.

No, really. Three WCHA teams (Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota) have out-drawn the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes in per-game attendance, and the Badgers are edging the New York Islanders as well. Wisconsin leads the nation in attendance with 12,638 per game, while UND (11,605) and the U (9,889) also draw quite well. (Michigan and New Hampshire rank fourth and fifth, but fall more than 3,000 short of Minnesota.)

The Coyotes, on the other hand, pull up dead last in the National Hockey League at 9,825 … which is to be expected from a team with high lame-duck potential. The Islanders – despite top pick John Tavares – only pull 12,429 through the gates at Nassau County Coliseum, and rumors are flying that they, too, could soon be on the move.

But it’s not just the pitiful that the WCHA troika is trouncing: they each topped the American Hockey League’s best draw, the Hershey Bears (8,906). Berardelli’s perspicacity also led him to note that in Lowell, Mass., the local UMass-Lowell River Hawks have walloped the AHL’s Lowell Devils by better than a two-to-one margin … while playing in the same building. Up in Rochester, RIT drew more than 7,400 against Colgate at the Blue Cross Arena, home of the AHL’s Rochester Americans. It took the “Amerks” three home games combined to equal that total. (Thanks to editor Ed Trefzger for that note.) The UNH Wildcats sit over 1,500 more per game than the Manchester Monarchs down the road.

Expanding the scope, 22 of the NCAA’s 58 Division I programs are beating the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s 3,202 per-game average. Wisconsin and UND are ahead of the Quebec Remparts’ 11,175, a figure that is more than doubling all other QMJHL teams.

Nineteen D-I’s beat the Ontario Hockey League’s average of 3,794, and the NCAA’s Top Three better the OHL’s London Knights’ 9,020.

The Western Hockey League’s 4,082 fell short of 17 D-I programs, and the Calgary Hitmen’s 7,107 lead that league – still short of UW, UND and UM.

Breaking it Down

These numbers are all well and good, but what do they really mean? Well with regards to the NHL, it means things aren’t looking good at all for the Isles and ‘Yotes. This is the premier league in the world; none of its teams should be coming up short of anyone but each other.

The AHL comparison is, for all intents and purposes, just that – a comparison. The best of the NCAA feeds into the AHL, so it’s a bit tough to compare them in terms of skill, atmosphere, or business model.

Now this is where Paul Kelly and the NCAA gets antsy: the Major Juniors matchups. When kids are trying to decide their best course of action – Canadian Juniors or the NCAA – the number of fans in the stands may not be the be-all end-all, but it has a significant effect nonetheless.

As much as I’d love to tell you that Division I institutions are kicking their Canadian counterparts to the curb, the final figures aren’t quite that optimistic. I put a good spin on things in the opening half, but here is the other side of the coin:

The WHL and OHL average, as leagues, higher turnouts than NCAA D-I’s as a group: 3,319.

The emptiest arena in the Canadian Hockey League – the umbrella organization that oversees the OHL, QMJHL and WHL – is at Acadie-Bathurst, which pulls 1,483 per game this year. That still puts 13 D-I’s – nearly a quarter of all Division I members – beneath it, including such recently successful and storied programs as Princeton and Colgate.

If you combine the Major Juniors and D-I’s onto the same chart, you’ll see that they split the Top 10. The colleges have 11 of the top 20, but again split 15-15 when expanded to 30.

There are far too many variables to consider when analyzing the Junior-College draws, and let’s face it – it’s not so important as to be worth all that trouble anyhow.

In my opinion, the NCAA should be happy at beating a couple NHL organizations (as depressing as that is, in many ways), and can currently feel content at holding its own against the hockey-mad Canadian market. When battling the Juniors for talent, there are more important issues at hand.

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