Ford Field in Detroit. The home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Home to big-time concerts.
Home to the Frozen Four in 2010 or 2011?
It could happen if the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee recommends it as one of the three Frozen Four venues it sends to the Championships Committee after a meeting in Indianapolis this week.
On the outside it looks like a special event. It looks like a gimmick, perhaps, something that is just so out of the ordinary that there is no way that it can happen. But, it’s been thought through. Due diligence has been performed. This isn’t a gimmick, folks — this is for real. And the college hockey community heading to Ford Field for the NCAA championship is a distinct possibility.
“I was thinking about how good the Frozen Four has grown to be and how our hockey community can take pride in it and we need to continue to find ways to grow the sport,” said CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos, the man behind the bid. “We’d love to have more expansion in the sport and one of the things we need to do is raise our profile. Having the opportunity to see that ‘Cold War’ game and the reactions of the players, it would be incredible if we could create a grand stage to present the biggest games in our sport.”
The “Cold War” between Michigan and Michigan State, in 2001 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., brought increased visibility to the sport, and helped bring it to another level by setting a worldwide hockey attendance record of 74,500. Anastos hopes that bringing the Frozen Four to Ford Field will elevate it even more.
It began when Anastos gave the folks at Ford Field a call. Though not a lot came out of an initial meeting, Anastos called again a little later on. This time, there was more interest.
The biggest hurdle was putting an ice system in. The “Cold War” featured a one-use system for Spartan Stadium, like Ford Field a football venue. In the scenario of bringing the Frozen Four in, the thought of using a regular ice system was discussed and then approved.
“Going through due diligence I was convinced that making ice in this building is no different than any other facility,” said Anastos. “Bringing in the ice is no longer an experimental experience. The system is different than a one-game shot. We can control the total environment. When you have all those controls in place, it’s no different than an arena.
“At the end of the day you’re taking a rink system that is proven with lots of capacity and you’re putting it in an environment that is very controlled. The student-athlete’s only concerns would be lighting, air control and ice. That’s their concerns, no matter if it was a rink or Ford Field. And we’ve taken all of that into account here.”
What about Ford Field itself?
“This building is much different than your typical football stadium,” said Anastos. “It is a real dynamic and progressive sports and entertainment value. It’s not a bowl, it’s a venue that offers everything for everybody.”
Anastos is convinced that the building is the right fit, that the ice is right — and most importantly, he’s convinced that the experience would be a memorable one for all involved.
“Because of the configuration and size, we’ll have more than 20,000 quality seats than in your typical NHL arena and then you can go with another 40,000 seats for people that can’t even get access to the event,” he said. “I never hear complaints from someone going to basketball’s Final Four. They’re just happy to be there because they normally couldn’t even get into the building in the first place.”
Still, Anastos knows that it’s going to be a hard sell that this isn’t just a gimmick. That this is what’s best for the sport.
“I wasn’t looking for a gimmick to overshadow the event and take over it,” he said. “This wasn’t something that’s off the cuff. How can we take a great event and make it extra special? And how can we make it more available to everyone and more memorable?
“I can only imagine playing the two biggest games of your career.”
The details have been researched, the plan is in place. Detroit and Ford Field hope to host the Frozen Four.
“You won’t do it every year, but we’re in the business to provide opportunity and make opportunity as great as it can be,” said Anastos. “It’s an opportunity to take a state-of-the-art venue, in a market that can support [an event of] this magnitude. This isn’t experimental anymore. It’s not taking the risks that you might take going outdoors.
“I am convinced that it would be such a special event for the student-athletes and fans. I know it’s unconventional and a little bit out of the box and it’s our job to convince them of how special it can be.”