Last Train out of Albany

The NCAA hasn’t given up on Albany, but ECAC Hockey has.

This weekend marks the last time for the foreseeable future that the league will host its championship tournament in the Empire State’s capital city. Next year? Atlantic City … the city that’s “always turned on”. Multiple public-address announcements publicized the change-of-venue during the weekend’s games at Albany’s Times-Union Center, home of the last seven conference tournament finales; each announcement was met with vociferous disapproval from the crowd.

As distasteful as the town’s slogan may be for a family-oriented association like the ECAC Hockey league, the move was all but necessary for a league that is hungry for greater national attention. The championship weekend’s attendance hasn’t topped 16,500 since the spring of 1999, when both North Country teams (St. Lawrence and Clarkson) played for the crown in relatively local Lake Placid. Albany’s draw peaked at 16,217 for the weekend – and 8,637 for the title game – five years ago, when Cornell beat Harvard 3-1 to hoist the trophy.

Much of the problem rests in the championship quartet. Popular regional program Rensselaer didn’t qualify for a single ECAC Final Four in its eight years in the Capital District, and Union – in nearby Schenectady – only just made it this year. Since the conference has no control over the qualifiers, commissioner Steve Hagwell and the ECAC Hockey general committee are trying a different tack: go to the alumni, instead of the other way around.

Hagwell & Co. hope that Atlantic City will draw more successfully from the heavily populated alumni base in the greater New York City area, and Boardwalk Hall offered suitable facilities and the most attractive incentives package of those received by the league. ECAC Hockey approached practically every reasonable site in the Northeast, according to Hagwell, and A.C. was ultimately deemed the best option for not only attendance factors, but fiscal ones as well.

The commissioner remains tight-lipped about which venues a) responded to the league’s inquiries and b) what packages were offered, but he did mention that popular options such as Lake Placid; Manchester, N.H.; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Glens Falls, N.Y. were approached.

It obviously remains to be seen how well Atlantic City will host this tournament, but it should not be dismissed out-of-hand as an irresponsible or knee-jerk decision.