Why the Hobey Baker Award ceremony is at an Air Force base

For the last six years, the Hobey Baker Award has been presented in a ceremony that was part of a larger Friday night event at the Frozen Four host arena.

Next week, it’s heading to a smaller, off-site location, and some have asked why.

My first thought was that you only had to point to all the empty seats in the arenas that have hosted the Friday night event. The atmosphere wasn’t really there, even if you had a couple thousand people in the crowd. In a 18,000-seat venue, that doesn’t get the kind of buzz you’re looking for, and thousands of empty seats don’t look good on TV.

This year’s event is in the Davis Conference Center at MacDill Air Force Base. It seats about 250 people, so fan access will be extremely limited.

The ceremony will be simulcast at an event at Channelside Bay Plaza, a retail and entertainment complex near the Tampa Bay Times Forum that is hosting the other Friday night events, including autograph sessions, the announcement of the Hockey Humanitarian Award recipient and the All-Americans, and concerts by the bands of the two remaining teams. It’s also scheduled for a live broadcast on NHL Network starting at 6 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 6.

How many (if any) fans will be able to attend the ceremony in person? That’s not yet known, but certainly not as many as have in years past.

A smaller venue doesn’t sound like a bad idea when you’ve seen the number of empty seats for the ceremony in recent years, but how small is too small?

Jon Doehr of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation said the group worked with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to find a suitable location, and the Air Force base was a intriguing site because it connects to Hobey Baker’s life. Baker was a decorated U.S. Army fighter pilot in World War I.

“We’re looking forward to a special ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base next week that will create an unforgettable experience for the Hobey finalists, while also celebrating Hobey Baker’s heritage and accomplishments both on and off the ice,” Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, wrote in an email. “Our hats off to the fine men and women at MacDill for helping create memories with this event that will last a lifetime.”

It’s hard to argue with the military connection, especially considering that there’s a special component being planned involving Hobey Baker’s military service.

And it was probably time to bring the event into a smaller setting after the demise of the Frozen Four Skills Challenge, which wasn’t part of the program last season.

We’ll see how it turns out. Where do you think the ceremony should be held? Leave a comment below.