ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The official attendance for the first semifinal of the Atlantic Hockey tournament was announced to be 463, and that was generous. Only around 100 people were actually in Blue Cross Arena, which seats 10,600, for the opening face-off between Robert Morris and Mercyhurst.
Rochester has hosted the championships since 2007. Attendance has been lacking for any game not involving Rochester Institute of Technology.
Poor attendance at neutral sites caused the WCHA and Big 10 to move their semifinals and finals to campus rinks, and it’s been a big success.
Will Atlantic Hockey follow suit?
The prevailing reason for holding the championships at a neutral location used to be that some AHC schools were playing in facilities that didn’t allow them to host the championships.
But a new rink at Bentley and the move of Scared Heart and American International to AHL buildings has remedied that.
Another justification for a neutral site is avoiding flying three teams to Air Force should the Falcons be the top surviving seed.
The WCHA and Big 10 addressed the travel problem by holding the semifinals a week earlier at the top two remaining seeds, and the winners advancing to a championship game at the higher seed. That would mean flying just a single team west in the event Air Force was the host.
But that format would take another weekend unless the league dropped the lowest three seeds from the playoffs. The WCHA, which has 10 teams, drops the bottom two.
That would be a tragedy in seasons like this one, where just 10 points separated first and last place, and 11th seeded Sacred Heart won a first-round series.
But it’s clear that the attendance issue needs to be addressed.
“(Campus sites) has come up,” said Steffan Waters, the league’s Director of Communications. “We’d like to look at possibly another neutral site before going that route. But it’s certainly something to consider.”
Atlantic Hockey Commissioner Bob DeGregorio echoed those comments.
“We want to have the best experience possible for players and fans,” he said. “We’ll be looking at several options.”
Another possible factor in a decision to move to campus sites is the league’s position against holding any NCAA tournament games on campus. AHC teams have been typically lower seeds, and playing a road game would be more of a challenge.
If the league itself abandoned a neutral site championship format, it might weaken its argument against doing the same for NCAA regionals.
The league is under contract with Blue Cross Arena though the 2018-2019 season, so a change could be made as quickly as the 2019-2020 season.
The announced attendance for the championship game between Air Force and Robert Morris? 626.