Will Others Follow New WCHA Championship Format?

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The Bismarck Tribune


GRAND FORKS -- Michigan Tech students began arriving four hours before the start of the game.

The line stretched down a long hallway, around the corner to the right and another long hallway, around the corner to the left and another hallway, through a doorway, down a spiral staircase, around another corner and through another doorway.

They packed John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

They went crazy when Michigan Tech beat Bowling Green in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game.

Coach Mel Pearson even instructed security to open the doors by the penalty box, so the students could storm the ice.

They did.

It was an unforgettable scene for those in Houghton, Mich., this weekend -- something that should be the goal of all college hockey championship events.

The old plan of having the event at a big neutral facility wasn't working for the WCHA under college hockey's great realignment.

The WCHA made a change -- and in Year 1, at least, it was a home run.

Will other teams follow their lead?

The Big Ten will for sure.

After four seasons of sparse crowd at its conference tournament in the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild, and Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, the Big Ten has opted to bring it back to campus.

Atlantic Hockey saw its championship game played in front of 650 people on Saturday night in Rochester, N.Y. It may be time for Atlantic Hockey to bring their tournament to campus sites.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, meanwhile, has to ponder what to do with the future of its tournament.

It could keep it at the Target Center, which will have major renovations by the time the 2018 NCHC Frozen Faceoff is held there. Minneapolis has numerous food, drink and hotel options near the arena.

It could move to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, because the WCHA and Big Ten are gone. The Xcel Center provides one of the finest hockey arenas in North America, but food, drink and hotel options are more limited.

While the Xcel option appears to be the most attractive to fans, many are probably associating the Xcel Center with the old WCHA Final Five, which routinely drew crowds of 18,00-plus. That won't happen in the new college hockey landscape.

Or, the third option, the NCHC could follow the WCHA's lead and bring it back to campus sites.

Scheduling flights or trips on a week's notice can be problematic -- and it may not have the Frozen Four-type of feel in a neutral venue.

But it could be insurance for a league that appears dependent on North Dakota's success, as attendance would be sparse in the instance that UND does not make the Frozen Faceoff.

The NCHC isn't hurting as bad for attendance as the Big Ten or WCHA in its neutral-venue playoff championship, but what happened in Houghton on Saturday has to at least raise some eyebrows.

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March 21, 2017


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