(Note: I’d like to apologize to my readers, all eight of you, for the prolonged hiatus. Expect consistent postings from now on. Thanks for reading!)
Perhaps it’s because I just spent a weekend on the road to catch a home-and-home series between Boston College (BC) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) that decided the Hockey East regular season title.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent the last month following the “Bracketology” blog on United States College Hockey Online’s Web site (USCHO.com). Perhaps it’s because I still believe Springfield is a hockey city and would always love to see more of the sport in it.
For whatever reason, a question that I’ve had for the past few years has found itself swimming around my brain again: Why couldn’t Springfield host a Division 1 National Hockey Tournament regional?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) shifted from a twelve-team field, which featured an East and West Regional until 2003, when it switched to a 16-team field and divided the tournament into four regions – East, Northeast, West and Midwest. At each site, which differ from year-to-year, a local Division 1 team plays host.
Since then, the Northeast regional has taken place in either Worcester or Manchester, N.H., with the exception of 2005 whenthe University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) played host at the Mullins Center. This year’s Northeast regional will once again be in Manchester.
The East regional has been in Albany three times since 2003, while Providence, R.I, Worcester, Rocherster, N.Y. and Bridgeport, Conn., have all hosted regionals. Bridgeport is this year’s location for the East regional.
So why not Springfield?
Springfield has the facility. The MassMutual Center’s arena seats 6,789 people for a hockey game. Last year’s Northeast regional drew somewhere around 6,500 fans, with eventual champion Boston College being a major draw. The East regional in Albany drew about 4,000 people. In addition to the arena itself, the convention center can offer myriad options for extra attractions.
Springfield is in a good location, geographically, at the crossroads of I-90 and I-91. I-90, the longest interstate in the country, stretches from coast to coast and passes by or through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and New York, states that regularly have teams that are part of the tournament. I-91 intersects with I-95, which runs the length of the East Coast.
While teams travel charter for longer trips, the accessibility for fans who may drive to follow their team is paramount in generating attendance, which the tournament has had trouble doing in certain regions in the past.
In addition, a major international airport sits less than 20 miles to the south and Amtrak service runs through the city.
Springfield has local teams that could play host. UMass obviously isn’t technically in Springfield, but Dartmouth and the University of New Hampshire aren’t located in Manchester, either. Both have hosted regionals. In addition to UMass, American International College (AIC) is a Division 1 program, representing the Atlantic Hockey Association.
So why should college hockey come to Springfield? For the same reasons people have lauded the presence of the NCAA Division II basketball Elite Eight in the city and the future presence of the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference’s tournament.
Tournaments, especially major ones, can bring an influx of people, and, as a result, money, into the area. Whether in hotels, restaurants, bars or shops, an increase in clientele is never a bad thing.
From a sports fan’s standpoint, it’s great hockey. While all the regions have seen terrific competition, some of the tournament’s most memorable games have taken place in the Northeast.
Last year’s crowd in the Worcester watched BC and Yale battle for the Northeast regional championship, which the Eagles won in a 9-7 shootout. The year before, spectators in Manchester were treated to two terrific games – a 6-5 overtime win for UNH over North Dakota and a 2-1 win by Boston University over the Wildcats the next day, a game that was decided on a deflection off a UNH player’s glove into the net with seconds remaining.
In 2005, Amherst was the site of two first-round overtime games – a 3-2 victory for UNH over Harvard and a 4-3 win for eventual-champion Denver over Bemidji (Minn.) State.
In the East, Renssalear Institute of Technology, a team that does not offer scholarships punched its ticket to the Frozen Four with wins over top-ranked Denver and UNH in Albany. In 2007, UMass traveled to Rochester and knocked off Clarkson, 1-0, setting up a Hockey East showdown with Maine in the regional finals.
Since 2003, a team from the Northeast region has reached the finals every year, except 2004, including four eventual champions. There has never been a year in the 16-team format that a team from either the East or Northeast region has not been in the championship game. In 2005, a team from both the East (North Dakota) and Northeast (Denver) brackets advanced to the championship game.
A college hockey regional would be a chance for Springfield to gain some economic stimulation, national attention and a terrific week of sports action. Where is the downside? From where I sit, there isn’t one.
The Basketball Hall of Fame may reside in Springfield, but the hockey roots run deep, too. It’s time Springfield started pushing for a shot at this tournament. If you host it, hockey fans will come.