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April 24, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Should Return to Lake Placid

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

"Lake Placid."

Saying the name invokes certain emotions among hockey fans. And that says all you need to know for why the ECAC needs to move its postseason tournament back there.

The ECAC's three-year deal with Atlantic City to host its postseason tournament championship, expires after the upcoming season. Consequently, the league is already looking into what will happen next.

One thing is all but certain — the tournament will not stay in Atlantic City. The move was a worthwhile experiment given the sagging Albany attendance, and AC's $100,000 guarantee. But attendance hasn't been good in Atlantic City either, and organizers there are certainly taking a big loss.

(There are factions within the ECAC that have griped over the Atlantic City decision, forgetting that the vote was 9-3 among member athletic directions to make the move.)

So, as the ECAC nomadically pursues a home for its tournament — Bridgeport, Albany and Providence are the major venues in the mix, all respectable choices — the key question is obvious: Does it matter?

It's too easy to blame people for the poor attendance numbers at the ECAC tournament. "It's the wrong city," or "it's too far," or "they didn't do enough marketing for the event." Perhaps all of those explanations are wrong.

Raised on ECAC hockey, going back to 1988, I love what it's all about. But reality is reality. The ECAC will not tear the doors off of any venue. It's not 1970 anymore, when the Boston-area schools were in the league, and the tournament at Boston Garden was THE thing in the East. The ECAC's fan base is nowhere near as large as the other big conferences. Its markets are not very big, and its schools are small private institutions.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. It is what it is. But it means that the league will never have a centralized home that packs people in to see its tournament. There is nothing similar to big NHL arenas like St. Paul, Detroit or Boston in its footprint, and if there were, people wouldn't fill it anyway.

So given that, why not go to the one place that has star power? The one place where ECAC people can have pride in just saying they're associated with? The one place that matters:

Lake Placid.

The ECAC decided to leave Lake Placid when attendance was slipping there too. It was not as cost effective. And many coaches didn't like playing on the Olympic-sized ice sheet when the following weekend's NCAA games were to be played on NHL-sized surfaces, by and large.

It's time to put all that aside.

Imagine you're a fan of a team like North Dakota. Your tournament is at Xcel Energy Center, or perhaps in Denver in future years, or something similar. NHL buildings with great attendance. Then you see where the ECAC is hosting its tournament. Albany? Bridgeport? What is the perception? That the ECAC is getting the leftovers.

Put the tournament in "Lake Placid" and immediately the ECAC's brand gets a boost. You may not pack the place there either, but at least the brand name "Lake Placid" — and the "Herb Brooks 1980 Olympic Arena" — can stand on equal and proud footing with "Detroit's Joe Louis Arena", "St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center" and "Boston Garden."

The league finally had a Frozen Four team again, it nearly had a Hobey Baker Award winner. It's time to seize that momentum and do the one thing that can further lift the image of the league:

Go to the town where the "Skyline" is dominated by Whiteface Mountain and the ski jump. Where the front lawn of the high school hosts a famous speed skating oval. Where the entire charming, quaint town is taken over by ECAC hockey. Yes it's hard to get to, yes hotels can be tough to secure. So what. Work it out.

Lake Placid.

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