ECAC Makes It Official: Moving Back to Lake Placid
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The ECAC is moving its tournament back to Lake Placid, as of 2014. The move, as first reported by CHN last week, was made official today.
The agreement with the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) of New York is for three years. The ECAC has one more year left on a three-year contract with Atlantic City, N.J.
This marks a return to the picturesque, historic village in New York's Adirondack Mountains, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. The ECAC held its tournament in Lake Placid from 1993-2002 before moving to Albany. The 1980 Arena, since renamed Herb Brooks Arena, holds approximately 8,000 and was home of the famed "Miracle on Ice."
AHL arenas in Providence, Albany and Bridgeport were also in the running. League officials also explored Madison Square Garden, but the move was too prohibitive, both in terms of cost and timing.
Hagwell wasn't willing to get into specifics of the voting process, but did say that the process was thorough.
"It was a long, healthy process and at the end of the day, I believe (Lake Placid is) the home for this league," Hagwell said. "And I'm very excited, and the people in the league are excited."
The ECAC originally left Lake Placid as attendance waned, but after an initial bump in Albany, attendance waned there too. Meanwhile, despite a $100,000 annual guarantee from Atlantic City, the move there has not been a success either, forcing the league to look for its next alternative.
"We've been working with ECAC Hockey over the past five years to try to get this back — as soon as the contract started to wane in Albany," said Jim Goff, Director of Events at ORDA.
Goff said that hosting a recent in-season tournament in Lake Placid was instrumental in convincing RPI and Union to support the Lake Placid bid.
"We wanted to get RPI and Union in this building and experience the atmosphere," Goff said. "Since we hosted the tournament last, there's been so much turnover in coaches and administrators, we wanted to get those guys in the building, and they had a great experience."
The biggest, and perhaps the only, holdup for some schools and coaches was the size of the playing surface in Lake Placid. Herb Brooks Arena has an Olympic-size ice surface of 200x100, something no other ECAC school has. Many coaches believe it's wrong to decide the league championship on a different surface than they play on all season, and also have concerns about preparation in going back to NHL-size ice the following week for the NCAAs.
"That's a discussion that's ongoing," Hagwell said. "The folks at ORDA say they want it to stay as is, because it's part of the aura of Lake Placid in general. Their approach is, 'This has been around since the inception of the facility and we hope you love it.' People in the league, given the choice, would play on a regulation rink. So that door has not been completely closed. We had a discussion today, and we'll continue to.
"There's not a perfect site out there. But when you step back, and are looking for a championship atmosphere, and the aura, Lake Placid has it."
Goff said ORDA was standing firm on keeping the Olympic-sized sheet, even if that meant losing the bid.
"We've looked into the ice, we've gone back and forth about changing it," Goff said. "More recently we realized that the best thing we have to offer the ECAC is the fan experience. And when we looked into making it smaller, the biggest impact was on the fans because it began to push the fans away from the ice, and it affected the fans more than we'd affect the game."
Goff said the biggest change to the venue since the tournament was last held there is the addition of a new conference center, which is adjacent to the old 1932 Arena. That area will be used for hospitality and other functions.
There are also improvements to the lodging issues in town. In the last 10 years, a Mariott Suites was added to the area, and the old Hilton — which is now High Peaks Resort — has added rooms. Also, a brand new Hampton Inn is currently being constructed.
Some fans, however, expressed concern over past policies that forced two-night weekend minimums for hotel reservations.
"We're very cognizant of the issue in regards to fans," Hagwell said.
Said Goff, "It's not in our control, but we will continue to work with properties to offer (good) rates to fans. It's difficult because we don't know the fans until the work before. It's a resort community on the tail end of the winter season, but we have a fairly good working relationship with the properties."
"I can see the concern. We do 120 events per winter and we run into this every weekend. It's the nature of the beast. ... A two-night minimum in resort communities is pretty common."
Goff addressed another concern: whether television would be less likely to broadcast games from Lake Placid. The ECAC has had trouble enough getting its tournament on television.
"We do a lot of televised events from here," Goff said. "Six to seven events per winter are televised worldwide. There are three companies that live in Lake Placid that are production companies. They crew from here all the time. There's a ton of people that live in the area that crew major events. We do a 27-camera shoot for bobsledding."
Said Hagwell, "More and more networks say, 'You produce the games and we'll air it.' So I don't see any obstacles in terms of production, because we can hire a crew."