ECAC Makes the Right Move
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Four months ago, I wrote a piece advocating the ECAC moving its postseason tournament back to Lake Placid. This week, that came to fruition.
Though there were likely some remaining detractors among the coaches and athletic directors within the league, I believe this is the best move for the ECAC, for reasons stated in the last piece. And this has only been reinforced recently.
Geography is an issue, but ultimately not one that should matter. Every school could pick their favorite AHL arena that's closest to their campus, but what is best for the league? Yes, Lake Placid is more difficult to get to than other locations, simply because of the potentially snowy two-lane road necessary to get there, and the distance for some schools. But the positives outweigh the negatives to that.
From what I can gather, if not for the Olympic sized ice surface, Lake Placid would've won a vote a long time ago. But authorities in Lake Placid insist that the ice surface will not change to accomodate the ECAC Tournament. As a result, it became a more contentious issue.
No ECAC team has an Olympic-sized sheet, and then you decide your championship on one, then flip back to NHL-sized for the NCAAs. Some coaches — let's emphasize, some — see this as a bigger issue than others. I see this as a valid concern, but, again, ultimately not a big enough deal to offset the positives. And players don't seem to mind.
My main argument in favor is Lake Placid is its mystique — it's the Mecca of American hockey, not to mention a very cool little town. No other venue can touch it. Being associated with Lake Placid gives the ECAC an automatic image boost. Again — there is no magic venue out there where the ECAC will draw 15,000 fans, or even 10,000. Anyone who believes this is dreaming. And again, this isn't a knock — the ECAC is made up of mainly small private schools in smaller towns, and no one can do anything about that. It is what it is. I love it for what it is. Embrace it.
My point was, and is, that, so long as you're not hitting a home run anywhere else, why not embrace the one place you can attach yourself to that boosts your image? Being associated with Lake Placid is an absolute positive for the ECAC, and is the only place with the potential to positively impact recruiting.
I've heard the counter-argument that, for kids today, the aura of Lake Placid is just not there. After all, they point out, these kids weren't even born when the "Miracle On Ice" occurred.
This argument is off base. Every current player you talk to, not only knows all about the Miracle On Ice, but feels something strongly about it. To wit, some of the players that were on hand for the recent World Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid:
Harvard forward Colin Blackwell: "This past year in Atlantic City was a good experience — but to come back here to Lake Placid would mean a lot. There's so much memory and history here. Stepping on the ice gives you chills — to have the ECAC Final Four here would be something special. ... There's kids on the team (at Harvard) that are not from the U.S.A., but at the same time, they all know. Everyone who plays hockey and looks at the movie 'Miracle' and that's what they want to do, play in the Olympics and on big stages like this."
Former Miami forward Tyler Biggs: "We went downtown, we saw the Team USA store, they had the Miracle game playing, all the old jerseys. It shows you the tradition surrounding this city. That was really neat for all of us, and it's something pretty special around here."
Incoming Harvard defenseman Jim Vesey: "Everyone knows about it and it was the biggest moment in American hockey. So it's in the back of everyone's mind when we're out there. ... This would be pretty cool to play in (for the ECAC tournament)."
Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere: "It's definitely historic. I came here with (Union) last year, scored my first college goal here. It's awesome. ... Oh definitely (we care). One of the most historic moments happened here. Trust me, everyone's aware of it. Just sitting in the stands before the game you envision what this place was like in 1980, and it gives you chills. ... I want to play at the historic place."
The next counter-argument is that this sentiment is only felt by American players, not Canadians. Again, I disagree. While it's obviously true that Canadian players won't necessarily feel the sense of patriotic pride about the Miracle On Ice, they have certainly heard of it and appreciate its sense in hockey history.
If you're in Canada (or North Dakota), and you compare Joe Louis Arena to somewhere like Albany and Providence, the perception is: "The ECAC is too small for the big arenas, and is getting the leftovers of AHL rinks."
But if you compare Joe Louis Arena to Lake Placid, the perception suddenly becomes: "We are good enough to have our own cool venue too."
And that's the difference.
The bottom line is, attendance will not be huge no matter where the ECAC goes. But Lake Placid is the perfect place for the league to maximize its image — to accentuate its positives and not its negatives.
Being associated with Lake Placid gives the ECAC a sense of credibility that the other venue options don't.