Thursday, April 7, 2011

Frozen Four in Canada?

The marquee NCAA event has criss-crossed the United States, it's been held in hockey mad markets, football stadiums, cities without Division 1 college programs and in places where the only ice you find is in your drink. Most of the time the Frozen Four has been successful but other times it has not and in some of those cases, it's a bit surprising.

But considering all of the creative ways the NCAA has come up with the celebrate the championship weekend of the sport, it's never left the country. Is it plausible to think that one day, the Frozen Four might be held in Canada?

To me, the answer is YES.

This year the Frozen Four is in Minnesota and half of The Pipeline Show is fortunate enough to be able to take in the experience first hand. Since I've been here I have been able to talk to numberous media folks who have been to countless Frozen Fours in the past and it's been very interesting to hear the varies opinions of what worked and what didn't.

The 1999 Frozen Four was held in Anaheim and it seems to be nearly unanimous among media I have talked to that it was one of the worst FF's in the last two decades. Apparently it's the last one that wasn't a complete sellout which has left a sour after taste for many.

in 2012, the event moves to Tampa Bay and most I've spoke with believe the same thing may happen there that did in California but others sense that it could potentially be a huge success. Taking the tournament to a non-traditional hockey market is certainly a risk but evidently, so can playing it in a city with a strong background in the sport.

Buffalo in 2003 and Columbus in 2005 were, I'm told, sellouts but only because tickets to the Finals were readily available for between $15-$25. By comparison, a ticket right now for Thursday's semi-final action are selling for $450 and Saturday's title game is fetching $1000 for a single seat.

Why did it fail in those two NHL cities?

Then there was last year's event held at Ford Field, the home stadium of the NFL's Detroit Lions. I hated the gimmick idea as soon as I heard it, hated it when I watched it online and believe me, no one I have spoken with here in St. Paul has had anything positive to say about it either.

I give the NCAA a lot of credit for trying to grow the game by being experimental. The 2007 Frozen Four in St. Louis seems to have earned the highest marks by many down here because it was hugely popular for fans and sold out which is remarkable considering there isn't a Div 1 program anywhere near there. That experiment obviously paid off.

But I mentioned Canada early on and here's why I think it makes sense for the NCAA to strongly consider taking the tournament North. 25-30% of NCAA rosters are filled with Canadian players making Canada ridiculously important in terms of recruiting territory.

Would the event draw fans in Canada where the NCAA game goes laregly unrecognized by the media? I don't know so I asked someone who would in Jeff Jackson, former coach of the OHL's Guelph Storm who leads the Notre Dame Fighting Irish into action on Thursday.

"We’ve actually had talks about that," Jackson said, "I think having it in Toronto would be very successful. We have had a lot of players from that area on our team before, or from other parts of Ontario, so I think it would work extremely well there or in other cities like Calgary, Edmonton... Winnipeg, there are lots of possibilities right across Canada."

Jackson's statement that there have been discussions already of a potential Canadian Frozen Four is consistent with what Paul Kelly of College Hockey Inc. told The Pipeline Show back in early February.

Winnipeg will play host to North Dakota next season in a meeting with an ECAC program, likely Clarkson, and that may be just the tip of the iceberg if some have their way. The spectacle of the Frozen Four would take that to another level.

"We want to be in great hockey markets and that's a big factor of why we're here this year in St. Paul; it's a hockey crazy market, it's in a great venue in the Xcel Energy Center, we'll play in front of 19,000 people and that's where you want the best of the best to be played at the end of the year," said UND coach Dave Hakstol, "I think there would be a number of great venues in Canada and personally I'd love to see it there. I don't know what the logistics are in order to make it happen but when you look at our roster, we're 50% Canadian and it would be a lot of fun for those players to go home and play in front of friends and family."

The logistics do seem like they would be a bit of a hurdle as coach Jackson touched on.

"Every conference has to put in an application to host the Frozen Four so it would mean the CCHA possibly looking at doing something like that for a place like Toronto." he explained.

I would assume then that for it to be held in a Western Canadian location like Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg that the WCHA Conference would have to collectively agree on that city as the best fit for them.

So whhy would Calgary be a more appealing option than another non-NCAA hockey market like Dallas or Phoenix? To me that goes back to player recruiting. How many potential NCAA hockey players will be exposed to the game next year in Tampa? How many more could the NCAA influence if the event were held where 25-30% of their players actually come from?

I asked a couple of Canadian players what they thought about the idea.

"I figure it would definitely raise the [profile] of NCAA hockey up there," said Minnesota-Duluth's Justin Fontaine, a former Bonnyville Pontiac in the AJHL, "I think it would sell out because oh how many hockey fans are up there."

Ontario native Louie Caporusso felt that based on his own experience, having the event in Canada would be a huge marketing tool.

"I think if they brought it to Toronto you'd get a lot of kids thinking about the college route," began the Michigan senior, "I don't think it's publicized enough in Toronto. I didn't know much about college until after my draft year and how do you compete with that when you have kids who grow up seeing the OHL all of their lives? That's all they imagine is becoming an OHL player and they're totally blind to the fact that there are unbelievable programs down South. To bring the Frozen Four to Toronto, or to another big city in Canada, I think would be a great idea."

2012 is Tampa Bay and Pennsylvania will host in both 2013 (Pittsburgh) and 2014 (Philadelphia). IS it possible that one year after that, the NCAA might look at Canada and believe the marketing and recruiting potential of having the Frozen Four across the border is too good to pass up?

Some I posed that question to echoed the response I got from coach Jeff Jackson who said "I think it’s a good possibility."

Whether you're a Canadian or an American, I want to know what YOU think? Leave a comment to tell me!


Dean Millard said...

I think for all the recruiting reasons you mentioned, the CHL will do everything they can to block this event... including leaning on their NHL partners who own/play out of arenas.

peacecountry said...

I'm not sure how strong attendance would be in Canada. When looking at 'amateur' hockey in Canada, RBC Cup or Memorial Cup, the host city still is granted an entry to the tourney. This solidifies interest for both the gate and the large amount of support needed from the community. I'm not sure that without a hometown that it would fly.

Derek O'Brien said...

As a one-time novelty event, it would work, I think. That makes me wonder . . . SFU in BC is a member of the NCAA, though they are DII and they don't have a hockey program. What if they decided to start a hockey program, or a Canadian school that has a hockey program is able to join the NCAA? They might have an advantage recruiting Canadian players and build a team strong enough to compete in the Frozen Four.