The high expectations placed upon the University of Maine men’s hockey team this season has given the program a boost at the box office.
Through their first eight home games, the Black Bears have averaged 4,945 per game which is an increase of 654 over last year’s average attendance.
If the trend continues, that works out to a revenue increase of $13,407 per game and $214,512 for the season. That revenues goes to the athletic department.
Since tickets range from $19-$22, it is based on an average of $20.50 per ticket.
Maine has already attracted more than 5,000 fans to three games after having just one game (5,161 vs. New Hampshire on Feb. 6) with 5,000 or more last season.
“The attendance has been fabulous,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We’re thrilled. The support has been incredible. I know our players and coaches appreciate it very much and we’re really looking forward to the second half of the season.”
Maine averaged 4,754 two seasons ago with four crowds in excess of 5,000 and averaged 5,231 in the 2007-2008 season after coming off an NCAA Frozen Four appearance.
Maine has not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since that 2006-2007 campaign, going 45-57-10 over the next three seasons.
The Black Bears have eight remaining home games, including three involving archrivals and top draws Boston University (2) and Boston College (1).
Maine’s 4-3 overtime loss to New Hampshire on Dec. 10 featured the first sellout crowd (5,445) at the Alfond Arena since a 1-0 loss to Providence College on Nov. 10, 2007. That spans 55 games.
Maine has rewarded its fans with a 6-1-1 home record. The Black Bears were 12-6-1 at Alfond Arena a year ago.
Whitehead feels there are several factors behind the attendance boost.
“I think it was our strong finish last year, our strong home ice results throughout the year and our great start at home this year especially our sweep of North Dakota. That got people energized,” said Whitehead. “Hopefully, if the economy keeps rebounding slowly, that will help as well.”
Maine reached the Hockey East championship game a year ago, losing 7-6 in overtime to eventual national champion Boston College.
Whitehead believes the renovations to the arena, especially a vastly improved lighting system and a thorough paint job that has lightened up the walls and the ceiling, have helped as has the fact “we have an exciting team to watch.”
Maine was the fourth-highest scoring team in the nation a year ago, averaging 3.67 goals per game thanks to the nation’s best power play (27.7 percent success rate). Despite the fact the power play went through an 0-for-33 stretch this season, Maine is still tied for 10th in scoring at 3.56 goals per game.
Maine is currently 14th among the nation’s 58 Division I programs in average attendance. The Black Bears are fourth in Hockey East behind Boston College (6,028), New Hampshire (5,997) and Boston University (5,452) although BC’s Conte Forum can hold 7,884, UNH’s Whittemore Center has a capacity of 6,110 and BU’s Agganis Arena holds 6,300.
Maine is also fourth in Hockey East in percentage of seats filled per game at 90.8 percent.
Vermont leads the league in that category as the Catamounts have averaged 4,007 per game in the Gutterson Fieldhouse, which lists 4,003 as its capacity. That is 100.1 percent. New Hampshire is second (98.2 percent) and upstart Merrimack is third at 91.2 percent as the Warriors have drawn an average of 2527 at their 2,772 Volpe Center arena.
Maine will return to Alfond Arena for a Jan. 14 game with Providence College.
Whitehead said future renovations at Alfond Arena will make it even more fan-friendly. The renovations include an upgrade of the lower bowl seats, new plexiglass and boards, new chiller and dehumidification systems and a new sound system.
“The fans will have even more to look forward to next season,” said Whitehead.
Bears return to practice ice Sunday
Maine, sporting an 8-4-4 record, will play its next game in the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., on Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 7:35 p.m. against Miami University of Ohio.
Maine is the defending tournament champion and is ranked ninth in the country.
Miami, 10-5-3, is ranked sixth and is coming off a 29-8-7 season in which the Redhawks reached the Frozen Four where it was dispatched by Boston College, 7-1. The Redhawks reached the NCAA title game two years ago, squandering a two-goal lead in the final minute to Boston University before losing 4-3 in overtime.
Cornell, 4-6-1, will take on St. Cloud State, 5-11-2, in the tourney opener at 4:05.
Cornell was 21-9-4 a year ago and lost to UNH 6-2 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. St. Cloud State went 24-14-5 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals where it lost to Wisconsin 5-3.
Whitehead said he will again have two practices at Alfond Arena before leaving for Florida. They will practice on Sunday night and early Monday morning before bussing to Boston for the flight to Florida.
“We had two practices before we left last year after having one the previous year and it helped,” explained Whitehead.