ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s cooperative effort with management at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center to land the 2015 Ice Breaker Tournament could set the stage for an eventual NCAA Northeast or Eastern Regional bid.
The Ice Breaker Tournament is a four-team affair that traditionally kicks off the college hockey season. It is usually held the first or second week of October.
Maine athletic director Steve Abbott said one of the reasons they wanted the Ice Breaker was to lay the foundation for a regional bid.
“It’s definitely something we’re very interested in doing down the road,” said Abbott. “Maine is such a great hockey state and Portland is a great hockey town. With the [$32 million] renovation at the civic center, the facility will be very viable for that kind of an event.”
“This is creating the groundwork which will enable us to bid for a regional,” said Cumberland County Civic Center general manager Steve Crane. “The Ice Breaker Tournament is a great way to start.”
Crane said the Ice Breaker receives national exposure and if everything goes well, it would prove to the NCAA that they are capable of hosting a regional.
Maine has never hosted an NCAA regional.
Maine has had a history of receiving strong support when the hockey team has played in Portland. The Black Bears have drawn more than 6,100 fans to each of their last 10 visits to the 6,733-seat facility.
“And we have always drawn well when we’ve gone on the road to regionals. We have a strong fan base. If we were fortunate enough to qualify for the regional, it would be sold out in Portland,” predicted Abbott. “There is plenty of support for hockey in general in the area and the fans would love seeing elite postseason competition.”
Abbott said even if Maine didn’t qualify, “the University of New Hampshire is only 50 minutes away and many of the other Hockey East schools are within two hours. So the fan base is there.”
“It should be geographically perfect,” said Crane.
Crane submitted a bid to host the 2005 Northeast Regional but the NCAA rejected it and awarded it to the University of Massachusetts’ Mullins Center.
Crane said one of the biggest stumbling blocks was the locker room situation.
“We had five locker rooms but two belonged to the [American Hockey League’s Portland] Pirates so we had only three available,” said Crane. “We will have eight after the renovations so six will be available.”
The regionals are four-team affairs.
“You have to have functionality and space,” said Crane.
Crane is also convinced that they can address any other needs, including better press facilities, through the renovations.
The upgrades are supposed to be complete on Dec. 19, according to Crane.
The seating capacity would be on the low end of the spectrum compared with other regional sites but regionals haven’t been drawing well, especially the ones in the West, so Abbott doesn’t think that will be a major issue.
Last season’s Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio, had only 2,460 for the final between Miami and St. Cloud State. The Huntington Center holds 7,431.
“The NCAA is going to be talking this year about the future of the regionals,” Abbott said. “There had been a big focus on making sure the schedule played out perfectly for television but a number of people believe generating live fan excitement makes for a better quality event and an even better experience for the student-athletes.”