NCAA Division I hockey regionals could return to campus sites

Maine's Spencer Abbott climbs over the boards and onto the ice during his team's practice at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., for the Northeast Regional against Minnesota-Duluth in 2012.
Pete Warner | BDN
Maine's Spencer Abbott climbs over the boards and onto the ice during his team's practice at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., for the Northeast Regional against Minnesota-Duluth in 2012. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 23, 2013, at 5:40 p.m.

The NCAA recently announced the four Frozen Four sites for the next four NCAA Division I tournaments after this season’s event, which will be held in Philadelphia.

The regional sites were listed for just two seasons beyond this year.

That’s because the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee is contemplating a return to campus sites for the tournament because of the number of empty arenas during regional play.

Last season’s West Regional final in Grand Rapids, Mich., between Yale and North Dakota attracted 1,918 fans to the 10,834-seat Van Andel Arena. The Midwest Regional championship game between Miami and St. Cloud State drew 2,460 to the 8,000-seat Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.

The East Regional title game between Quinnipiac and Union drew 5,007 to the 12,400-seat Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence.

However, the Northeast Regional final between UMass Lowell and New Hampshire attracted 8,357 to the 9,852-seat Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H.

Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna said the men’s ice hockey committee is concerned there is a “lack of a championship atmosphere” at the regionals, which is why it is going to closely scrutinize the next three seasons of four-team regionals before awarding regional sites for the 2016-17 season and beyond.

The four four-team regional format began during the 2002-2003 season after the NCAA expanded the Division I men’s tournament from 12 to 16 teams.

“The [attendance] problem is more with the regionals in the west,” said Bertagna. “[The men’s ice hockey committee] wants to create a national championship [tournament] atmosphere even if it does mean giving a team a home-ice advantage.

“A lot of people didn’t want somebody having a home-ice advantage but they’re starting to come around to going back to home sites for the atmosphere,” he added.

There will be a home rink used for a regional in 2015, at the University of Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena. The facility, which opened in 2011, holds 5,022.

Bertagna feels that there are a number of healthy venues in the east for regional tournaments such as Manchester, N.H.; Providence, R.I.; Worcester, Mass.; and Bridgeport, Conn.

There is another site in the Northeast that never has hosted a regional that Bertagna would endorse: Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center.

A bid was made several years ago but the civic center wasn’t selected.

The University of Maine will host the IceBreaker Tournament at the renovated Cumberland County Civic Center in October 2015.

Bertagna said the IceBreaker Tournament gives UMaine and the civic center a golden opportunity to prove they are capable of hosting a successful regional.

“It’s a great area to walk around, too,” said Bertagna.

The civic center is undergoing a $33 million renovation, which will include the addition of locker rooms, adding a valuable asset in the attempt to land a regional.

Bertagna said there also has been discussion of having two eight-team super regionals that each would send two teams to the Frozen Four.

The tournaments would last three days: Thursday-Friday-Saturday or Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

There would be one bracket of two games on the first day and another on the second day. The two winners on the first day would meet in the early game on the third day for the right to go to the Frozen Four and the second-day winners would meet in the nightcap for the other Frozen Four slot.

That would give each regional more potential fans because there would be more schools involved.

Bertagna said the future regional format will be a hot topic at the annual American Hockey Coaches Association convention April 30-May 4.

UMaine coach Red Gendron said it doesn’t matter to him which format they adopt.

“I just want to make the tournament,” said Gendron.

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