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Sparse crowds at NCAA men's hockey tournament cause concern

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota played Yale in Grand Rapids, Mich., last weekend with a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four on the line.

It was the worst-attended UND men’s hockey game in seven years.

Down the road, St. Cloud State reached its first Frozen Four in program history by topping Miami University in Toledo, Ohio.

Outside of the regular-season games in Anchorage, it was the lowest-attended St. Cloud State game of the year.

The poor attendance numbers at the NCAA men’s hockey neutral site regionals are coming into focus, and at least two coaches will be pushing for change.

UND coach Dave Hakstol and Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson both say it’s time to address the problem, and both coaches have powerful allies. UND athletic director Brian Faison and Notre Dame associate athletic director Tom Nevala are both on the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee.

“The pinnacle of our season should be played in a great atmosphere,” Hakstol said. “I think the players that are involved in the national tournament deserve that. It’s something that has garnered a fair amount of discussion over the last couple years, but no action. We need to fix it. We’re not doing it the right way at the regional level.”

The UND-Yale game was attended by just 1,918 – the smallest crowd to watch a UND hockey game since a 2006 road game at Michigan Tech.

“I saw the stat that within our program we had 5,500 on a live chat and maybe 1,500 in the building watching a great hockey game on Saturday night,” Hakstol said. “That’s not right. That should be the spotlight of our season. We have to change things and I’d certainly like to work toward doing that sooner than later.”

The Midwest Regional in Toledo also had sparse crowds.

“The game was so slow, between the TV timeouts, the ice conditions, the empty building,” Jackson told the Toledo Blade. “Something has to be done to make the NCAA tournament exciting.

“You know, this is the NCAA tournament. Anybody watching college basketball? It’s not like this. Something needs to be done. You have two great teams playing their hearts out, you’d think there would be a better environment.”

Hakstol said the three best regionals he’s been involved in were 2006 in Grand Forks, 2008 in Madison, Wis., and 2012 in St. Paul. All three regionals drew between 9,800 and 12,000 people per game.

“That’s the stage our national tournament should be played on,” Hakstol said. “We need to get back to that in one way, shape or form.”

Next year, regionals are scheduled for Cincinnati, St. Paul, Bridgeport, Conn., and Worcester, Mass., but no regionals beyond that have been announced.

The topic is expected to get a lot of discussion at the annual coaches’ meetings later this month in Florida.

Article written by Brad E. Schlossman of the Forum News Service

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