Frozen Four moves to bigger stage at Ford Field
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves hopes that holding the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit will help draw attention to college hockey the way NHL has benefited from playing outdoor games.
"I think it's a good idea to go and try it and see how it works out," he said.
The NHL game at Wrigley Field last year between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings drew the biggest television audience for a regular-season NHL game in nearly 34 years. More than 30,000 fans are expected to attend the games in Detroit. The semifinals are on April 8 and the title game is April 10.
The Badgers (28-11-1), who are seeking their seventh national title, will face Rochester Tech in the opening game. The Tigers, who have won 12 straight, are in just their fifth season in Division I.
Miami of Ohio (29-7-7), which came within a minute of winning last season before blowing a two-goal lead and losing in overtime, will play Boston College (27-10-3). The Eagles have ended the RedHawks season in three of the past four years.
BC coach Jerry York said he was initially opposed to playing in such a large venue when it was proposed because he was worried about ice quality and fans being too far away. But he changed his mind after seeing how excited his team was to play at Fenway Park against Boston University in January.
"The chance to play at Ford Field I think is going to be a positive one," he said.
He also is encouraged that the NHL's ice expert, Dan Craig, will be monitoring conditions and that portable stands will bring fans closer to the action.
Eaves, who has coached the Badgers in outdoor games in front of 40,890 fans at Lambeau Field in 2006 and in front of 55,031 fans at Camp Randall in February, said playing indoors in such a large venue will bring different challenges.
He expects it to be warmer in the larger venue and is concerned it could cause players to cramp up.
"Another thing is, how far is the walk? I've heard rumors they're going to have golf carts for the goaltenders. So these are some of the logistics we're going to have to deal with," he said.
Rochester Tech coach Wayne Wilson isn't worried about the venue, he's more worried about how his team is going to handle playing on a bigger stage.
"There are a lot of possible traps and distractions out there. But with this particular team it's another game against another very good team in a different facility," he said. "It's Wisconsin on another ice sheet."
He's more concerned about the attention his team is receiving as heavy underdogs. The Tigers entered the tournament as the 15th seed.
Wilson said he consulted with Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, who last year became the first coach to guide a No. 16 seed into the Frozen Four. Wilson said Serratore warned about not getting caught up in the media attention.
"The guys started believing everything and were all so excited that they lost a little bit of their grit, they just lost a bit along the way because of the attention they were getting through the media," he said. "We can either listen to him and benefit from someone whose been through it or do our own path and maybe follow into the trap."
Miami coach Enrico Blasi said last year's experience playing for the national championship should help this year's team deal with the distractions.
"Once you've been there it's not as new, it's not the novelty of being at the Frozen Four. Hopefully that will calm us down and help prepare us to stay focused," he said.