ECAC finals are returning to ‘a special place’
LAKE PLACID When ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell came to Lake Placid for last December’s Festivus Faceoff college hockey games that featured Union against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Clarkson versus St. Lawrence, he had a good idea of where he wanted the league’s tournament championship weekend to be.
Calling Lake Placid a natural fit, Hagwell confirmed what was first reported Friday. The ECACH tournament final four will return to Lake Placid after 10 1⁄2-year absence, starting in 2014.
“It’s such a special place,” Hagwell said at a press conference at the Conference Center at Lake Placid Edelweiss Room in Olympic Arena. “The excitement is back within our league. I had the opportunity to come here in December . . . the first time I had been back here in 10 years during the winter months. Just driving in, it was just special. It brought me back.”
The deal will be for three years. Lake Placid, which hosted the tournament from 1993-2002, was one of four sites which put in bids for the tournament. The others were Albany’s Times Union Center, which held the tournament from 2003-2010, current host Atlantic City, N.J., and Providence, R.I.
“The coaches and ADs can speak for themselves, but I know people within our league are excited about it,” Hagwell said. “We talked for years about what is the ultimate objective for our championship, and that is to create an atmosphere at a venue [and] at a place where our student-athletes have a tremendous experience, our fans have a tremendous experience. You walk down Main Street here in Lake Placid, and you just feel it and see all the different jerseys and sweatshirts of our members.
“That’s what we’ve been longing for.”
And so has the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs the Olympic Center.
“I’m excited, but I think the whole village, town and region are excited,” ORDA president and chief operating officer Ted Blazer said. “It’s great for us to bring an event like this back to New York state [and] Lake Placid. This is the home of hockey, home of the ECAC. We’re just really pleased.”
Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber was disappointed in the league’s decision, but wished Lake Placid well. Belber added that he will focus his efforts on bringing the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to Albany.
“We’re proud of the bid we put forward,” Belber said. “We had a great title sponsor in CDPHP. I spoke to somebody close to the selection committee that confirmed we had the best financial bid on the table. I feel strongly that our facility was one of the best being considered.”
The tournament first moved to Lake Placid from Boston, where it had been from the league’s start in 1962. In the 10 years in Lake Placid, the tournament averaged 14,126 fans. There was a handshake agreement between the league and the Olympic Regional Development Authority to keep the tournament beyond 2002.
However, the deal was never signed, and the tournament moved to Albany’s Pepsi Arena (now Times Union Center), where it remained until the move to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
But that didn’t stop Blazer from pursuing the ECACH.
“Nothing ever comes from negative,” Blazer said. “I realize that there are ebbs and flows in every kind of a relationship. Sometimes, it’s time for change. This organization will always try to dwell on the positive things, and keep positive relationships with every organization.”
Asked what the student-athletes and fans can expect when the tournament returns to Lake Placid, Blazer said, “The same excitement when they left.”
Union coach Rick Bennett is pleased with the news.
“Being a new guy who hasn’t seen Lake Placid, I can only go by what I’ve heard from the past,” said Bennett, whose team is the defending ECACH tournament champions, yet is the only league team never to reach the conference final four when it was in Lake Placid. “Everyone that I’ve spoken to about Lake Placid had a real positive experience, and was a destination to get there. Once you got there, it was just a tremendous atmosphere.”
One concern for the coaches was the ice surface. It’s an Olympic-size sheet, 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. The extra 15 feet of width is a surface that the 12 teams don’t play on during the regular season.
But Bennett said the teams will adjust.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going to score a goal, you’re going to have to get to that blue paint [the goal crease] somehow,” Bennett said. “I guess it’s going to take a few more feet to get there.”
Olympic Center manager Denny Allen experimented with moving the boards in 15 feet. But the sight lines were a problem.
“Your best seat became your worst seat,” Allen said. “We decided that isn’t going to work for people. The front row wasn’t a good seat. Up into the fourth row was bad.”
Allen believed it wasn’t worth making the change to the rink that hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics, when the U.S. men’s hockey team won the gold medal.
“This is Americana,” Allen said.