The Frozen Four Shuffles Off To Buffalo
It is the epitome of college hockey in the United States. The Frozen Four is the two day, four team final tournaments to crown the National Champion in NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey. The 2019 version is being hosted by the MAAC, Canisius College and Niagara University at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. The home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres has welcomed two teams from each of the Hockey East and NCHC hockey conferences in a curious drawing. However, not all has been rosy in Bison City.
Making it to the Frozen Four were the Massachusetts Minutemen and Providence Friars from Hockey East and the Denver Pioneers and Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs representing the NCHC. The response to the tournament in Buffalo has been paltry at best. The semi-final games dream just over 13,000 fans. This was far from a sellout of the building which holds over 18,000. The last time the NCAA saw so few fans at their flagship hockey event was in 2002 when Providence sold out the Frozen Four at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, which holds just over 11,000. The question remains, what happened in Buffalo?
A couple of observations may help explain the lack of attendance. First is the location. Although Buffalo does boast a strong following for the Sabres and the Canisius Golden Griffins play just across the road at HarborCenter, Buffalo is not exactly a college hockey hotbed. Canisius is not a huge draw and would in no way be considered a big time hockey program. Nearby Niagara Purple Eagles are in the same boat as Canisius. RIT in Henrietta, an hour’s drive from Buffalo would be the biggest program around.
Buffalo also did not luck out in their draw. Absent from the Frozen Four are such powerhouse programs as Michigan, Minnesota, Boston College, Wisconsin, Notre Dame or North Dakota. Any one of these programs would elevate the cache of this tournament. UMass brought a strong following to Buffalo, but the Minutemen have had little success outside of the 2018-2019 season. Also, the New York schools did not make it to the Frozen Four. Cornell, Clarkson, Colgate or RPI could also have helped attendance by bringing a really strong local following.
All of this was compounded with the absurdly expensive tickets for the Frozen Four. The cheapest ticket package for the Frozen Four was $250. Even on the day of the finals, box office tickets for the final game were going for $125. A more affordable experience would have surely had a positive effect on the tournament.
Don’t be misconstrued. The Frozen Four event is an event worth seeing. The hockey is exciting and the atmosphere can be great. The bands in Buffalo were great and UMass above the other schools had a strong, loud following. However, it is undeniable that the event could have been so much better. It would be curious to compare the Buffalo experience with that of Tampa, St. Paul, Chicago, Pittsburgh or next year’s host, Detroit. Was Buffalo an aberration or are the expectations of the Frozen Four just a bit too high?