Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson ruffled some feathers with his comments about the “empty” Huntington Center following his team’s game in the NCAA Division I Midwest Regional on Saturday.
While Sunday’s crowd of 2,460 for the regional title — and one of four berths in the NCAA’s Frozen Four — was small in comparison to other venues and previous years, the two coaches in that game were complimentary of the building and Toledo’s role in the event.
“We loved it — we love everything about Toledo,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said after his team won Sunday’s title game 4-1. “I know the crowds weren’t big, but it’s more than that.
“It was the hospitality. It was the facility. We had a great hotel, and we walked over here.
“This had a big-time feel, and that was pretty cool.”
Miami coach Enrico Blasi also was gracious, adding, “It’s a great building. I think the people of Toledo did a great job, and the Bowling Green [State University] people are first-class all the way.”
Saturday’s semifinal crowd of 2,988 wasn’t the smallest of the four regionals. That “honor” went to Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., which had just 2,289 fans see Yale face Minnesota and Niagara battle North Dakota.
Toledo’s Sunday crowd, which included 2,359 all-session passes and 101 single-game tickets, also was larger than the 1,918 fans in Grand Rapids for the Yale-North Dakota final.
Those crowds pale in comparison to the other two regionals. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., had a crowd of 6,253 for its semifinal session, while the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., had 8,049 fans for its semifinals and 8,357 for its championship game thanks to the University of New Hampshire playing there both days.
Because Bowling Green hosted an NCAA women’s basketball regional last year, the school has some experience that helped them prepare for this year’s event.
“What we learned is your draw, the teams that are sent to your building — things that are completely our of your control — very much determine how many tickets you will sell,” Bowling Green associate athletics director Lesley Irvine said. “We would like to sell more, obviously.”
It also didn’t help that the regional was played during the Easter holiday.
“The NCAA regionals always take place the last week of March, and this year Easter fell that same weekend,” said Steve Miller, general manager of the Huntington Center. “We were competing with family time, we’re competing with Easter, and we’re competing with spring break as well. Given those conditions, I thought the attendance figures were adequate.”
It also didn’t help that the NCAA set ticket prices at $75 for all-session tickets (a total of three games) and $45 for single-game passes.
By comparison, BG sold all-session tickets for last year’s women’s basketball regional at $30. The school sold all 4,280 tickets at the Stroh Center; Irvine said the hockey event presold roughly 1,100 all-session passes for the arena, which seats 7,431.
Miller said the Huntington Center learned some lessons about marketing an NCAA event.
“We had a lot of generic marketing materials from an NCAA brand perspective,” he said. “I think we need to be more specific as much as we can. Once the teams were announced, I don’t think we properly told the story of what we have here. This is a great event, and I think if people would have known more about it and the teams, they would have come out.”
Both sides said they hope this won’t be the last time the NCAA hockey tournament comes to Toledo.
“We’ll bid again,” Miller said. “The teams had a great experience, and I think the fans who came to town had a great experience. And Bowling Green was great to work with.
“I think we’re really going to take this to the next level the next time we get an opportunity to bring this event to Toledo.”
Irvine said Bowling Green has bid for another NCAA women’s basketball tournament at the Stroh Center, and the school would help with future hockey bids as well.
“We are committed to hosting NCAA events, and we would love to host one when Bowling Green is in it,” she said.
“This is a fantastic experience. We do view this as a successful weekend.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.