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Tom Miller / Forum News Service, Published March 28 2013

Michigan-less field will likely impact attendance at NCAA men's hockey tournament

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – When the NCAA placed the 2013 men’s hockey West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., the organization probably didn’t envision the season unfolding this way.

The University of Michigan, which would have automatically been placed in the Grand Rapids regional, didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 22 years. Michigan State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan also failed to make the 16-team national field.

For the first time since 1979, the NCAA tournament doesn’t include at least one school from Michigan.

That could affect the atmosphere when No. 2 North Dakota plays No. 3 Niagara University at 4:30 p.m. today at Van Andel Arena.

Of the four teams at the regional, UND might have the largest fan base in town. Niagara is located in New York, while Yale is in Connecticut. Even the drive for No. 1 seed Minnesota is about nine hours.

The Grand Rapids regional had a similar issue the last time it hosted this event in 2009 – when Notre Dame, Bemidji State, Northeastern and Cornell came to town. The announced attendance for each semifinal that year was 4,052, with 3,170 in the crowd for the championship game against Bemidji State and Cornell. The semifinal total was at least 2,800 fewer than any of the other three regionals that year and the championship was the least attended by at least 4,400 fans.

UND has become accustomed to drawing large crowds on the road, specifically games at Colorado College, Denver, Omaha, Minneapolis and St. Paul. But North Dakota didn’t find out its regional destination until last Sunday, which can make it difficult on fans to find affordable travel options.

UND coach Dave Hakstol was asked about UND’s dedicated fan base and how it affects the program during the postseason.

“They’re always phenomenal,” Hakstol said. “They’re a big part of what we do.” But at this time of year, especially going into the regional tournament, you have to look within your locker room. Our guys are prepared to go on the road at a regional.

“You’re playing for something much bigger than yourself, but you have to focus in on what this means for our team.”


Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald