Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ECAC Headed Back North in 2014

Just when I get back from Atlantic City, the Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey Championship is also getting ready to leave the "World's Favorite Playground".

After two years of very low attendance, and likely another one in March, on the fabled Boardwalk in southern New Jersey, the ECAC announced last week that it will be returning its men’s hockey semifinals and final to Lake Placid in 2014 for the first year of a three-year deal.

The ECAC previously held its title tilt in Lake Placid from 1993 to 2002 before shifting to Albany in 2003 and then Atlantic City in 2011.

I had the feeling last week while walking the Boardwalk that the ECAC was going to pull the plug on AC after that three-year deal expires in 2013. As compared to the last two Augusts, there was virtually no promotion near the site of the 86-year-old venue, Boardwalk Hall, nor anywhere else for that matter.

The past two years saw a large four-color banner that featured all twelve ECAC school logos and a color photo either of game action or a past champion, announcing the championship rounds, stretched across the outside of the venerable facility. This year there was a small green-on-white placard mounted on a column that announced next spring’s playoff, the winner of which gets the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

That small sign was it for marketing, as far as I saw.

There was also the standard inflatable goal-shooting game outside the arena, where kids could step up and take a shot on a plastic net   but hardly anyone was using it the day of the annual Atlantic City “Thunder Over the Boardwalk” air show, which in itself didn’t seem quite as heavily populated as in the past.

It’s just as well. Atlantic City is a great place with a lot of tradition, but unfortunately ice hockey doesn’t rank very highly on that list. The Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies (still can’t stand that name) won an East Coast Hockey League title in 2003, and then moved to California two years later simply because they couldn’t get enough people out of the casinos and into their games.

Lake Placid isn’t exactly inexpensive, and isn’t easy to get to in late winter – but no one can say it lacks hockey tradition. The Olympic ice surface may be larger than what Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Union and the other seven league schools are used to; but with the memory of the “Miracle on Ice” as strong as ever 30-plus years later, the ECAC returning to upstate New York for its conference championship will definitely be like coming home.

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