St. Cloud, MN- The #1 ranked Husky hockey team had no trouble filling the seats this past weekend vs #3 ranked University of Minnesota-Duluth. Announced crowds for the Friday/Saturday series was 5135 and 5550 respectively. It should be easy to fill the seats when you have the number one team in college hockey eh? Yes and no. There were certainly a few reasons to have sparse crowds this weekend. First, the Huskies had the Penrose Cup wrapped up two weeks ago and really didn’t have a whole lot on the line this weekend. They already knew they were hosting the first round of the NCHC playoffs at home and are a “lock” for their 13th appearance in the NCAA tourney. Second, local high school team St. Cloud Cathedral was making an appearance in the MSHSL tournament at the Xcel Energy Center and was in the championship game on Saturday. Finally, the weather experts had been beating on us all week about the impending storm on Saturday. With the SCSU hockey team drawing from an area about sixty miles in radius from St. Cloud and about half the fans base from outside St. Cloud, that was assumed to have an effect. Well, the fans showed up despite the fact that students were on spring break and it was probably the most boisterous crowd of the year. Heck, even SCSU captain Jimmy Schuldt was impressed. “The biggest part of tonight was how great the fans were. The building was packed and obviously there was a snow storm outside and there was a really good excuse to stay at home and watch on TV. But, they came out to support us. That will be one of my fondest memories looking back.” Even UMD radio play-by-play announcer Bruce Ciskie took notice and commented on Twitter “Great crowds this weekend, really enjoyed calling those games even though I spent half of tonight watching road conditions”
This is a special season for the Huskies and the fans are taking notice. It didn’t hurt this past weekend that the Huskies were facing one of their top rivals, UMD, currently ranked #3. The fans got their monies worth as the games were closely fought, exciting and of playoff caliber. It also doesn’t hurt that the top-ranked Huskies were undefeated in their sixteen game home schedule this regular season. They’ve also been ranked #1 in the country for over half the season. Fans like winners and it showed in the seats this past weekend and during the season.
The SCSU Athletic Department took the bold step of tinkering with game times this season and that seems to have paid off. I met with SCSU Athletic Director Heather Weems prior to the start of the season and based on communication with other teams in the NCHC, most particularly Colorado College she indicated they would play with some of the start times. The season included eight games with 6:07 start times and last Saturday’s game with UMD had a puck drop at 4:07. The thought was the earlier start time might encourage greater attendance by families and based on observation, there seems to be a lot more families with youngsters at games this season. That’s good – they are the future fan base of this program. As the fan base ages, it needs to be replenished with younger fans. I also had the chance to speak with Matt Chapman, Associate Athletic Director who is the head of University ticketing on Saturday and overall he’s pleased with the response by fans this season – particularly the second half of the home schedule. It appears ticket revenue will remain steady despite the fact that two of the largest draws, University of North Dakota and University of Minnesota were not on the home schedule this year.
Those of us that follow college hockey closely want all the programs to draw well to keep the sport healthy. That’s why it was troublesome see the lack of attendance at the Big 10 quarterfinal series between the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan at Mariucci Arena this past weekend. Announced crowds were 1835 on Friday and 1911 on Saturday. Believe me, actual in-house attendance was less than the announced on Friday and closer to 4-500 on Saturday. Partly to blame was the weather, the state high school tourney and the fact that the playoff tickets were not included in the season ticket package. But, again, it didn’t affect the turnout in St. Cloud and even Mankato that was included within the storm system had announced attendance of 2967 and 2479 for their WCHA quarterfinal series with Alabama-Huntsville, certainly not a big draw.
So, to the SCSU fans that showed up this weekend a big thank you. YOU deserve a standing ovation for your support of this team.