The inaugural North Star College Cup was played last weekend at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, and the word that seemed to be on everyone's lips was 'Beanpot'. Was it Minnesota's version of the famed Massachusetts tournament? Could it become just as big one day? Minnesota State's Johnny McInnis, who was the only Massachusetts native to play in the tournament, seemed to think so saying he thought the tournament could become bigger than the Beanpot.
I've never been to a Beanpot, nor ever had any particular interest in seeing one, so I can't really offer up any sort of comparison. But I can say this: I loved this tournament. Two weeks ago, I saw a pair of great games, one between Minnesota State and Ferris State, and one between St. Cloud State and Western Michigan. I realized that new league rivalries will be formed, and we'll still see great games as those teams jockey for position in the standings(and also the Big Ten will play games). But it just doesn't feel the same. The combination of familiarity, and a history and proximity that the old WCHA had that created something special that is tough to recreate. On Saturday night, at least for one night, the old WCHA was back--complete with the officiating we had all come to expect.
It's an absolute joy to watch those teams compete against each other with something meaningful on the line, and it's something I hope grows into an annual tradition.
With all that said, that doesn't mean there was no room for improvement. Here's a few thoughts I had that could take this tournament from really good to great.
1. Shootouts Suck. Never Do That Again
Ugh. I can't be the only one that felt a little bit cheated that after such a great championship game, the first trophy was handed out to the winner of a shootout. Tournaments have the option of playing full 20-minute periods until a winner is decided, and that's something that desperately needs to be changed for next year, at least for the championship game.
A tie/shootout is fine for the consolation game. I can go either way on the semifinal games. I understand the fears of either the first semifinal game dragging way late, causing the second game to start deep into the night, or the possibility of a team playing extremely late into the night on Friday, then having to turn around and play the consolation game the next afternoon. But at the same time, if we're here to celebrate college hockey in Minnesota, why cut the games short? Playing full OTs, especially in the semifinals would be a sign of just how serious teams take this tournament, and make the tournament feel more special.
It was a huge missed opportunity for the first year tournament. I thought the tournament went pretty well, but if that championship game had continued on into a second overtime, you probably could have sold out the building for next year's tournament as soon as that game ended.
2. Don't Change the Format
A few people mentioned it would be nice be nice to get all five Minnesota schools into the tournament, or possibly even six with North Dakota counting as "close enough". It's a nice idea but not one that seems very feasible. Attendance for the Friday afternoon game was rough enough as it was, with it being difficult for people to get down to St. Paul that early on a work day. Adding any more games creates too many logistical problems and not much benefit. The two-day, two-game format is very clean, and easy for fans to plan for, knowing their team is guaranteed two games on the weekend.
I would be interested to hear people's thoughts on the schedule. This year, they went with a 4pm and 7(:30-ish) start, and didn't allow people to leave the arena between games. Would things have been better or worse had they gone with a 2pm start, cleared the arena between games, and then 7pm for the second game. As a media member that tried to write on both games, 45 minutes between games is absolutely killer when post-game press conferences take about 43 minutes. But I also recognize that's incredibly low on the priority list.
3. Keep the Gophers in the Tournament
Another idea I've heard mentioned frequently was having the team that comes in fourth place in the tournament be the team that sits out the following year, rather than having Minnesota be a permanent participant. On one hand, I really like that idea because it would add some intrigue and intensity to the third-place game. There's always national computer ranking implications in every game, but something more tangible to play for would give the first Saturday game some extra spice.
I don't think they should do that, however. From a practical standpoint, I think the Minnesota fanbase has to be included in this tournament to make it financially viable. Attendance was good, but not great both days and if you replace the number of Gopher fans in the stands with what Bemidji State would have brought, it would have been abysmal. Perhaps once the tournament gains a bit of tradition and it becomes a bigger deal, that idea might be worth revisiting, but guaranteeing Minnesota a spot in the field seems like a sensible decision.
The other reason I like having Minnesota always in the tournament is adding a Big Ten team makes it less likely for an intra-conference match-up. A potential second day of Minnesota State vs. Bemidji State and Minnesota-Duluth vs. St. Cloud State isn't all that exciting when those teams already meet four times during the regular season with more on the line.
4. Get Students More Involved
The tournament was sorely lacking a student presence from all teams involved. There were plenty of empty sections in the upper levels of the arena. Get a sponsor to hand out a section's worth of free tickets to students at each school and provide transportation and the atmosphere increases exponentially. Having the bands there was nice, and really added something, but a strong student section would really help get the other fans there involved.
5. Create More Atmosphere in the Arena
There was lots of room for improvement from a promotional standpoint in terms of in-game entertainment. I'm not saying have the Jack Links Sasquatch fight a mascot like I saw a couple weeks ago, but some more between-period competitions that got fans from opposing sides involved would have helped keep the crowd a little more engaged. Also, unless I missed it, how was there no Little Chippers game? That sort of thing seems like a given.
6. Work on the Tournament Name
'North Star College Cup' is okay as a name, but doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. There's no real way to shorten it either like you can with 'Beanpot' or 'GLI'. Maybe that's a minor thing, but there's definite room for improvement there.
7. Don't Schedule the Tournament on the Same Day as a Parade
This one seems pretty self-explanatory.
I do love the idea of holding in late January/early February if possible. One of the big problems with the failed Minnesota Hockey Showcase was holding it in the first half of the season. Fans are way more engaged once we get into the second half of the season, and teams have a little more idea of where they stand in the national picture, making the consolation game a little more meaningful because it was important in terms of Pairwise implications for both teams.
8. Hot Chocolate
Matt Christians seriously took over 5000 pictures for us on the weekend. Can he get some hot chocolate? There was a hot chocolate machine; but no hot chocolate. Figure it out, XCel Center.
Otherwise, it had actually been a couple years since I covered a game at the X, and I had kind of forgotten what a first-class venue it is for players, fans, and media. I had heard a few suggestions of rotating the tournament around the home arenas in the state, but I see no reason to when you've got such a nice facility so centrally-located. Or hold it in St. Cloud, because you don't have to pay for parking there.
9. Media Game
Again, way, way down on the priority list, but there was always talk of a media game at the Final Five that never came to fruition(to my knowledge). With everybody fairly local, why not put together a media game like Hockey East did at Frozen Fenway this year?
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