In no particular order:
– After the closest finish on record, with so many teams within just a few points of first place in the final standings, it came down to the two teams that have dominated the postseason for the past six years, and the one team that has won five of those six playoff championships. The consistency shown by Air Force year-in and year-out is astounding. The Falcons find a way to win. They’ve won as the first seed, the fourth seed, and everywhere in between. They’ve dominated in games at Blue Cross Arena, and in games that they haven’t dominated, they’ve had a goalie come up big.
“We play some of our best hockey here,” said Air Force defenseman and Hobey Baker finalist Tim Kirby. “It’s like a home away from home.”
“There isn’t no magic,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “The magic is getting better as a team. We’ve been coming here with good teams that have played their best hockey this time of year.”
– The most entertaining game was the semifinal between Niagara and Rochester Institute of Technology. It had the largest crowd (more on that later), and was a physical, hard fought game that took overtime to decide. It was the first time RIT had beaten Niagara since moving to Division I.
“We knew it as going to be this kind of a game,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We’ve really enjoyed this rivalry especially since they went D-I, but even back when we were both in the ECAC West.”
– I wonder what the attendance would have been had RIT lost to Bentley in the quarterfinals. The first semifinal between Air Force and Mercyhurst had less than 300 people on hand in a rink that seats over 10,000. The late semifinal had 3,287. The Tigers have indeed sold out the arena twice, but those were for homecoming games and tickets were less than $10. These games had prices in the $10-$18 range. That may have kept some casual fans away, and the RIT women hosting the Division III championships at Ritter Arena didn’t help either. On Friday, the women played in the afternoon, allowing fans to take in both games. But Saturday the games went head-to-head and over 1,200 fans stayed on campus to see the RIT women’s team win the national title. That led to a drop in attendance to just 2,433 for the AHA championship.
And again, this was with RIT making it to finals. Niagara brought around 100-200 fans. Air Force had less than 100. Mercyhurst was the biggest disappointment, bring maybe 50 fans. It’s only a two hour drive from Erie.
In 2007, the first year the games were held at Blue Cross (and RIT not eligible to compete), attendance for the finals between Army and Air Force was 713. And that was with the novelty of the first time as well as a great matchup between service academies.
This has to be a concern for the league – fans of teams other than RIT (which brought around 2,000 people to the 2010 NCAA Regional in Albany) just don’t travel. At least the RIT conflict between men’s and women’s games probably won’t happen again with the expected move of the RIT women to Division I. But maybe it’s time to look at other alternatives. The league has been fortunate from a gate standpoint that RIT has made it to Blue Cross every season, but that streak’s got to end sometime…the same way Air Force’s streak will end. Or maybe not.