As a prelude to holding its men’s championship tournament here for the first time next March, officials of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will begin marketing the annual Final Five event at Van Andel Arena Oct. 5.
“We are thrilled to be bringing this premier collegiate championship to the friendly and sports-loving city of Grand Rapids,” said WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod in a statement. “And we can’t think of a better way to generate excitement and momentum for this marquee event than to mix with the local community during the annual ArtPrize event. It’s going to be a great day for folks of all ages.”
The league’s marketing effort has been timed to take place at the arena on the second to last day — and final Saturday — of ArtPrize, when downtown is expected to be filled with visitors.
The WCHA will have a booth set up in front of the arena from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., when college hockey fans will have the opportunity to buy Final Five tickets at a pre-sale discount. The league will also offer hockey-related games, raffles, face painting, arena tours and giveaways. Members of the 2013 AHL Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins are expected to be on hand.
“Grand Rapids continues to be an incredible sports destination and great home of championship hockey on so many levels. Next March will bring equal excitement as we host the WCHA Final Five Championship,” said Mike Guswiler, president of the West Michigan Sports Commission.
“We could not be prouder to be a part of what we hope will become a long-standing tradition of hosting collegiate hockey in Grand Rapids,” he added.
It should be an interesting season for men’s college hockey as the larger universities have left the WCHA and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which disbanded in March. Fans will need a program to figure out who is playing whom and where.
Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Western Michigan and Miami of Ohio left the CCHA. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State left the WCHA.
Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin will join newcomer Penn State in the first-ever Big Ten Hockey Conference this season. Notre Dame is joining Hockey East, and Western Michigan will play in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference along with Miami of Ohio and six former WCHA colleges.
The new WCHA includes four schools that were members last season: Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. They will be joined by former CCHA members Alaska-Fairbanks, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan and Bowling Green.
Securing the WCHA Final Five was quite a booking coup for SMG and the arena, which has hosted the NCAA Division I Men’s Regional Hockey Tournament on many occasions. This latest contract puts the Van Andel under the same spotlight as a larger venue in a major market.
The arena will host the two-day tournament next March 21-22 and again in 2016. In 2015 and 2017, the league’s flagship championship will be played at its home base for the past dozen years — the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., which seats 17,954 and is home to the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League.
“I think this is a chance for us to really develop a relationship with the conference, the schools, the alumni and the fans,” said SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan. “I hope this proves to be a very long, successful venture for the WCHA, Van Andel Arena and Grand Rapids.”