Packing the house
Minnesota's championship victory ignites tradition in Ridder Arena
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- In hosting this season’s Women’s Frozen Four, Minnesota’s women’s ice hockey program had an opportunity to raise the women’s game’s profile considerably, and it did just that.
An announced sellout attendance of 3,400 -- plus an estimated 300 more having purchased standing room only tickets -- packed into Ridder Arena on Sunday afternoon, and most of the crowd didn’t go home disappointed. The host team Minnesota won, as the top-ranked Gophers (41-0-0) bested No. 2 Boston University (28-6-3) 6-3 to clinch Minnesota’s consecutive national championship, fifth all-time, and the first unbeaten and untied season in NCAA women’s ice hockey history.
Connected to Minnesota’s more storied Mariucci Arena, Ridder opened in 2002 and rarely had it been full for a Gophers game. On Sunday afternoon, however, head coach Brad Frost got an idea of what the atmosphere is like inside Ridder when the place is packed.
“As we were standing out there and the team was getting the awards or were shaking hands, I just kept saying to our staff, ‘Look around. I mean, just look around.’ Frost said. “When you’re in that fishbowl, and I always say Ridder Arena’s one of the nicest rinks in the whole country and a great place to play and a great place to watch a game, but you look around and there’s not an empty seat in the place.
“Everybody’s doing the Minnesota cheer apart from a few other fans, and I think what this team has done for women’s hockey here at ‘The U’ and for girls’ hockey in Minnesota has been huge.”
The buzz both inside and outside Ridder on Sunday -- tickets were rumored to be changing hands for as much as $150 on Oak Street outside the arena leading up to the game -- was electric, and the general consensus was that Minnesota’s marketing department and ticketing departments, as well as the NCAA, had set this year’s Women’s Frozen Four to be a wild success.
It was, but part of that is also due to Frost’s team holding up its end of the bargain.
The Gophers’ win against the Terriers capped a perfect season and supplied the ideal end-point to Minnesota’s season. What’s more, it gave a good ending for the locals to a run that had seen Ridder host the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff championship, the Gophers’ 3-2 triple-overtime NCAA quarterfinal win against WCHA-rival North Dakota Mar. 16, and this year’s Women’s Frozen Four.
This was the fourth time that Minnesota hosted the Women’s Frozen Four, and second time at Ridder. That previous occasion at the facility came in 2010, and Frost felt as though the way the school operated the year's event left room for improvement.
“I was very disappointed in 2010 when we hosted and we were playing [Minnesota-Duluth] –- our arch-rival at the time -– and we had 2,200 people here,” Frost said. “And then we lost [to UMD in the semifinals], and then the next night was one of the best games in women’s hockey history with Duluth and Cornell, and there were about 1,400 people.
“On Monday, I went to our [director of athletics], who was in charge of our championship, and told him it was not acceptable to have that few people here watching a championship game. What happened that year was that we priced our market right out with ticket prices being too high, and this year, our marketing and our ticket people and the NCAA got it right on.
“That atmosphere…I don’t know what it was like where [reporters] were sitting, but for us as a program, any time you can play in front of a packed house, I don’t care if it’s 1,000 people or 3,000 or 4,000 or 10,000, the atmosphere is just fantastic, and that’s the way it should be for a championship.”
Indeed, this year’s Women’s Frozen Four did its job in terms of bringing more fans in to watch an outstanding and underappreciated product. The hope now is next year’s event in Hamden, Conn. on the campus of Quinnipiac will keep the momentum gained in Minneapolis rolling.