John Gilbert: You can't make fans watch UMD hockey games -- but you can try
As a manager, Yogi Berra supplanted his old skipper, Casey Stengal, as the legendary source for wonderfully spontaneous comments. My favorite was when he was asked about dwindling attendance, and he said: "You can't make people stop wantin' to no...
As a manager, Yogi Berra supplanted his old skipper, Casey Stengal, as the legendary source for wonderfully spontaneous comments. My favorite was when he was asked about dwindling attendance, and he said: "You can't make people stop wantin' to not come out to the ballpark."
Yogi didn't even know about UMD hockey. Just where, exactly, have all those loyal home fans gone? They can't all have gotten old and retired to Sun City. They might be cable zealots who stay home in front of their televisions watching other teams play other games. If so, they probably are unbothered by anything resembling UMD promoting its own teams.
When was the last time you saw a catchy commercial notifying you that going to a UMD hockey game can be entertaining? Or that Robbie Anderson's acrobatic goaltending, Tommy Nelson's quick stickwork, Jesse Fibiger's jolting bodychecks, can lift you out of your seats. Could you identify a video clip of Maria Rooth's slithery-smooth stickhandling, Tuula Puputti's lightning-quick reflexes in goal, Hanne Sikio's determined goal-crashing rushes? Are those things worth the bother to bundle up and go to the DECC for an evening's entertainment? Would they be if you knew about them? Is it time to hire an advertising outfit?
Maybe UMD's historic past has prevented the Bulldogs from having a noticeable present. In the days when UMD first went Division I, people literally flocked to see the Huffer Christiansen-led 'Dogs take on the world. The initial groundswell was starting to fade when those championship teams of the mid-1980s sparked an entirely new surge in public support. None of those teams needed any promotion. Word of mouth and civic pride filled the DECC and brought demand for game broadcasts on television. (Remember those?)
For those who haven't noticed, this year's UMD men's hockey team is quite similar to those old Amazin' Mets, just before the breakthrough to what became World Series class.
UMD and Denver played a 1-1 tie Friday night, with attendance of 3,039, and Denver rallied to win 2-1 Saturday night, before 3,228. Now, those were attendance figures announced, and we won't question them as tickets sold. But if that was actual attendance, they must have been counting legs, not people. On Friday, we counted the fans in one section and came up with 33, plus or minus what looked like a pile of coats on one seat, under which a child could have lurked. The next night, we counted 13 in the most lightly populated section. Either night, you couldn't find a section that appeared to be over half full, except for the student section. UMD's students get good seats, and they not only come out in strong numbers, they stand at their seats in unison rather than sitting. It's an under-22 thing, I guess.
Now, there is no arguing that UMD has come off a couple of tough seasons, without winning much, and this team has done everything but win. Still, with a new coaching staff in place, the team and Scott Sandelin deserve more of a chance. Those who come to the games talk about how entertaining they are, but we have to guess that the actual bodies in attendance for the Denver series most likely was about 2,200. We know the fans are out there, because on Thursday night, at least 3,000 fought their way into the Cloquet arena to see Duluth East play Cloquet.
For those who argue that UMD must win to get the fans back, it's OK to be front-runners. But then how do you justify not attending when the women's team beat powerful Harvard 4-3 and 5-2? Granted the games were Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but the 4-3 game Saturday might be the most entertaining hockey game that will be played at the DECC this season. Amply helped by Harvard loyalists, it was played before 729 fans. The Sunday rematch went up against the Vikings-Packers on television, but it drew only 579 souls.
I am not trying to say that a wave of a magic wand and a 6,000-seat arena on campus would appear and automatically be filled. But it's time to take a serious look, because it's broke, and it needs fixing. UMD's men play hard, fast, entertaining hockey, and not many attend at the DECC. UMD's women play sensational, elite-level hockey, and virtually nobody goes. Improvement of the DECC as a venue, and actual promotion by a college that has never promoted, might both be vital toward addressing the awareness of hockey fans who have drifted away.
You can't make people stop wantin' to not come out to the hockey game, but you can try.
John Gilbert is a sports writer for the
Up North Newspaper Network. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .