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Home games are beneficial for an athletics program. The team makes money on ticket sales and concessions, fans get another chance to see their team, and players don’t have to worry about traveling or altering their schedules too much. Home games are great, just don’t tell that to the 2,402 fans who watched the Northeastern men’s hockey team lose to Bentley University on Saturday.
Last year, Northeastern didn’t have a non-conference game at home. Former coach Greg Cronin had set up a challenging schedule for the Huskies, one that included a holiday tournament against college hockey powers like the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame. In return for the privilege of losing to these elite programs, Northeastern usually gets a return game at home in later years or a payout, similar to what’s expected in college football.
The only problem was that Northeastern didn’t just roll over, take the money and go home. After beating Michigan, they completed a weekend sweep of then No. 2 Notre Dame. They followed that up by beating the University of Minnesota on their home ice to win the Marriucci Classic. That stretch has been the highlight of Husky hockey under Jim Madigan. And for those desperate for a home game last year, they had the chance to see the U-18 US National Team Development Program come to Matthews for an exhibition game. Northeastern was able to use that game to give ice time to some players on the outer fringes of the roster and Northeastern fans were able to see future Hockey East players, like Cam Darcy.
Jim Madigan’s philosophies generally have not aligned with Cronin’s, and scheduling is no different. Madigan seems to like home games. He wants as many as he can get, hoping that it will please the fan base and boost revenues. And he is right, to some extent. As great as last year’s non-conference success was, it all occurred away from Matthews and the purview of the casual fan.
So when Madigan was given the chance to make his own schedule, he got all the home games he could. And he succeeded, adding four non-conference games at home for Northeastern. Where he didn’t succeed was in getting games that would be interesting to anybody, including his own players.
First up was a two-game set with arguably the worst team in college hockey, Alabama-Huntsville. Official attendance figures claim 2,198 people filled Matthews Arena’s 5,000 seats to watch the Huskies sleepwalk to a victory during the Saturday game. The following night a similar performance was put on for the whopping 1,448 that showed up.
A few weeks later, St. Lawrence University came to Matthews and the Huskies had 2,022 people witness an embarrassing 5-2 loss. Normally, this would be a pretty good non-conference opponent: A middle of the pack Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference team that NU doesn’t see much with two exciting offensive talents. This game was the highlight of the home non-conference slate, but it was played the day after Thanksgiving, leading to poor attendance numbers.
But 2,042 people came out to see the Bentley Falcons put up a touchdown on Northeastern to close out the non-conference schedule, excluding the Beanpot. And if you were there on Saturday, you know that 2,042 figure is generous.
Madigan got the home games he wanted, but he missed badly on dates and teams, and the results were ugly. If those four home games did anything, it was embarrassing the team and making people think twice about coming back.
The Huskies played just one non-conference road game this season, a trip to nearby Harvard. While there may be no data to back this up, players and coaches often mention road trips as times where teams really bond and things often come together. In a bus league like Hockey East, Northeastern has very few overnight trips in a given season, so they have to use their non-conference slots to manufacture them, even if that means starting the season out in Colorado like they did in 2009.
But there is reason to believe changes are coming. With Hockey East expanding, the amount of league games will drop from 27 to 22. Work has already begun on future scheduling and there are arrangements in the works to bring some exciting teams to Matthews as part of multi-year agreements. If that means more road games, so be it. Scheduling Atlantic Hockey and ECAC teams at home is the easy way out. There is room for a game with Bentley every now and then, but that should really be a last resort. Playing good teams and challenging your players is going to do much more for the program and probably your bottom line than a home loss against an inferior opponent – at least until they start selling alcohol at Matthews.
- Drew Stukas can be reached at info@HuskyHockeyNews.com