It’s a March tradition. ECAC Hockey fans from all over the Northeast descend on America’s Winter Olympic destination, Lake Placid, for the league’s championship weekend.
The top four teams battle for the Whitelaw Cup, awarded to the league’s champion each year, and fans can explore the Winter Olympic Museum and the town shops during the day Saturday. The Olympic charm adds to the atmosphere for the weekend, creating a one-of-a-kind experience for the players. All in all, players, fans and media enjoy Lake Placid during the ECAC Championship Weekend.
However, the league should consider moving future tournaments to Albany.
This is primarily for three reasons: to hold the tournament on a North American ice sheet, to move it to a more central location and to avoid winter travel issues. First and foremost, holding the event at Lake Placid means the games are played at the 1980 Olympic rink, which has an international-size ice sheet.
Almost all college hockey rinks, and all 12 ECAC rinks, are the North American size, the main difference being international-size rinks are 12 feet wider. This may seem a minor detail, but that is an almost 15 percent increase in the width of the ice surface. It is not right to significantly change the game for a championship weekend from the way it has been played all season.
Furthermore, it has trickle-down strategic effects. Theoretically, a larger ice sheet plays to the advantage of faster, quicker, and more skillful teams, who can cover more territory and use the additional ice space to their advantage. Slower, more defensive teams, like Cornell, are at a slight disadvantage as their strategy is less effective. Lining up blocked shots and directing play to the boards is more difficult when the ice is more spacious and the boards are further away. Clarkson will also have to face similar adjustments, while the fast-flowing games of Princeton and Harvard will adapt rather easily to the larger surface.
Lake Placid is also really far from most member schools. Only St. Lawrence and Clarkson are within 100 miles of the village, while six schools are more than 250 miles away. This makes for long bus trips for almost all schools involved.
This is bad for the teams, but it’s even worse for the fans. It is asking a lot for even the most fervent fans of those six institutions to travel more than 250 miles by car to get to Lake Placid, a small village that offers limited air and bus connections. This can result in a dull atmosphere when the few local schools do not qualify, leaving the teams to skate in front of a small crowd of locals with limited ECAC allegiances.
The worst part of long March trips in the Northeast is the weather. Lake Placid is known for significant snowfall, as is the rest of the Adirondack mountain region. Every team and fan has to traverse the Adirondacks to reach Lake Placid, and any major snowstorm during the week or Championship Weekend could affect attendance or force the postponement of the tournament. Given the ECAC’s need to have a winning school for the NCAA Tournament auto-bid by the Sunday of championship weekend, a blizzard in Lake Placid or on the travel path for a team could be a major problem.
There is no perfect fix to all these problems, but a move to Albany would improve the situation. Albany does not have the Olympic history of Lake Placid, but it does have an AHL rink with a North American-sized ice surface which would be a nice venue for the tournament. It is the home of the league headquarters, making it an ideal site.
While snowstorms do hit the Albany area, it is much less of a risk than in the Adirondacks. The entire ECAC, excluding St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Dartmouth, would have shorter trips. Most importantly, that shorter trip would make it more accessible for die-hard fans, which could truly create the fantastic ECAC Championship Weekend atmosphere that the league should be striving for.