Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Frozen Faceoff is over; could hockey work in Cleveland?

On a giant sports day Sunday, many eyes in Cleveland were on an unusual event taking place at Jacobs Progressive Field. While the Packers dream season was crushed by the G-Men at Lambeau Field, the Ravens unfortunately won (hopefully their last game of the season), and the Ohio State (Basketball) Buckeyes paid Indiana back in spades in the Columbus rematch, the Ohio State (hockey) Buckeyes faced off at Progressive Field against their archrivals--at least on the football field--in the form of the Michigan Wolverines.

The city was buzzing in anticipation for the inagural Frozen Diamond Faceoff, at least as much anticipation as can be expected when it's 25 degrees and everyone is wearing about six or seven layers of clothing. Unfortunately, half of the fans crowding downtown bars on Sunday afternoon were clad in maize and blue. At the end of the day, despite the lopsided 4-1 loss for the Buckeyes, Ohio State fans had a great time. A few thoughts on Sunday and hockey in Cleveland...
  • You couldn't have asked for better weather. Something like 27 degrees at puck drop, maybe 23 at the end of the game. Virtually no wind, and the only snow falling was from jackass Michigan fans pelting the Ohio State band or dumbass Michigan fans pelting Brutus with a snowball from ten feet away while on the Progressive Field jumbotron.
  • No bad ice conditions like we've seen in the NHL Winter Classic a couple times--either too warm (causing slushy, sloppy, slow conditions), or snowy (causing repeated delays to shovel the ice)
  • That being said, I've been to hockey game at the collegiate and minor league level, but I fear too many Clevelanders haven't taken the higher step and gone to an NHL game. There is no comparison. Passes that are off the mark, shots that sale high, turnovers in their own zone, unfinished checks; all these permeate the lesser game, and it's obvious if you watch an NHL game in person. Moreso than in any other sport, it's easy to see the gap in talent between the best in the world and the rest of the world, and it makes the college game hard to watch.
  • Of course, that's coming from me, a casual (at best) hockey fan. So should be taken with a giant grain of salt.
  • To further that disclaimer, let me say that until I was on the Progressive Field escalator, I had never heard of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. And to be honest, I wish I never had. Any league in which Ohio State and Michigan have to compete with Lake Superior, Alaska, and Ferris State seems suspicious to me. (Then again, the Big Ten football schedule leaves much to be desired many years...)
  • All that being said, any NCAA sport which has Ohio State as #2 in the country must have quite a bit of parity. They are not good. Or maybe (generously) more accurately, they sure as hell weren't very good this weekend in a couple games against the Wolverines. Michigan was better in every way on Sunday, and half the crowd made sure the other half heard about it.
  • The official attendance figure was 25,864, and I saw the pregame estimates between 25,000 and 30,000. But let me tell you--it was more like ten or fifteen thousand. No possible way there was 25,000 fans there. Vast swaths of sections were empty. To be fair, an outdoor hockey game isn't the best fan experience. I'd imagine a game in Ann Arbor or Columbus would have drawn more, though.
  • I really wish Cleveland was a four-sport town. Not that it should or will happen anytime soon, but Cleveland could really use another sport and a chance to win a title. Since expansion teams are winning championships like they're going out of style, how about just giving the Cleveland Barons another look?
  • Or perhaps--a much better idea? Make the Blue Jackets truly Ohio's team. The logo already features the Ohio flag--why not play five or so home games at the Q each year? And shoot, how about the Cavs playing five or so games at Nationwide Arena to make up for it? Similar to how Green Bay used to play a couple games in Milwaukee, that could really help give a sense of 'home team' far beyond the actual hometown. A pipe dream, I know--but worth a thought, right?
A few images from the Frozen Faceoff at Progressive Field are below: