WMU Will Be At Center Ice
KALAMAZOO — The city and Van Andel Arena aren’t the only entities that will gain nationwide recognition from the NCAA Men’s Hockey Western Regional this weekend. Western Michigan University will also step into in the national spotlight, as the school is hosting the two-day quarterfinal event.
And having the university gain that prominence suits WMU Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Stone just fine.
“It not only gives us a presence within Western Michigan and the state, but also throughout the hockey community. It’s a plus for us,” said Stone, who has coordinated the event with arena general manager Rich MacKeigan.
Stone said WMU began working on this week’s regional three years ago, putting in the bid for it almost immediately following the 1997 event it also hosted here. Then last summer the effort began in earnest when the school started finalizing the details, like locking in enough hotel rooms for the six teams in the regional and the media that will cover it.
“It’s a pretty significant amount of work and most of it is behind the scenes, at least initially, as far as getting hotels and making sure that everything gets arranged for the teams that are coming in. The people at Van Andel Arena also put in a significant amount of work in preparation for this,” said Stone.
“It takes quite a bit of our staff through our medical services, our sports information and our marketing people.”
In all, Stone said about 50 volunteers are donating their time and effort to the event.
Six hotels are involved. The Amway Grand Plaza is the event’s headquarters, housing the NCAA officials and the top-seeded team. The other teams will stay at The Courtyard by Marriot, the Howard Johnson Plaza, the GR Hotel North and the Hampton Inn North, while media members will camp out at the downtown Days Inn.
The event officially starts on Friday with teams practicing until 5:30, with a 30-minute press conference following. A pre-tournament meeting is set for 6, with a reception running from 6:30 until 8:30.
“Over the last six months, piece by piece, it has really come together. Probably over the last month to six weeks, there has been a pretty significant amount of planning,” said Stone.
The really unique aspect in putting this event together is that plans had to be made without knowing who the guests would be and where they would be coming from. The NCAA didn’t announce the participants until Sunday, as the governing organization had to wait for the conference tournaments to finish.
“That creates a little bit of uncertainty. Even though we know there are teams that are coming, we don’t know when and at what time they’re coming in,” said Stone.
In contrast, planners for the Big Ten Women’s Basketball tourney, held earlier this month at the arena, knew their guest list from the start.
Stone said WMU and arena staff will be very busy this week tying up the loose ends and putting on the final touches, and that they probably won’t be able to catch a breath until Saturday afternoon at 2 when the first puck drops.
He said ticket sales have been pretty strong. More than 3,000 were sold for each day without any teams being announced, and sales should get stronger this week when the teams will be known. So planners are expecting crowds similar to the turnout three years ago when about 9,000 were in the arena each day.
“I’m fairly confident we will see those types of numbers again this time,” said Stone. “This year we anticipate that Michigan State will be in the regional and are confident that the University of Michigan has a very good opportunity to be there. Anytime when we can get some local flavor, I really think that’s a huge plus for us in generating the local interest.”