Attendance bouncing up and down at hockey state tournament

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2014 - 10:24 PM

Attendance numbers at this year’s hockey state tournament are hard to understand.

Charting attendance trends through the tournament’s first two days is an exercise in futility.

Wednesday’s Class 1A quarterfinals started with a flourish. The early session doubleheader drew 5,321, the best figure since 2008. The evening session total of 5,678 was the most since 2009.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly credited the state tournament debuts of Luverne and New Prague, plus the return of an Orono program that draws well, for an attendance lift. The absence of Breck and three-time defending small-state champion St. Thomas Academy didn’t hurt, either.

“With those two private schools mainstays out, it made the quarterfinals interesting for the first time in years,” Pauly said. “It demonstrates the tournament working the way it should, giving smaller schools an opportunity while at the same time generating interest. That tournament can walk on its own now.”

But the numbers tumbled Friday. The early session semifinal crowd of 8,670 was lowest since 2003. A final four with three outstate teams worked against the box office.

“As much as people didn’t like St. Thomas Academy, they always brought a good fan contingent,” Pauly said.

The Class 2A quarterfinals on Thursday also suffered at the turnstiles. The early session total of 15,582 was the lowest number since the tournament came to the Xcel Energy Center.

Upsets in the section playoffs eliminated Blaine, Hill-Murray and Wayzata, three of the five teams ranked No. 1 at some point this season.

“When the buzz is not there for some teams, you can’t create peak interest in one week,” Pauly said. “Even in the hey-day of the tournament, it was the same thing.”

Eden Prairie, one of two high schools in the state with an enrollment north of 3,000 students, did not represent well on Thursday. Mike Grant, school activities director and football coach, said students filled two fan buses. He estimated about 70 percent of students are involved in an activity and they are too busy to be spectators. Students are not let out of school for tournament games but parents can call to get them out, Grant said.

Rampant success also has something to do with fewer Eden Prairie students, who often wait until championship games to arrive in larger numbers.

“I know it’s that way in football,” Grant said. “People say, ‘I’m not coming to the quarterfinals, but I’ll come to the championship game.’ ”

Put out the cat

Eagan goaltender Andrew Lindgren was forced to change his helmet during the second intermission of Thursday’s quarterfinal game because the mask was not legal.

Lindgren’s white helmet, which Eagan coach Mike Taylor said he has worn all year, is not certified by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council. The “cat eye” mask is popular among professional goalies for its wider gaps between bars for better visibility. But it is prohibited nationally at the high school level.

“The timing wasn’t great,” Taylor said. “It’s a tough thing to do to a team. Luckily, he had his back-up helmet with him.”

Lindgren wore a black helmet for the third period and completed a 28-save shutout.

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