It's the end of the WCHA Final Five as we know it

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2013 - 12:01 AM

Sadness prevails over the Final Five losing some of its luster and longtime teams with the WCHA’s transformation next season.

hide

Fans from all the teams danced during one of the intermissions in a double-overtime WCHA Final Five game between UMD and Denver last season.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Bruce McLeod already has worked through the stages of grieving for the end of the WCHA in its current configuration. In the run-up to this weekend’s WCHA Final Five, the league’s commissioner found himself — along with legions of fans, coaches and former players — sliding back to the fourth emotion on that scale.

“The adjective I’ve heard the most is that the whole thing is kind of sad,’’ said McLeod, in his 19th season as the WCHA’s commissioner. “I think it’s dawning on people that it’s never going to be the same, that this is a unique thing that can never be duplicated.’’

Since moving to Xcel Energy Center in 2001, the Final Five has become a signature event in college hockey, drawing an average of 76,963 fans each March. Next year, eight of the WCHA’s 12 teams will leave for other conferences. The five-game, six-team tournament that begins Thursday will be the last for the Gophers, St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Colorado College, teams whose fiery rivalries and devoted fans helped build the Final Five into a puckhead’s paradise.

The tournament is not going away. The new-look WCHA will return to Xcel in 2015 and 2017; Saturday, it will announce the host city for the final rounds of its 2014 and 2016 playoffs. Beginning next season, the new Big Ten hockey conference will hold its playoff tournament at Xcel in even-numbered years.

There will be a new postseason tournament in the Twin Cities, too; the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference will hold its 2014 playoffs at Target Center. But a record 12,178 fans already have bought ticket packages for the last stand of the Final Five as they know it, and nostalgia is running high among those who lament its passing.

“We, like everybody, wanted to make sure we were there for the last year,’’ said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, whose team is the No. 1 seed. “This tournament has evolved into such a special thing. You don’t really know until you get involved with it and get down there how your fans, players and parents truly embrace the weekend.

“It’s something that became a highlight. To know you’re not going to have that opportunity again, it is sad.’’

The Huskies will move to the NCHC next season, along with North Dakota, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth, Denver and Nebraska Omaha. The Gophers and Badgers will begin play in the Big Ten. Minnesota State Mankato, which also is in this weekend’s Final Five, and Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State and Michigan Tech will remain in the WCHA.

The league is planning to mark the end of this Final Five era with appearances by well-known players and coaches from the past, as well as a fan festival. Gophers fans are planning parties at downtown hotels and preparing for an annual three-day tailgate on West 7th Street, with some even brewing their own beer.

The tournament has had a foothold in St. Paul since 1988, when it moved to the old Civic Center after years of being held at campus sites. It instituted a five-team format in 1993 — expanding by one team — and began rotating between the Civic Center and Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. When it moved to Target Center in 1999 and 2000, it was at its low ebb, with average per-game attendance of 8,710 from 1998-2000.

The move to Xcel Energy Center changed everything. Fans and teams loved the new arena, which worked with the WCHA and the city to make the event special. The growing strength of the league made for classic games. The Final Five became a destination not just for followers of the participating teams, but for college hockey aficionados from all over the region.

North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol played in the tournament during its Civic Center days. Since it moved to Xcel, droves of North Dakotans have driven down annually, contributing to an atmosphere that many say is second only to the NCAA Frozen Four.

“It’s been very special for our players and coaches, and it’s made even more so by how passionate our fans have become about this tournament,’’ Hakstol said. “It’s difficult to put into words how much it means, how fun it is on a game night when you’ve got 8- to 10,000 of our fans wearing green and white up in the stands.’’

McLeod said the Final Five has striven to maintain a collegiate vibe, showcasing pep bands, cheerleaders and mascots. It often is collegial as well. McLeod has a favorite photo in his office of five fans at the tournament, all wearing jerseys of different teams, with their arms around each other.

Jack Larson, vice president and general manager of Xcel Energy Center, said many fans have purchased ticket packages every year. He hopes they will continue to do so as the new WCHA and the Big Ten strive for the same high standard. McLeod said the leagues are working in concert to sell their postseason tournaments, requiring that fans who want to keep their seats for one tournament also buy tickets for the other.

The Final Five reached its high-water mark in 2007, averaging 17,780 fans per game and drawing a record 19,463 — the largest crowd ever to attend an indoor college hockey game — to see the Gophers defeat North Dakota 3-2 in overtime in the championship game.

“We’re sad to see the current format being changed,’’ Larson said. “It has exceeded our expectations. But we’re looking forward to our new opportunities with the Big Ten and the WCHA.’’

Years ago, McLeod said, the tournament depended so heavily on Gophers fans that league officials fretted about what would happen if the Gophers did not make it. They found out the Final Five could stand on its own. While he can’t predict how it will weather the latest changes, he is hopeful it will endure.

“Our vision was always to make it a destination,’’ he said. “The NCHC, the Big Ten and us all agree that we’ll be OK. We’ll all get our slice of the pie. But none of us are going to have anything like this.’’

  • related content

  • Chart: Final Five to-do list

    Wednesday March 20, 2013

    goings on at the final fiveThe WCHA has sold a record 12,178 ticket packages for its last Final Five tournament...

  • Final Five hockey capsules

    Wednesday March 20, 2013

    wcha final five capsulesAt Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSNThursday quarterfinals: Minnesota State Mankato vs. Wisconsin, 2 p.m.; Colorado...

  • WCHA FINAL FIVE • today-saturday • xcel energy center

    Today: Minnesota State Mankato vs. Wisconsin, 2 p.m.; Colorado College vs. North Dakota, 7 p.m • TV: FSN

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tampa Bay - WP: J. McGee 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: B. Morrow 5
Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 6
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 7
Miami - WP: A. DeSclafani 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 4
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Garza 9
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 8 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 4
Minnesota - WP: T. May 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 10
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 6 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 1
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 4 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 6 FINAL
Arizona - WP: Z. Spruill 8
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 0
NY Yankees - LP: D. Robertson 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 3
Miami 10 FINAL
Buffalo 29
Jacksonville 10 FINAL
Washington 41
Dallas 26 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Arizona 25 FINAL
NY Giants 14
New England 30 FINAL
Minnesota 7
New Orleans 24 FINAL
Cleveland 26
Atlanta 10 FINAL
Cincinnati 24
Detroit 7 FINAL
Carolina 24
St. Louis 19 FINAL
Tampa Bay 17
Seattle 21 FINAL
San Diego 30
NY Jets 24 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Kansas City 17 FINAL
Denver 24
Houston 30 FINAL
Oakland 14
Chicago 28 FINAL
San Francisco 20
Philadelphia 7:30 PM
Indianapolis
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
Boise State 38 FINAL
Connecticut 21
Indiana 42 FINAL
Bowling Green 45
Ga Southern 38 FINAL
Georgia Tech 42
Syracuse 40 FINAL
Central Mich 3
UCF 10 FINAL
(18) Missouri 38
Massachusetts 31 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
Ohio U 14 FINAL
Marshall 44
West Virginia 40 FINAL
Maryland 37
Kent State 0 FINAL
(23) Ohio State 66
Pittsburgh 42 FINAL
FIU 25
East Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia Tech 21
Louisville 21 FINAL
Virginia 23
Wyoming 14 FINAL
(2) Oregon 48
Air Force 48 FINAL
Georgia State 38
(13) Georgia 35 FINAL
(14) So Carolina 38
Arkansas 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 28
Iowa State 20 FINAL
Iowa 17
Miami-Ohio 10 FINAL
Michigan 34
Kansas 3 FINAL
Duke 41
NC State 49 FINAL
So Florida 17
Arkansas State 20 FINAL
Miami-Florida 41
Miss State 35 FINAL
South Alabama 3
Louisiana 15 FINAL
(10) Ole Miss 56
Minnesota 7 FINAL
TCU 30
Illinois 19 FINAL
Washington 44
Army 0 FINAL
(16) Stanford 35
Western Mich 45 FINAL
Idaho 33
Eastern Mich 3 FINAL
Old Dominion 17
Southern Miss 12 FINAL
(3) Alabama 52
Northern Ill 48 FINAL
UNLV 34
Tulsa 21 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 50
ULM 0 FINAL
(8) LSU 31
Wake Forest 24 FINAL
Utah State 36
Western Ky 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 50
TX-San Antonio 13 FINAL
(25) Oklahoma State 43
Purdue 14 FINAL
(9) Notre Dame 30
Kentucky 30 FINAL
Florida 36
New Mexico St 24 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 42
Tennessee 10 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 34
(17) USC 31 FINAL
Boston College 37
Navy 35 FINAL
Texas State 21
(12) UCLA 20 FINAL
Texas 17
Penn State 13 FINAL
Rutgers 10
Rice 10 FINAL
(6) Texas A&M 38
(15) Arizona State 38 FINAL
Colorado 24
(24) Nebraska 55 FINAL
Fresno State 19
Nevada 28 FINAL
Arizona 35
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Montreal 16 FINAL
Edmonton 33
Toronto 33 FINAL
Calgary 40
Winnipeg 9 FINAL
Brt Columbia 26
Saskatchewan 3 FINAL
Hamilton 28
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close