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

Detroit 6:00 PM
Washington
Atlanta 6:30 PM
Miami
Toronto 6:30 PM
New York
Memphis 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Brooklyn 7:30 PM
Dallas
Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Utah
San Antonio 8:00 PM
Phoenix
Buffalo 2 2nd Prd
Florida 0
Detroit 1 2nd Prd
Nashville 0
Carolina 4:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 4:00 PM
Columbus
Arizona 4:30 PM
Boston
Toronto 6:00 PM
Montreal
NY Rangers 7:00 PM
Philadelphia
Minnesota 9:00 PM
Colorado
St. Louis 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Ottawa 9:00 PM
San Jose
Kennesaw St 75 FINAL
Lipscomb 94
Navy 57 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 47
Bucknell 71 FINAL
American Univ 69
NC State 63 FINAL
Boston College 79
East Carolina 71 FINAL
UCF 66
Georgia Tech 63 FINAL
Clemson 70
Lehigh 55 FINAL
Colgate 61
Louisville 81 FINAL
Florida State 59
Missouri 44 FINAL
Georgia 68
Army 64 FINAL
Lafayette 74
Michigan 56 FINAL
Maryland 66
Georgetown 70 FINAL
St Johns 81
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
La Salle 56
Western Carolina 67 FINAL
Citadel 54
Nebraska Omaha 87 FINAL
IUPUI 80
Maine 56 FINAL
New Hampshire 65
Samford 80 FINAL
Va Military 69
Presbyterian 53 FINAL
Winthrop 80
Utah State 60 2nd Half 2:23
Air Force 48
Vermont 67 2nd Half 3:28
Albany 71
UMBC 59 2nd Half 3:57
Binghamton 66
Indiana State 55 2nd Half 0:52
Bradley 50
Butler 67 2nd Half 1:45
DePaul 53
Illinois State 52 2nd Half 4:22
Evansville 54
Wright State 42 2nd Half 2:13
Ill-Chicago 55
Fla Gulf Coast 65 2nd Half 1:16
Jacksonville 68
Ole Miss 54 2nd Half 4:33
LSU 66
North Carolina 61 2nd Half 3:33
Miami-Florida 54
Wagner 59 2nd Half 0:55
Mount St Marys 72
TCU 58 2nd Half 1:21
Oklahoma 62
Delaware 60 2nd Half 0:58
Towson 57
Cincinnati 63 2nd Half 1:01
Tulane 47
Dayton 55 2nd Half 2:11
VA Commonwealth 52
Northern Iowa 58 2nd Half 1:45
Wichita State 70
Drexel 76 2nd Half 0:56
William & Mary 63
Oakland 63 2nd Half 0:15
Green Bay 83
Villanova 70 2nd Half 4:01
Xavier 61
Campbell 58 2nd Half 3:38
Longwood 63
Sarah Lawrence 36 2nd Half 11:46
NJIT 65
Middle Tennessee 25 1st Half 2:24
UAB 35
UNC-Asheville 42 1st Half 0:39
Liberty 23
Southern Utah 37 2nd Half
North Dakota 24
Utah Valley U 9 1st Half 5:57
Chicago State 18
ULM 10 1st Half 10:49
Appalachian St 12
Bowling Green 6 1st Half 13:48
Miami-Ohio 7
Long Island 2:30 PM
Sacred Heart
West Virginia 3:00 PM
Baylor
Holy Cross 3:00 PM
Boston Univ
MD-Eastern Shore 3:00 PM
Delaware State
Wofford 3:00 PM
Furman
Montana State 3:00 PM
Idaho
Hofstra 3:00 PM
James Madison
Iowa State 3:00 PM
Kansas State
Arkansas 3:00 PM
Kentucky
Missouri State 3:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
Fordham 3:00 PM
Massachusetts
Nicholls 3:00 PM
McNeese State
East Tenn St 3:00 PM
Mercer
Coppin State 3:00 PM
Morgan State
San Diego 3:00 PM
Portland
Gardner-Webb 3:00 PM
Radford
St Francis-PA 3:00 PM
Robert Morris
Duquesne 3:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Creighton 3:00 PM
Seton Hall
Oklahoma State 3:00 PM
Texas Tech
Alabama 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Virginia Tech 3:00 PM
Virginia
Bethune-Cookman 3:00 PM
NC Central
St Francis-NY 3:00 PM
Bryant
Drake 3:05 PM
Southern Ill
High Point 3:30 PM
Char Southern
Central Conn St 3:30 PM
Fair-Dickinson
Eastern Mich 3:30 PM
Western Mich
Texas 4:00 PM
Kansas
Chattanooga 4:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
SE Louisiana 4:00 PM
Central Arkansas
South Dakota St 4:00 PM
South Dakota
Montana 4:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Georgia State 4:15 PM
Troy
Old Dominion 4:30 PM
North Texas
Arkansas State 4:30 PM
Texas State
Texas Southern 5:00 PM
Alabama State
Tennessee St 5:00 PM
Belmont
Princeton 5:00 PM
Brown
Dartmouth 5:00 PM
Cornell
Tennessee 5:00 PM
Florida
Jacksonville St 5:00 PM
Morehead State
San Jose St 5:00 PM
Nevada
Florida A&M 5:00 PM
NC A&T
Iowa 5:00 PM
Penn State
Loyola Marymount 5:00 PM
Pepperdine
Miss State 5:00 PM
South Carolina
Savannah State 5:00 PM
SC State
Miss Valley St 5:30 PM
Jackson State
Alcorn State 5:30 PM
Southern U
Prairie View 6:00 PM
Alabama A&M
Harvard 6:00 PM
Columbia
George Washington 6:00 PM
Davidson
Syracuse 6:00 PM
Duke
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Eastern Ky
UNC-Wilmington 6:00 PM
Elon
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Hartford
Hampton 6:00 PM
Howard
Northwestern 6:00 PM
Illinois
Western Ill 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Kent State
Incarnate Word 6:00 PM
Lamar
Cal State Fullerton 6:00 PM
Long Beach State
TX-San Antonio 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
Marshall
Richmond 6:00 PM
Saint Josephs
George Mason 6:00 PM
Saint Louis
Austin Peay 6:00 PM
SE Missouri St
Murray State 6:00 PM
UT Martin
Ball State 6:00 PM
Toledo
Penn 6:00 PM
Yale
Milwaukee 6:00 PM
Youngstown St
Stetson 6:00 PM
North Florida
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Grand Canyon 6:05 PM
UMKC
Abilene Christian 6:15 PM
New Orleans
Northeastern 7:00 PM
Coll of Charleston
Tulsa 7:00 PM
Memphis
Wyoming 7:00 PM
UNLV
Central Mich 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
Denver 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Charlotte 7:00 PM
Rice
Boise State 7:00 PM
San Diego St
St Marys-CA 7:00 PM
Santa Clara
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
Southern Miss
Sam Houston St 7:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
New Mexico St 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
FIU 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Ga Southern 7:15 PM
Louisiana
Ark-Little Rock 7:15 PM
Texas-Arlington
Grambling St 7:30 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Auburn 7:30 PM
Texas A&M
Arizona 8:00 PM
Utah
Northern Ariz 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
UC Davis 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
New Mexico 9:00 PM
Fresno State
BYU 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Pacific 9:00 PM
San Francisco
Idaho State 9:00 PM
Weber State
Sacramento St 9:05 PM
Portland State
UC Riverside 9:30 PM
CS-Northridge
Washington 9:30 PM
USC
CS-Bakersfield 9:30 PM
Seattle
UC Irvine 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Michigan 60 FINAL
Illinois 72
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
Kennesaw St 75
North Florida 45 FINAL
Stetson 77
Samford 65 FINAL
Mercer 70
Liberty 64 FINAL
Campbell 57
North Texas 48 FINAL
Old Dominion 70
St Francis-NY 62 FINAL
Bryant 52
St Francis-PA 58 FINAL
Robert Morris 73
Long Island 71 FINAL
Sacred Heart 78
Sam Houston St 52 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 60
Kent State 59 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 66
ULM 61 FINAL
Appalachian St 80
Boston U 62 FINAL
Holy Cross 76
Nicholls 73 FINAL
McNeese State 68
Akron 64 2nd Half 2:24
Buffalo 74
Ball State 50 FINAL
Western Mich 51
MD-Eastern Shore 68 FINAL
Delaware State 61
Northern Ill 52 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 60
Bowling Green 47 FINAL
Ohio U 67
Central Michigan 53 FINAL
Toledo 62
Coppin State 45 2nd Half 5:00
Morgan State 68
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
NC Central 33
Central Conn St 77 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 56
Memphis 24 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 87
Georgia Tech 62 2nd Half 2:35
Wake Forest 58
East Carolina 64 2nd Half 4:22
Temple 65
Marist 65 2nd Half 0:27
Rider 54
Michigan State 57 2nd Half 1:16
Purdue 56
Fairfield 72 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Niagara 51 2nd Half 0:54
Iona 78
East Tenn St 42 FINAL
(18) Chattanooga 64
Furman 70 FINAL
Wofford 53
Longwood 58 FINAL
Charleston Southern 51
UNC-Asheville 84 2nd Half 2:43
Coastal Carolina 49
Northern Ky 77 2nd Half 2:07
USC Upstate 60
Winthrop 60 2nd Half 0:10
Presbyterian 53
Western Ill 38 2nd Half 12:54
South Dakota 50
Detroit 69 2nd Half 7:52
Valparaiso 46
Cleveland State 29 2nd Half
Milwaukee 23
Lafayette 21 2nd Half
Army 27
Arkansas State 26 2nd Half
Texas State 42
Georgia State 25 2nd Half
Troy 43
IUPUI 21 2nd Half
South Dakota St 42
Tennessee St 41 2nd Half
Belmont 28
Eastern Illinois 23 1st Half 1:02
SIU-Edwardsville 25
Jacksonville St 34 2nd Half
Morehead St 32
Kansas State 16 2nd Half
TCU 30
Cincinnati 17 2nd Half
SMU 20
SE Louisiana 27 2nd Half
Central Arkansas 38
Denver 21 2nd Half
Nebraska Omaha 20
Tulane 28 2nd Half
Tulsa 27
IUPU-Ft Wayne 30 2nd Half
Oral Roberts 41
Air Force 3:00 PM
Utah State
San Diego State 3:00 PM
Boise State
Fresno State 3:00 PM
New Mexico
Florida A&M 3:00 PM
NC A&T
Gonzaga 3:00 PM
BYU
South Florida 3:00 PM
UCF
UCLA 3:00 PM
Washington
(3) Baylor 3:00 PM
Iowa State
Miss Valley St 3:00 PM
Jackson State
Tenn Tech 3:00 PM
Eastern Kentucky
UMKC 3:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Seattle 3:00 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Texas Southern 3:00 PM
Alabama State
Santa Clara 3:00 PM
St Marys-CA
UNLV 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Savannah State 3:00 PM
SC State
Alcorn State 3:00 PM
Southern U
Bucknell 3:00 PM
American Univ
Oakland 3:00 PM
Illinois-Chicago
Eastern Washington 3:00 PM
Montana
Idaho 3:00 PM
Montana State
Weber State 3:00 PM
Idaho State
Radford 3:00 PM
High Point
Green Bay 3:30 PM
Youngstown St
Austin Peay 3:30 PM
SE Missouri St
Wagner 3:30 PM
Mount St Marys
Portland 4:00 PM
San Diego
Nevada 4:00 PM
San Jose St
Stephen F Austin 4:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Incarnate Word 4:00 PM
Lamar
Abilene Christian 4:00 PM
New Orleans
Pepperdine 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
San Francisco 4:00 PM
Pacific
Prairie View 4:00 PM
Alabama A&M
Hampton 4:00 PM
Howard
Chicago State 4:00 PM
Utah Valley U
Murray State 4:00 PM
UT Martin
Cal Poly 4:00 PM
Cal-Irvine
Marshall 4:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
Portland State 4:00 PM
Sacramento St
UC Santa Barbara 4:00 PM
UC Davis
Western Ky 5:00 PM
FIU
UAB 5:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Georgia Southern 5:00 PM
Louisiana
Grambling 5:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Ark-Little Rock 5:00 PM
TX-Arlington
Cornell 5:00 PM
Dartmouth
Columbia 5:00 PM
Harvard
Brown 5:00 PM
(14) Princeton
USC 5:00 PM
Washington St
(24) California 5:00 PM
(7) Oregon State
Yale 6:00 PM
Penn
Loyola-Maryland 6:00 PM
Navy
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
(21) Fla Gulf Coast
Long Beach St 6:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Rice 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Colgate 6:30 PM
Lehigh
CS-Northridge 7:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Kansas 7:00 PM
Oklahoma
Oklahoma St 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
North Dakota 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Northern Colorado 9:00 PM
Northern Ariz
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close