Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Colleges

Tampa will host the 2016 Frozen Four hockey tournament

TAMPA — When the NCAA men's hockey Frozen Four was staged locally for the first time two Aprils ago, every local amenity — from yachts to warmth to MacDill Air Force Base — was exhausted to impress skaters and spectators alike.

That first impression led to a second date.

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced Tampa has been awarded the 2016 Frozen Four, again to be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The announcement comes 20 months after 18,818 filled the same arena to watch Boston College top Ferris State, 4-1, in the 2012 final.

"We're really excited about that. Tampa did an amazing job last time. I think they recognize that," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

"We do these events as well as anyone in the country," he added, mentioning Tampa's job hosting the Republican National Convention and four Super Bowls. "We're a community comfortable with hosting these large sporting events. We do it without a lot of drama."

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the University of Wisconsin collaborated on the latest bid which, unlike the one submitted by Tampa eight years ago for the 2012 event, was not done in person. Both will serve as co-hosts.

"I think our presentation really was the 2012 Frozen Four. That was really our audition," commission executive director Rob Higgins said.

"We're a nontraditional site, we'll be the first to tell you that. But our affinity and our love for treating the student-athletes and fans at the highest level possible, it can't be denied.

"We couldn't be more grateful to the NCAA for giving us another chance to take those lessons we learned and try to make the bar go even higher this time around."

Upstaging the spectacle it produced in its inaugural frozen foray could be daunting. Shortly after the '12 title game, then-NCAA Division I men's ice hockey committee chairman Sean Frazier said Tampa "has exceeded every expectation that I've had."

According to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, the event created nearly 15,000 visitor room nights for local hotels and generated more than $10 million in direct visitor spending.

When teams landed at Tampa International Airport, a red carpet greeted them on the tarmac, along with hundreds of youth hockey players with sticks raised. The team receptions were held on the Yacht StarShip, which circled Harbour Island.

Instead of presenting the Hobey Baker Award — hockey's Heisman Trophy — on the ice in the hosting arena during the tournament weekend, the ceremony was moved to a small theater on MacDill Air Force Base.

Hobey Baker was a military aviator who died while test-piloting a plane in World War I.

"For us, it's a validation of the work that we did in 2012," said Tampa Bay Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett, whose club partnered with Higgins' group in pulling off the event.

"I think there were a lot of questions about how Tampa could do in hosting a Frozen Four and we did everything we could to prove ourselves and put on a great event."

Higgins declined to offer financial specifics of his group's bid package, saying such a disclosure could "hurt us the next time we're fortunate to be able to bid on it."

The geographically bizarre partnership with Wisconsin is more natural than it seems, he added. The Badgers previously have played in four Outback Bowls at Raymond James Stadium, and Frazier once was the school's deputy athletic director.

"I know it sounds like an odd pairing from a geography standpoint," Higgins said, "but we've had a really good relationship with them throughout the years."

Several other championship venues were awarded Wednesday.

USF will host the NCAA Division I outdoor track regionals in 2018. The University of Tampa will host the Division II women's volleyball championships in '15, the 2015-16 outdoor track and field meet (at Bradenton's IMG Academy) and the '18 women's lacrosse championships.

Saint Leo's Abbey Course will host the NCAA Division II men's and women's cross country regionals in 2015-16, and the national championships in November 2016.

Buckhorn said he hopes the area's track record of success will continue to pay off as it bids to host the new college football championship game in 2016 or '17.

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report.

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