Saturday night’s “College Hockey Showdown” at Madison Square Garden is a good example of what these neutral site events can mean when done right.
Though MSG wasn’t close to sold out - it looked to be about 2⁄3 full - the environment and the event were fantastic and worthy of the big stage.
The atmosphere at the game was outstanding - it almost felt a bit like the intensity, environment, and big-game feel of the Beanpot at times. Naturally, most of the excitement was generated by the traveling hordes of Fighting Hawks fans, but BC was present as well, and the Eagle fans in attendance were certainly more in to it than they get at the usually moribund Conte Forum.
The environment leading up to the game was great as well. The teams stayed at a hotel right within view of MSG and Penn Station, and had access to the Rangers and Devils practice facilities. The BC team was able to use their Saturday morning to visit the Freedom Tower and Ground Zero.
For fans, obviously, descending on NYC at Christmas time was great. There was plenty of green to be found around Rockefeller Center and Times Square all weekend long. BC fans took over the basement room at Foley’s Irish bar near the Empire State Building, building our own friendtopia isolated from the gaggles of NoDak fans. (Shout out to the staff at Foley’s, who were truly great to us all day - thank you!)
Most importantly, the game was just phenomenal. We got to witness some real high-end, high-intensity hockey, between two excellent teams that love to skate and attack. The GIF of BC’s goal celebration used for the cover photo of this story shows the kind of intensity the kids played the game with. It made for great live viewing and surely was a good TV product as well.
When you put all the pieces together - good time and location, the right matchup, and a great game - you can get a neutral site game worthy of an “event” feel, rather than yet another mostly empty stadium and a worse atmosphere than on-campus. (Looking at you, pretty much every in-season tournament out there.)
I’d love to see a return engagement to Madison Square Garden for BC, but maybe spread out every 4 years or so to keep it fresh. BC vs. North Dakota is ideal, but Michigan, Minnesota, or maybe Penn State if they keep up their ascent might be games worth looking in to for MSG or Brooklyn down the line.
Thanks to the NCHC and Madison Square Garden for putting on a great event - let’s hope it’s not the last time we see something like this.