Late in my chat with Bill Foley a couple of weeks ago, we got around to briefly talking about high school hockey in Las Vegas and how it was important to launch the sport in town to help grow the game.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to talk college hockey.
This weekend, four NCAA Division I teams — Western Michigan, Connecticut, Air Force and St. Lawrence played at T-Mobile Arena in the 2nd annual Ice Vegas Invitational which was won by WMU, 4-1 over Air Force (Uconn beat St. Lawrence 6-3 in the third place game). It was a nice event and even though it was sparsely attended (Just 1,800 on Saturday), it will hopefully be a forbearer for the future.
My hope is we’ll have the NCAA Frozen Four championship here and perhaps UNLV will one day be a participant once it goes Division I.
Pipe dream you say? A realistic possibility, says me.
Let’s start with bringing the Frozen Four to Vegas. With the NCAA willing to host championship events in cities that have legalized sports betting — Yeah, Vegas qualifies! (LOL) — the possibility exists that a Frozen Four could land here.
With the hotels, casinos, restaurants, clubs, shopping and temperate weather, Las Vegas would be a great host city. Fans would love to come here for the weekend and root their teams to the title. The locals, at least the smart ones, would be part of a likely sellout crowd. The Golden Knights would obviously be on the road for what would correspond to the final week of the NHL regular season. But that’s easily done.
Unfortunately, they would also be out of town the second week of March as the Pac-12 basketball tournament takes over the T. So two of the final four weeks would see the Knights on the road, and if they are in a battle for a playoff spot or division title, being away from home could potentially prove problematic.
But the overall good of the game would trump any inconveniences. College hockey has been a proven breeding ground for future NHL players. Just look at the Golden Knights’ current roster — Nate Schmidt and Erik Haula (Minnesota), Alex Tuch (Boston College), Max Pacioretty and Jon Merrill (Michigan), Brad Hunt (Bemidji State) and Paul Stastny (Denver) all played collegiately. Having the Frozen Four would no doubt motivate local kids to pursue the game at a higher level and try to get to the NHL through the college route.
Which brings me to UNLV.
As most of you know, the Rebels have been skating as a club program for over 15 years. They currently play at the Division I level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. They sell out City National Arena and they have a strong following, both on campus and in the community.
You may also know the program is aspiring to go varsity, and do it soon. They were making some headway with then-president Len Jessup and then-athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy. They had secured some of the $15 million the team thought it would take to go varsity, including providing funding for a women’s sport, most likely lacrosse, though hockey wasn’t completely out of the question.