LAKE PLACID - It's not hard to see that the sport of ice hockey and the village of Lake Placid are a perfect fit for each other. That was evident again on Saturday, Dec. 10 as 4,800 fans were in attendance at the Olympic Center for the doubleheader featuring four of New York's top NCAA Division I men's hockey teams hailing from the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
For the second year in a row, rivals clashed on the ice of the Herb Brooks Arena's 1980 Rink, as the St. Lawrence Saints defeated Clarkson's Golden Knights 4-1 and the Union College Dutchmen skated to a 5-2 victory over the Rensselaer Engineers.
In October 2010, the four teams played in Lake Placid as men's Division I college hockey returned to the Olympic Center for the first time since the ECAC championships were last held in the historic building in 2002. That doubleheader, which drew 5,500 fans, was dubbed the Halloween Faceoff. Taking part just before the holiday season, Saturday's event was called the Festivus Faceoff.
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Clarkson fans react joyfully to their team’s goal that knotted the score 1-1 during Saturday, Dec. 10’s game against rival St. Lawrence. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights faithful, their team was held off the board the rest of the way as the Saints triumphed 4-1.
Coaches leading teams into Saturday's games said their players again relished the opportunity to take on their rivals on the rink where the United States men's team earned its historic victory over the Soviet Union during its gold medal run at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. In addition, the coaches also enjoyed the thrill of being involved in another chapter of hockey history in Lake Placid.
"Lake Placid is such a special place to play hockey," said RPI head coach Seth Appert. "This building is the most historic venue for ice hockey in the country, if not the world, especially for the sport in the United States. What surprised me last year was even our Canadian guys were really excited to play here."
Like many lovers of the game in the U.S., Union College head coach Rick Bennett easily recalled where he was when the Americans topped the Soviet skaters back in 1980.
"I was 13 in 1980," Bennett said. "That game was on tape delay, and I was watching it in the living room with my grandmother," Bennett said. "She was a big, big hockey fan. We were going crazy.
"Having the chance to come here to play our close rival from the Capital District in this building is really special for our team," Bennett added. "Our guys spent last night (Friday) taking in the village, and we had a great time. It was pretty neat seeing the locker room the Americans used on that day. I think it was a bigger deal for our American players. I know coming up here was a big deal for me."
Jon Lundin of the Olympic Regional Development Authority said all four squads have loyal followings and their schools are close to the region, which are big reasons for the strong attendance at the doubleheaders.
"These teams travel well, they have a strong alumni base, and that makes for a great event," Lundin said. "I think Lake Placid is one of the premier hockey venues in the country, and that was pretty evident on Saturday. There was so much energy in the building.
When asked if the Festivus Faceoff was a success, Lundin replied "Yes, yes, yes, yes," adding the event did result in a profit for the venue.
"We are talking right now and plans are in the works to continue having Division I hockey in Lake Placid," Lundin said. "We want to do something like this again next year."
St. Lawrence University associate head coach Mike Hurlbert said he'd love to see the Saints come back again next season if it can be worked out on their schedule.
"It was great playing Clarkson in Lake Placid," Hurlbert said. "We like to play Clarkson anywhere, and this venue is pretty special. We like playing Clarkson in their building, in our building, in this building. We'll play them in Saranac, we'll play them in Paul Smiths. If we can schedule it, hopefully we can do this again next year."
Clarkson senior captain Matt Morley was considerably happier when he left the rink when the Golden Knights played the Saints in Lake Placid in October 2010. Morley, a native of Ogdensburg, netted a short-handed goal then during a game Clarkson won 3-2 in overtime. On Saturday, he was disappointed with the loss, but said he still enjoyed being back in the building where he once called home ice while he was a Northwood School student.
"It always feels special playing in this building," Morley said. "It's too bad we couldn't have played better. This is a great place to play. There are a lot of fans from everywhere who come to watch hockey here."
Now that the Festivus Faceoff has come and gone, Lundin said he is looking forward to the next big hockey event the Olympic Center will host as the NCAA Division III men's Frozen Four will take place in Lake Placid March 16-17.
"Lake Placid is a great, great hockey town," Lundin said. "It's in close proximity to the colleges whose teams just played here, there's great prep school hockey here with Northwood and NSA and there's a great local fan base when it comes to hockey of any kind. There's so much energy in this region for ice hockey."