Beavers hoping Green Bay is truly Titletown USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There's certainly no mistaking where you are after arriving in Green Bay. As the NCAA-provided charter jet taxied into position Thursday afternoon and the Bemidji State men's hockey team entourage disembarked for its first-roun...
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There's certainly no mistaking where you are after arriving in Green Bay.
As the NCAA-provided charter jet taxied into position Thursday afternoon and the Bemidji State men's hockey team entourage disembarked for its first-round NCAA tournament game Saturday against Wisconsin, the first thing everyone saw was a large green building with "Titletown Jet Charters" stenciled on its side in large letters.
Hitting the road, there were signs for Lambeau Way and Lombardi Drive displayed immediately. This city along the shores of the Fox River near Lake Michigan certainly doesn't have an identity crisis. This is the home of the Packers. If by chance you may forget for a split second, the reminders are everywhere.
It's a pretty neat deal, actually. From a quick glance around, it looks like the city will get rave reviews from college hockey fans. Everything is certainly convenient.
Just 10 miles down a lightly traveled highway historic Lambeau Field - the home of the Packers - appears. In these days of space-age-like stadiums with price tags that approach $1 billion, Lambeau Field is downright homey. A major facelift to the stadium's facade was done recently, but it still looks like a stadium should - a place where the main focus is the game. The stadium includes the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame, along with shops, restaurants and bars that are open year 'round.
Right next door to the stadium is the Resch Center, the site of the NCAA Men's Hockey Midwest Regional. It's a classic hockey rink with the seats set at a steep incline so the fans are on top of the action. It's the home of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men's basketball team.
It's unlike a lot of other multi-purpose arenas, however. This isn't a basketball arena where hockey can also be played. This is a hockey rink first. Seating just under 9,000, the place will be a prime venue for the national tournament, guaranteed. Officials said Thursday afternoon that only 300 tickets remained for Saturday's games, all single seats scattered through the arena.
"This place is going to be rockin'," said Bemidji State junior Nathan Schwartzbauer. "This is going to be very cool."
It should be rockin' no doubt. However, it will also be a sea of red as the home state University of Wisconsin Badgers will be the main draw. But then it won't be important for whom the crowd cheers. What really matters is that there will be a crowd.
BSU knows what it is like, first hand, playing in front of a crowd that takes up a small fraction of the seating area, having won the College Hockey America Tournament title in front of a miniscule crowd that many say didn't top 300 - in a 5,000 seat arena.
That won't be the case Saturday.
"Sure, most of the people will be cheering for Wisconsin," said BSU's Garrett Roth. "But that doesn't matter. The best thing is that it's going to be loud. Every player likes to compete in a place with a great atmosphere. This place has it."
There will be no need for the Beavers to bus to practice or games, either. The team hotel is less than a block away from the Resch Center entrance. After pictures for the national media and a practice at 11:30 a.m. today, the players will walk back to the hotel for some lunch. Then it will be off to Lambeau for a guided tour. It's all within a walking distance, comparable to going from the BSU baseball field to the Gillett Fitness Center.
Things really started to feel like home after arriving at the restaurant for the team dinner. It was a place called Prime Cuts, a dinner club that requires patrons to grill their own entrees. When one of those in attendance balked at cooking his own steak, he easily got help.
Large steaks were the featured items, but there were also offerings of fresh fish - tuna and mahi-mahi, among them. All the steaks were indeed prime cuts, sirloin, ribeye, filet, T-bone, porterhouse, New York strip. For the adventurous there was even a 40-ouncer that looked more like a roast for a family of four.
While the BSU entourage was there, the Cornell team - which will play Colorado College on Saturday - also showed up. A couple of them opted for the 40-ounce steak. Lucky for them game time is still a day and a half away.
BSU coach Tom Serratore said this year definitely has a different feel than last, when the Beavers advanced to their first NCAA tournament.
"Nothing catches you by surprise this year," he said. "Everyone knows the routine and that's a good thing. But the bottom line is no matter what the circumstances are that surround the game, the team better ready to play come Saturday."