Eight years removed from hosting the local team’s Game 7 victory over the Calgary Flames, the Tampa Bay Times Forum (nee St. Pete Times Forum) hosted the country’s second-biggest hockey championship. It became the first facility in the southeastern United States to host an NCAA Men’s Frozen Four and the event’s southernmost host since Anaheim in 1999.
Now that the Kings have brought the Cup to the country’s most recognizable city west of the Mississippi River―sealing the victory on home ice, no less―there is no reason why they shouldn’t shoot for the exact same privilege. And there is no reason to assume they couldn’t pull it off if they tried to bring the Frozen Four to Figueroa.
Of course, the massive market and city size is what makes Los Angeles both an enticing and potentially lofty site to shoot for. The Frozen Four has never been held in a city with a population exceeding one million, though that will change it 2014 when the event goes to Philadelphia.
In addition, the unique fact that the Staples Center has three major wintertime tenants in the Kings, the NBA Lakers and the NBA Clippers might make for a tougher sell. All of those teams would likely need to vacate the premises for at least a week at a time when their regular seasons are just winding down.
Then again, that’s not stopping the arena from housing the West Regional in next year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
So why not the semifinals and finals of the hockey tournament? The aforementioned obstacles can be overcome, and the geographic barrier is long-shattered thanks to Anaheim and Tampa.
But whenever its turn might come to hold a Frozen Four, the best time for Los Angeles to start bidding is in the oven-fresh aftermath of the Kings’ title. The local promoters’ endeavor to both capitalize on and sustain the recent spike in hockey interest could be a now-or-never, all-or-nothing scenario.
They can sit back and bank on the team continuing to contend for an indefinite period and bringing another Cup in the near future. Or they can take the shrewder route and do something to guarantee that another hockey champion will be crowned at the Staples Center.
They need look no further than the path the Tampa franchise followed.
In a feature published on the Lightning’s website prior to this year’s Frozen Four, team executive vice president of communications Bill Wickett expressly credited the Cup for pushing their bid to host the college championship. The campaign began almost immediately in the celebratory summer of 2004 and was aided by the input of key Lightning player Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis, a former University of Vermont Catamount, willingly played an active role in marketing Tampa as a Frozen Four host. By the summer of 2005, barely a year removed from the professional tenant’s title, the Forum had secured the rights to the 2012 college championship.
This year’s playoff MVP, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, is himself an NCAA product, having spent two seasons with the UMass-Amherst Minutemen. Odds are that L.A. will not be letting him go anywhere in the near future, which means he would naturally be tempting to tout as evidence that hockey and Southern California mesh quite well.
So too, though, would be the fact that, in the 2011-12 season, 24 Division I men’s programs combined to boast 41 rostered Californians. All of them were doubtlessly inspired, in full or in part, to take up and continue with the sport by Wayne Gretzky’s stint with the Kings in the first half of the 1990s.
If the area’s Gretzky-induced hockey craze ever wore off, it certainly got its second wind this spring.
This means that the Staples Center can take a long-term stab at a future Frozen Four and note that by the time the tournament arrives there, a multitude of regional products could either be on the rosters or commitment lists of participating schools.
And when answering interviews, those current or up-and-coming collegiate pucksters will say that the Kings’ run to the 2012 championship fueled their own hockey careers.
Opportunity knocks for the Kings and the Staples Center. Will they hear it and respond accordingly?