The response was immediate, energetic and overwhelmingly positive.
As soon as the draws for the upcoming NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Championships were announced on TV Sunday morning, local organizers erupted into cheers because the four teams headed to Memorial Coliseum represent a dream scenario for Fort Wayne's first foray into the hosting the tournament.
The first semifinal game in the Midwest Regional, to be played 4 p.m. Saturday, will pit the top overall seed in the tournament, Miami of Ohio (27-7-7), against Alabama-Huntsville (12-17-3). The other semifinal, at 7:30 p.m., will boast perennial powerhouse Michigan (25-17-1) against Bemidji State (23-9-4).
The idea that next Sunday's regional championship could feature Miami and Michigan, bitter rivals with strong geographic ties and a reputation for bringing many fans, had Coliseum general manager Randy Brown ecstatic.
"Oh, we couldn't be happier," Brown said. "I was sweating it a little bit because there was a company, a gentleman, that predicts brackets, and let's just say the early predictions were not anywhere near what we have here. So if you're a hockey fan, it just doesn't get any better than this."
The Coliseum has already sold more than 1,000 ticket packages. Now that the draw has been decided, they expect the phone lines to be swarmed with fans from the respective schools.
"For us, this should be the icing on the cake, pushing us over the top," said Brown, whose building has hosted a handful of regular-season NCAA hockey games. "Part of what we're trying to do is build our resume and get to hosting some other NCAA events. The real secret to doing that is to sell tickets. We think that this is the package we needed to sell the tickets. We're off to a good start. But now it's time for the slam dunk."
Craig Scully, president of the Fort Wayne Sports Corporation, agreed.
"I don't think we could ask for anything better," he said. "For this to be successful in Fort Wayne, we need good teams and ones that travel well, will bring a lot of fans to Fort Wayne. That's what we're hoping for, a lot of support. But we need local support, too. We need people to come out to the games.
"From an economic impact, and that's really what we're after with things like this, Miami of Ohio and Michigan are two teams within a couple hours and hopefully they'll bring a lot of fans with them. Bemidji State had a great run last year to the NCAA Frozen Four, too. Hopefully, all these teams bring a lot of people with them and spend a lot of money here."
Miami reached the national championship game last year, losing to 4-3 in overtime to Boston University. Alabama-Huntsville is the only team in the tournament with a losing record, but made it to Fort Wayne by winning the Central Hockey America Conference Tournament.
Michigan earned its improbable tournament berth by winning its last six games, including a 5-2 victory over Miami in the CCHL semifinals. Bemidji's surprising run to the Frozen Four last year ended with a 4-1 loss to Miami.
All the games in Fort Wayne will be televised on ESPNU and other ESPN networks and Coliseum officials have made no secret that they're hoping for Sunday night (8 p.m.) match between Miami and Michigan.
"If we see that final, it'll bring a lot of national attention to the Coliseum and to Fort Wayne," Brown said.