Since 2012, the University of Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal University Cougars men’s and women’s hockey teams face off against each other for one regular season game that is anything but ordinary. Played at the Scotiabank Saddledome, an NHL arena, the Crowchild Classic generates a fan atmosphere that is rivalled by few other Canadian university sporting events.
There’s the Carr-Harris Cup, the long-standing men’s hockey rivalry between the Queens University Gaels and the Royal Military College (RMC) Paladins in Kingston. And there’s the Capital Hoops Classic, a basketball game between the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton University Ravens. Specialty games like these make for great, memorable fan experiences and help grow the popularity of university sports.
When I lived in Calgary, I went to the 2017 edition of the Crowchild Classic. Tickets cost $5, with proceeds going toward student wellness initiatives at both universities. When I went to the game, I saw students, hockey fans or not, show up in face paint and with homemade signs and an abundance of school spirit. There was (mostly) good spirited chanting and cheering that resounded around the rink, the closest thing to a United States college hockey game that I’ve seen. Every January since, I’ve wanted to fly back for that one day.
Why shouldn’t there be something like that here in Halifax? A hockey game, marketed the same way, between the Dalhousie University Tigers and the Saint Mary’s University Huskies, could only be a win for Atlantic University Sport (AUS) hockey and the respective schools.
Respect for women’s hockey
Regular season games marketed as special events do well for attendance. In 2016, there were a record 12,859 fans at the men’s game of the Crowchild Classic.
This year, for the first time, the women’s game headlined the Classic. It’s a double header event, which means the men’s and women’s teams play on the same night. The women’s team headlining meant they played in the coveted later time slot, 6:45 p.m. instead of 4:00 p.m. This was a huge step for women’s hockey.
Also this year, coincidentally, the Crowchild Classic broke the U Sports record for attendance at a women’s hockey game. A reported 10,002 fans were in attendance at the start of the game.
It’s also quite the contrast to how women’s hockey is sometimes treated in Halifax. Take an incident on Feb. 7, when the Huskies women’s team wasn’t allowed to practice on their home rink, the Dauphinee Centre, before travelling to P.E.I. for an away game. That same afternoon, the Huskies men’s team took the ice for a pre-game skate before their home game later that day.
Their attendance numbers suffer, too. The Dalhousie Tigers women’s team had an average of 96 fans at each of their regular season home games this year. The Saint Mary’s Huskies fared slightly better, averaging 196 spectators at each of their home contests, but it’s still a far cry away from what it could be. A game advertised as a rivalry event at an arena built for larger audiences would surely draw more fans and generate more attention for the highest level women’s hockey in the Maritimes.
So, could Halifax support a specialty hockey game of its own?
By the numbers
The Scotiabank Centre is no stranger to university sports. The AUS basketball playoffs are held there each year; five of the last 10 men’s basketball national Final 8 tournaments have been hosted there as well.
It’s a venue that can support university sports and would work well for an annual hockey game.
As for the fans: though Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s are smaller schools than UCalgary and MRU, the Scotiabank Centre is a smaller arena than the Saddledome, about half the size. It has a seating capacity of about 10,500 instead of 19,289, a space that could feasibly be filled with Dal and SMU students.
Also, cross-town rivalries bring out some of the best play in the AUS: although this season, Saint Mary’s sailed above Dal in the standings for both men’s and women’s hockey, games against each other ranged from high scoring blowouts to nail-biter overtime decisions. Anything can happen in the cross-town games, and played in front of an atmosphere of more fans and a real arena, that would only bring out the best in the AUS.