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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Lions ponder Frozen Four

Team considers making a bid to play host to NCAA hockey finals in 2010 or '11.

By Mike O'Hara / The Detroit News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.--One of the coolest events in college sports is in the planning stages for a possible stop at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.

Lions management is considering a bid to play host to the Frozen Four -- the NCAA hockey championships -- in 2010 or 2011.

It would be another sports jewel for Detroit, which already has baseball's All-Star Game this summer, Super Bowl XL in 2006 and the men's Final Four basketball championship in 2009.

"The CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Association) people have talked to us about the possibility of putting something together," Tom Lewand, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Lions who oversees Ford Field operations, said Monday in Allen Park. "We have not gotten formal about it. We haven't really started down the path of pursuing it.

"College hockey is fantastic. We think we could do something exciting."

Hold off on ordering the octopus -- or whatever college hockey fans throw onto the ice when their school wins the national championship. The Lions want to schedule as many high-profile events as they can at Ford Field, but they are at the beginning stage of determining if it makes sense to turn the football stadium into a hockey rink with some 70,000 seats.

"The process really has to mature more before we really can gauge that," Lewand said. "There is a lot of due diligence to be done before we say we're really interested. We have to see if it's feasible, to see if we're interested."

The Frozen Four sites are set for the next four championships - at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio, April 7-9, the Bradley Center in Milwaukee in 2006, the Savvis Center in St. Louis in 2007 and the Pepsi Center in Denver in 2008. By then, the NHL might have ended its lockout.

Ford Field and college hockey could be a good partnership based on their success in promoting mega-events.

Michigan and Michigan State attracted a world-record 74,554 fans for a hockey game at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 6, 2001.

Michigan State and Kentucky set the all-time attendance record for basketball when they drew 78,129 for a game at Ford Field on Dec. 13, 2003.

But , it was one thing to build a hockey rink outdoors for what amounted to a one-game exhibition. It's something else to set up a rink for a national championship.

"Obviously, the game they did at Michigan State has shown that you can do those sorts of things," Lewand said. "We're a little more of an intimate building than Spartan Stadium is. Whether the Frozen Four is something that could support a large building, those are all things that take some looking into."

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