USA Hockey puts women’s tour in big arenas
USA Hockey is pushing the boundaries of interest in the women’s national team with its pre-Olympic tour this fall, scheduling games in much larger arenas than in the past and testing nontraditional hockey markets.
The seven-game The Time is Now Tour, Presented by Toyota, started Oct. 25 with a 5-1 loss to Canada at Boston University’s 7,200-seat Agganis Arena. It drew a robust, sellout crowd in a classic environment, but the rest of the tour will be different.
It continues with the Four Nations Cup starting Nov. 7 in Tampa. The preliminary-round games with Canada, Finland and Sweden will be at the 600-seat Florida Hospital Center Ice, but the medal-round games will be in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 20,500-seat Amalie Arena.
Then, the last two stops on the tour head to the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Energy Center (capacity 18,568) and the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center (capacity 17,496).
In 2013 before the Sochi Games, Xcel Energy Center was the only NHL arena on the schedule, and the tour never went farther south than Lake Placid, N.Y.
“We’ve had multiple events in 4, 5, and 6,000-seat facilities to great success,” said Mike Bertsch, USA Hockey assistant executive director, marketing and communications. “Because of that success, we’ve decided to expand and give the community the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the team in these larger facilities. We know there’s some risk to that.”
The Florida stop is designed in conjunction with the team’s 2018 Olympics preparation residency in suburban Tampa, where they’ve lived and practiced together since September. Previous residencies were in Lake Placid, the Twin Cities and Boston.
Toyota, a USA Hockey sponsor since 2012 that became a U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee sponsor this year, took over for Liberty Mutual as presenting sponsor of the tour. Other sponsors include Liberty Mutual, Thorne Research, Insureon, Nike, Dunkin’ Donuts and Marriott.
USA Hockey also has secured extended TV coverage of its pre-Olympic schedule. This year, all six matches against Canada outside of the Four Nations (including three in Canada that aren’t part of the official tour) will be televised live. NBCSN will air two, as it did in 2013, but NHL Network is stepping in to cover the other four, said USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer.
The U.S. has not won an Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey since the inaugural tournament in 1998, and finished second to Canada in both 2010 and 2014. However, the team won the 2017 world championship and currently is ranked No. 1 globally by the International Ice Hockey Federation.