Over the past ten days, 72 teams and over 1,000 players from throughout the United States and Canada descended on Columbus to participate in the 2017 American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national championships.
It was the first time in the organization's history that they have held all five of their division's championships in the same location.
"This was a proof of concept, can we do this and can it be viable and self-sustaining?" ACHA executive director Mike Walley told BlueJackets.com. "By all those measures, we've succeeded. It's been nothing but positive feedback from the folks who have been here, and we'll be back. We've already starting planning for next year."
The ACHA was designed to provide a bridge between youth hockey and adult hockey by giving collegiate players an organized way to continue to play the game they love. They now count close to 500 teams within their membership, and when it came time to look at the best location to bring those teams together for a tournament, the choice of Columbus was a no-brainer.
"It was the center of our universe," Walley said. "If you look at our Division 1 teams, we had 20 teams here, and only two flew in. The rest bused. Even though we are in 49 states, you look at where the center of most of our national-bound teams are, and Columbus is within a six-eight hour ride for most of those teams."
Couple the location with the ease of getting around Columbus, and the convenience of working with the centralized management of the OhioHealth Chiller ice rinks throughout the city, and planning and executing the tournament became that much easier.
"We knew we had to bring this together in one town," Walley said. "Even from a team and player standpoint, we have ten universities here that have multiple teams in the tournament, and I've gotten so much positive feedback from those teams where the women can go watch the men's teams and vice versa. The schools and universities know where their entire ACHA body is at one time. It's been a very positive aspect of being in one city."
Throughout the week, teams played at OhioHealth Chiller North, Dublin, and Easton, with semi-final and championship games held at the OhioHealth Chiller Ice Haus downtown.
"Those rinks up north are within 10-15 minutes of each other so it's easy to get from one to the other," Walley said. "And then the excitement of coming downtown, for the final fours to get in this facility, everyone was like 'we have to play to get downtown' so it generated some additional excitement."
As the deciding games played on, walking into the Ice Haus provided one with a palpable feeling of the excitement for players, families and friends. Families browsed tables of merchandise sporting the ACHA Tournament logo that included an outline of the state of Ohio, and many who walked into the rink paused to look at the championship trophy on display.
And with the tournament being held in Ohio, hometown teams stepped up to represent their state as well. Ohio University played in the D1 championship game. The Miami University men's team made it to the semi-finals, and the Miami women's team won the D1 Championship.
"We have all these hockey youth players and they can still play the game at the university of their choice," Walley said. "They can get their degree where they fit. They can go to any school and there's going to be hockey for them. They can still lace up the skates and put their university colors on.
"The ACHA has teams in every ACC school, all the Ivy League schools, and every military academy. All the Big Ten teams have multiple teams, and we have teams in the PAC-12 and all the SEC schools have hockey teams. Every one of them."
ACHA Championship Game Final Scores:
Men's Division I: University of Central Oklahoma (3) - Ohio University (0)
Men's Division II: New York University (4) - Liberty University (3)
Men's Division III: Calvin College (3) - Aquinas College (4)
Women's Division II: North Dakota State University (1) - Lakehead University (3)
Women's Division I: Miami University (3) - Liberty University (1)
(Photos credit of Rachel Lewis)