The Broncos will open up competition on the 18th against Winthrop, and the winner will play the winner of Central Florida and host Alaska-Fairbanks. The other two match-ups to play first round games on the 19th are Utah State versus Portland and Georgia Southern versus New Mexico State. Round two will be played on the 20th with the championship game on the 21st.
WMU head coach Steve Hawkins is excited about the trip to Alaska. "None of us has ever been to Alaska. We're going to go up there and it can be a bonding experience."
The tournament is an exempt tournament. WMU will be able to play 3 games on a neutral court and have only one game count against the team's total allowed games for the season. "We're going to have some kids that are inexperienced next year so going in we need to get some of our young pups up there as much playing time as possible going into the conference schedule," said Hawkins. "We've got an opportunity to play three games there against quality competition and on a neutral court."
Of the teams competing, only Utah State (25-4, 86.2%) had a better winning percentage the WMU's 83.8% in the 2003-04 season. However, the tournament features five teams that had 20 or more wins this past season. "It's a quality field up there. A lot of returning players on a lot of good teams," added Hawkins.
The Broncos will be given the royal treatment during their stay in Fairbanks according to the tournament website. A host family is provided to aid in logistical arrangements such as lodging, transportation, entertainment and meals. Also provided is a local ‘adopted school' to help welcome the visiting teams, provide a practice venue, cheer for their adopted teams and participate in activities such as sled-dog rides and gold panning.
"It's going to be an educational experience," said Hawkins. "I don't know what all is involved, but I talked to some coaches who have been there before. They talked about going sledding behind the dogs and things like that. Everyone I have talked to talked about how well run a tournament it is; a great, well run event."
Last year's champion was Rice who beat Washington State, St. Mary's and Idaho State en route to the title. Other past winners of the tournament include Gonzaga, Alabama, Villanova and Oklahoma. This upcoming year will be the third in the last four to include a representative from the MAC (Ball St. and Bowling Green are previous participants).
The Bronco hockey team makes regular trips to the same venue as this tournament as part of their CCHA regular season schedule. With that in mind coach Hawkins called hockey coach Jim Culhane for some pointers. "I talked with Jim about it and he told me I was crazy," said Hawkins. "He told me if you go up there and you don't have to play for a while then it's ok," he added talking about the leg time you have making such a long road trip. "It's not like we're only going to be there for a couple of days. We play three games, we get into there on a Tuesday and we don't come home until Sunday so we'll be able to acclimate a little bit while we're there and when we get back we don't play for several days."
Tickets are available as an all-game package now through November 4 at noon with prices ranging from $45 to $125. Starting at noon November 4 only single game tickets will be available with prices ranging from $9 to $22. Tickets can be purchased through UAF athletics by calling (907) 474-5977. All games are held at the 4,200-seat Carlson Center hockey and basketball facility.
Expect the 2004-05 schedule to released in the near future. All but one game has been scheduled and once that game is finalized the athletic department will be able to talk about and release the schedule.
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