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College hockey hopes to keep the attention

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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Penguins season-ticket holder Chris Misechok will have double the games to watch and stats to track now that the NHL season is set to begin.

A casual fan of college hockey before the lockout, Misechok had turned to the college game to get his hockey fix. Despite the lockout ending, Misechok said he plans to follow NCAA hockey, watching Friday night games on NBC Sports Network and keeping an eye on the NCAA website.

“I picked up college hockey because of the lockout. I missed the speed of the game,” said Misechok, 23, a Pitt graduate student. “Watching football games with those huddles is just not the same.”

The challenge for college hockey teams is retaining that interest.

• More than 22,400 fans filled Consol Energy Center over two days late last month for the Three Rivers Classic, in which Robert Morris, Penn State, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio State competed.

• The Robert Morris men's team set a program attendance record by drawing 1,589 for a game against Ohio State on Dec. 8.

• The Colonials also sold out their season opener, hiking attendance by 40 percent.

• The RMU men's team is playing to 90 percent capacity at Island Sports Center, and the women's team has drawn 1,403 in its first five games, up 43 percent through the same period last season.

Like Misechok, Aaron Troy, 27, of the North Hills turned to college hockey to fill the NHL void. Troy said he had been a casual fan, but his interest picked up this season.

“I would go to one or two Robert Morris games in previous years,” he said, “but the lockout definitely increased my interest.”

RMU men's coach Derek Schooley said it was a matter of people needing hockey.

“I hope that they saw the product of college hockey and liked it and continue to follow it,” he said. “I hope they now have a favorite college hockey team and believe in college hockey as one of the best sports in the NCAA.

“There's a lot more excitement right now from causal hockey fans.”

Nate Ewell, who runs College Hockey Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to promoting men's Division I hockey, said the lockout gave college hockey a chance to shine.

Interest and attention are hard to quantify, Ewell said, but he has seen an increase in media coverage, with more games being televised and streamed online.

Misechok and Troy said they will continue to follow college hockey even with the NHL opening in about a week. Troy already was revving up for his next Robert Morris game.

Misechok said that although he will spend most of his time following the Penguins, he also plans to keep tabs on the college scene.

“This has kind of grown on me,” he said. “Plus, if you follow it close, you can keep up with which college guys are top prospects. You can follow who the Pens players are, and that's cool.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mguza@tribweb.com.

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