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Last college hockey game ever at the Wachovia Spectrum, Penn loses St. Joe's, 2-8. Credit: Melanie Lei

Penn’s last taste of a Final Four came in 1979 when the basketball team played in Salt Lake City, Utah. When the next Final Four comes to Philly, though, it won’t be on the hardwood.

The 2014 Frozen Four, collegiate hockey’s championship finals, will be in Philadelphia, the NCAA announced last week, after stopping across the state in Pittsburgh in 2013.

After decades of the tournament taking place in chilly locations like Lake Placid, N.Y., St. Paul, Minn. and Boston, the NCAA has begun to move the Frozen Four to less traditional hockey towns, such as Washington, D.C., in 2009,and Tampa, Fla., in 2012, as college hockey steadily extends its icy grip across the country.

“We’re thrilled that the NCAA has decided this is the time to bring the event to Philadelphia,” said Larry Needle, executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, which works to bring marquee sporting events to the city.

“You could say this has been in the works for a while,” he added. Over the last decade, Philadelphia has bid on the Frozen Four twice before the successful attempt this year.

Philadelphia is a flourishing hockey market — one certainly boosted by the Flyers trip to the Stanley Cup Finals this spring, where they lost to Chicago.

During the 2009-10 season, the Flyers had the fifth best hockey television ratings in the U.S., according to Tom Mayenknecht, a sports business commentator from Vancouver.

But according to Needle, the Flyers run was only “a nice icing on the cake” for his city’s bid for the Frozen Four.

“When the NCAA looked at the Wachovia Center and the resources that Comcast Spectacor brings to the table and the enthusiasm and really community based hockey programming that Comcast Spectacor does, I think that was one of the keys that ultimately brought this home,” he said of the sports entertainment firm that owns the Flyers, 76ers, the Wachovia Center complex and Comcast SportsNet.

He also added the partnership with the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) as a strong selling point. The ECAC will be the host conference for the tournament.

“It makes for a really strong comprehensive package that was rewarded,” he said.

However, missing from that package is a collegiate hockey community anywhere in Philly. None of the Big 5 schools have a Varsity hockey program — Penn’s was disbanded after 1978 season due to financial problems. The team has persevered, playing with club status since then, currently in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association.

“I think it is extremely odd that the Philadelphia area has no D1 teams,” rising College junior Dylan Aluise, who plays for the Penn club team, wrote in an email.

“There is a fanatical following of the [Flyers], and I have no reason to believe that these same fans would not support a local college D1 team the way Bruins fans support the BU Terriers, Boston College Eagles and Harvard Crimson,” the forward added.

Penn joins Columbia as the only two Ivy League teams without a varsity program.

Needle says that the lack of college teams may have hurt Philly in it’s previous two bids for the Frozen Four.

“I think that maybe is one of the reasons that it took this long to ultimately get the event, the fact that there is not a D-I program in the Philadelphia area, and at least that we are not perceived as a college hockey town as a result,” Needle said. “In a perfect world we’d love to have a D-I program in town, but I think that’s really probably the only thing lacking at this point in terms of our hockey profile.”

But a big-time event like the Frozen Four may at least stir up interest in collegiate hockey in a town where there is currently little.

“I’d like to think that this could impact the possibility of a D-I program coming to the city,” Needle said, “but I’m sure there are dozens of other factors that come into a decision like that.”

Aluise agreed, adding: “I certainly hope the Frozen Four would help start the dialogue. It will be nationally televised, and if Philly puts on a good show I hope that the conversation would lead to the fact that there is an untapped fan base yearning for college hockey.”

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