LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Lake Placid is everything the postcards will lead you to believe it is.
There is one main road through town (Main Street, of course), and picturesque shops and restaurants dot this stop-and-go, two-lane thoroughfare from the town line.
On the way into town, you drive past Olympic venues — or access roads to the venues — where alpine and nordic skiing, bobsledding, luge and ski jumping were held during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Many are still in use.
And while each of those venues share their own Olympic history with those who visit, nothing captures the Olympic historian in anyone quite like the site located amid all of those quaint stores, next door to some fabulous, hidden culinary gems, and on a hill rising above what was once one of the premier speed skating ovals in the world.
That venue, of course, is the hockey rink in the center of it all, the rink renamed in 2005 to bear the moniker of the most famous man — for Americans, anyway — to ever walk its halls or stand on its benches: Herb Brooks.
The Herb Brooks Arena, also known as the 1980 rink, sits modestly between two other, smaller rinks, one of which is known as the 1932 rink (for obvious reasons. Lake Placid hosted those Winter Games, as well). It doesn't wow you with electronics, scoreboards, plaques or signage. It's just another hockey rink in the middle of another small town in the middle of a mountain range in rural New York.
But it's the site of the most famous game in U.S. hockey history, and, for three days a year in six of the past seven seasons, it has also been home to the NCAA Division III National Championships — the three last games of each season featuring four teams with one thing in mind: bringing home the most important piece of hardware most of them will ever get a chance to call their own.
This year, three of the four schools participating in the Division III men's ice hockey final four were from fewer than 80 miles away. Bonus for the organizers, and bonus for the fans of those schools who breathe hockey with as much fervor as they do the oxygen that allows them to continue living.
Norwich of Vermont and Oswego State of New York made return trips to the final four this season, while Utica of New York — the school that knocked Bowdoin College from this year's tournament in the round of 8 — and Wisconsin-Eau Claire found their way into the all-or-nothing tourney for the first time.
Wisconsin-Eau Claire went 2-0 and emerged as the national champion.
And if the Blugolds want to defend that crown, they'll have to do it in Lewiston-Auburn.
For as far as the Twin Cities have come in my lifetime — and particularly in the past decade — there is still no chance that L-A can offer in historical significance what Lake Placid does. No 'miracle' on a global scale has ever taken place at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, no Olympic gold medals won.
Even the aging Herb Brooks Arena — with its original scoreboard, lack of alternative viewing options and even the most basic of crowd interactive technology — even that facility provides, in its basic construction, a better physical venue than Lewiston-Auburn can offer.
But despite all of that, Lewiston-Auburn has a chance to showcase itself on a grand stage, show the NCAA and others what it has to offer and create its own "Miracle on Ice" moment.
Ultimately, the Twin Cities can, in fact, do a better overall job than Lake Placid.
1. Realize this has to be a collective effort. Yes, the games themselves will be at the Colisee, which is in Lewiston. But Auburn has a lot of the infrastructure in place to host an event of this magnitude. The economic benefit of more than 1,000 people from outside of Maine descending on these towns will impact both communities and their businesses. This includes making sure the roads are well-maintained, making sure signage is prominent at all entry points to both cities, and making sure the proper people are in place to help facilitate the organizing of the event.
2. Don't try to out-Lake Placid Lake Placid. There are some things that town can offer that L-A just simply cannot. Recognize that, come to terms with it, and move on, focusing energy instead on what these communities have to offer that is unique in its own right.
3. Create a festive community atmosphere. One thing that stands out in Lake Placid is the lack of local interest and participation in this event, primarily because the town itself is built now on tourism and youth hockey tournaments, with the bulk of the area's employees working in the service industry — hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and stores. The majority of the fans at Herb Brooks Arena this weekend traveled from away, and are affiliated in some way with the schools in the tourney. The proximity of three of the schools helped boost attendance this year, but that's not always going to be the case, and certainly not in 2014 in Maine.
But that is where the local fan base will be so important, and in addition to catering to the visitors with watch parties, 'home' bars and restaurant deals, organizers need to take a hard look at what will help boost interest locally. Perhaps the cities or planning committee can create a winter festival or "fan-fest" around the three-day tournament. Perhaps they can tie in with the area hockey culture and include events like youth clinics, a high school senior all-star game and/or skills competition. Insert your own ideas here.
4. This might be the most important of all: Start now.
Not in April, not this summer, not next winter.
The 2013 championship is over. That means the next time the NCAA hosts a Division III hockey final four, it is going to be in Lewiston-Auburn. There are 369 days between now and then. The people who were successful in bidding to bring the event to Lewiston — The Maine Sports Commission, Firland Management, Bowdoin College and the cities — need to form a host committee in conjunction with the the NCAA. Many of the details can be ironed out early. Some will take time, and need more careful attention.
Start planning the event like it is taking place in October. By October, all of the little things that might pop up along the way can be handled in the next five months leading up to the tourney.
Perhaps for some young hockey players, particularly on the team good enough to win two games in two days against some pretty stiff competition, Lewiston will hold in significance to them what Lake Placid has held for so many: The place where they earned a championship trophy, and a memorable location from which they'd be honored to send a postcard or two.