When Michigan used to go down to Columbus to play at the 1,400 seat OSU Ice Arena, it was far from an exciting experience. The rink was so small that the Zamboni had to park outside and the reporters had to go through the benches just to get to a ladder to climb into the press box.

“It shouldn’t even have been a Division I rink,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.

It’s easy to say times have changed. The Buckeyes are now playing in their fifth season at the nation’s largest college hockey facility, Value City Arena, where they will host the Wolverines for the final two games of the regular season tonight and tomorrow. The 17,500-seat arena, equipped with 52 luxury suites, has been awarded the 2005 NCAA Frozen Four, which will mark the first time the event has been played on a college campus since 1983.

The Buckeyes, however, play in front of what looks like sparse crowds each night even though they have one of the top attendance averages in the nation.

“We’re coming from a 1,000-seat arena to a 17,500 seat arena,” Ohio State coach John Markell said. “A lot has to transpire in order for that to be filled.”

With 10,000 tickets already sold for both of this weekend’s games, it should be. Gov. Bob Taft has declared this week Hockey Week in Ohio with all of the state’s major teams in action. The game on tonight will also be broadcast as a special presentation on the College Sports Television Network, a station preparing to launch after the NCAA basketball Final Four.

But with the addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets to the area, Markell has noticed more people noticing a sport in an area where football and basketball are king.

“You cannot believe how many kids are playing hockey now, and how many adults are playing this game now,” Markell said. “I’m looking forward to the day where Michigan schools, Wisconsin and Minnesota start recruiting in Ohio.”

But so far this season, the Buckeyes have drawn over 10,000 just once, leaving the arena’s massive upper bowl nearly empty despite ticket prices of $5 for adults and $3 for students.

“I don’t know if I’d want that at Michigan or how many coaches would want something like that,” Berenson said. “But in a big game situation against a school like Michigan, it could be a showcase type game.”

Michigan can still capture the CCHA regular season title if it wins both games and Ferris State falls twice to Bowling Green, but the chances of that happening are astronomically small. Ohio State can steal away second place – and a possible bye at the CCHA Super Six – if it sweeps Michigan. The game is also crucial in that the Buckeyes would be the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament if it began today, according to United States College Hockey Online.

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