I have personally made roadtrips to each WCHA town for the purpose of watching the University of Minnesota at least one time, and have been to most towns several times for the purpose of watching the Gophers and other WCHA teams play. So, with that being said, I feel that I’m somewhat qualified to put together a ranking of all the WCHA towns and their ability to be a good host.
What makes a town good for roadtrips can obviously vary depending upon your prerogative and personal opinions. Some people go for the sole purpose of wanting to party and have a good time. Others may be traveling with kids and look for more family-friendly things to do.
In trying to put together this list, I took into account five different things that I personally would consider important to most fans in a hockey roadtrip town. In alphabetical order, here are those points.
Note that I plan on doing a separate list for WCHA arenas, starting with No. 10 next Wednesday.
- Access – How easy is the city to get to for most WCHA fans?
- Bars – As any fan knows, it’s important to have a place to eat and/or drink before and after the games.
- City Experience – Some people like to make a three-day weekend out of a roadtrip, so what does the city have to offer outside of hockey-related places?
- Hotels – When traveling, it’s obviously important to have hotels that are decent, affordable, and close to your main points-of-interest while on the road.
- Ticket Cost / Availability – Arguably the key to any roadtrip is securing tickets to watch your team play. It’s important to factor in the cost of tickets and how readily available tickets are at various schools.
Starting today and continuing through the next nine Fridays, I’ll countdown my personal list, starting today with No. 10: Houghton, Michigan, which is home to Michigan Tech.
Getting to Houghton is a challenge for most fans, regardless of where you’re coming from, for a few reasons. The main challenge for most fans is just the sheer distance you’ll have to travel. The closest WCHA town to Houghton is of course Duluth, which is still 217 miles away. If you’re traveling from the Twin Cities, you’re looking at a six-hour drive. Same goes for Madison, and Grand Forks is about 7 hours away.
The other challenge that travelers could experience is of course the weather. Those drive-times listed above don’t take into account the frequent snow that can occur in northern Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan during the fall and winter. Most roads are single-lane highways on the way to Houghton, so bad weather can really make the drive slow and possibly dangerous.
Houghton is the smallest town home to any of the WCHA schools. That being said, there are still some decent watering holes to be found. Most of the viable bars are found in downtown Houghton along Sheldon Ave. The Library is my personal favorite, as it features a cool atmosphere, a great food menu, and its own brewery. The Ambassador is known by fans for its great pizza, and business usually picks up later in the evening for the “party crowd.”
There are a handful of other bars and restaurants found in downtown, but one issue here is that because the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena is up on a hill away from the downtown a bit, it can be a challenge to walk from a bar/restaurant all the way to the arena. Most fans would rather have the ability to walk to the arena before and after the game without having to worry about driving and parking.
What makes a "city experience" good or not really depends on the type of person you are and what you enjoy. That especially holds true when it comes to Houghton. If you enjoy doing outdoor winter activities, then you’re set, as the area offers several offerings.
I am not that type of person, so for me, the thing I look forward to the most in terms of “non-hockey” things to do is to visit Dee Stadium, which is located right behind the Best Western. According to Wikipedia, it replaced the Amphidrome, which burned down in 1927, and was formerly home-rink for Michigan Tech. The rink itself is so-so, but the allure to the arena is that it has a pretty cool museum within it that houses some very cool memorabilia about the start of professional ice hockey in the U.S., which started in the Houghton-area.
The wild-card in the whole “city experience” situation when it comes to Houghton is Winter Carnival, which is the annual weekend in mid-February that turns the city into a complete zoo.
Houghton doesn’t offer anything fancy in terms of lodging, but that won’t be an issue for most college hockey fans. I personally stay at the Best Western Franklin Square Inn. The rates vary of course, but I’ve usually spent in the neighborhood of $90 per night, which isn’t outrageous, especially considering most fans travel with other people and thus tend to split the cost of the room. It features a bar at the top of the hotel which features a nice view over Portage Lake.
There are several other lodging options, which can be found here.
Ticket Cost / Availability
Aside from Winter Carnival weekend, WCHA fans should have no trouble getting tickets to watch their squad take on the Huskies. Games are rarely sold out and ticket prices are very reasonable, especially in relation to some other WCHA rinks. Additionally, they don’t adjust their ticket prices based on which team coming to town (like other WCHA schools do), so that is another nice feature.
More info can be found here.
Overall, Houghton is one town that your average WCHA fans needs to visit at least once. It's very unique and different than the other towns the conference has to offer. That being said, part of that uniqueness also hurts it in some of the categories mentioned above, as the size of the town limits what Houghton can offer.
Overall Grade: C