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Time concerns addressed -- finally -- for Ohio hockey's frozen four | Opinion

Mar. 5—There are YouTube videos in which the level of people's patience is tested.

How long can they stand it if someone taps them on the shoulder or stares at them uncomfortably invading personal space or, say, a spider crawls up their arm?

Patience is not teachable. It comes from deep within — and there are times, sadly, when patience only goes so far.

But it is possible to be brought back from the brink in that regard, and all is right again.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association, the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena — for all the heat that's been brought, many times deservedly so — actually delivered such a change and merit praise for a change of course.

Over the last several years, when I have viscerally complained in this space about the quality of ice slots for high school hockey's frozen four, it tends to draw a range of response.

Within the high school hockey community, by and large it is received well and understood.

Last year, for example, when the frozen four had 9 a.m. and noon semifinals on a Friday, no way around it — I lost my patience. In this case, like those aforementioned YouTube videos, the annoyance went too far.

I posted about it on X and used a not-so-nice word and emoji or two in the process.

The reaction was support from all corners of the state, including from teams and programs who, to be fair, wouldn't know my work from a hole in the ground.

The concept was ridiculous. Let's say you're one of the Cleveland representatives and the Toledo representative in the frozen four. Your team plays, as they did in 2023, at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning.

The choices stink. Take the day off from work. Drive down the night before. Drive down first thing in the morning, meaning from Northern Ohio in order to get there with ample time to spare you'd leave around 6 a.m. Or begrudgingly, don't make the trip. It was panned as it should have been.

There's also the other side. When you write an opinion column weekly for nine months of the year as I do, inevitably there are subjects and elements repeated. It would be ideal if every word and concept was fresh. Sometimes, however, it's not.

After lamenting another bad set of ice times a couple years ago, I received a snarky email from a reader. He made it clear he was not a high school hockey fan and wondered why I spent so much space in the paper lamenting a cause for which he couldn't care less. He even measured how many inches the column was.

Paraphrasing, he stated, "I don't want to be read about this."

My two-word response to him: "Then don't."

If you don't care about high school hockey — or anything else in this world — then don't pay any attention. And that's fine. It's like the old adage about a questionable TV show way back when — if you don't like what you're seeing, change the channel.

Getting back on track, those awful start times last winter brought back a long-debated point about moving the frozen four venue, even the tried-and-true "let's go back to rotating between Bowling Green and Brooklyn" argument.

By definition, as the home of Ohio's NHL team, Nationwide Arena is the premier hockey facility in the Buckeye State. But in addition to the Blue Jackets, it also hosts a variety of other events.

One of the years we all were miffed about start times was understandable, because Nationwide was hosting March Madness, Ohio State-Michigan hockey and a WWE premium live event. The arena was so pressed for time with March Madness looming that minutes after the state hockey final, the process began of removing the ice.

It dovetails into a simple premise: Nationwide is the preferred home for the frozen four. We all want to see those student-athletes who earned a spot in it play on the "big ice." It's an honor and a memory that lingers for a lifetime.

But if it reaches a point at which Nationwide is doing high school hockey a favor by shoehorning it in with so much else going on, then perhaps it's time to consider a change of venue.

Maybe, mercifully, someone who needed to hear the message about giving the frozen four better start times listened and took it to heart.

Because in 2024, even with the Blue Jackets having a 12:30 p.m. game on the Saturday between the Friday semifinals and Sunday final, the start times are friendly.

The semifinals this year will take place at 1 and 4 p.m. March 8 (St. Ignatius-Toledo St. Francis and University-Columbus St. Charles, respectively), with a 1 p.m. final March 10.

So even with a Blue Jackets homestand, even with a concert the weekend prior, the people who could make it happen gave the frozen four friendlier start times.

No one is suggesting high school hockey should get primetime ice slots every year for the frozen four, up to and including at the expense of the main tenants or any concerts, tours or special events coming through Central Ohio.

All that's needed at minimum, if we're going to keep the tournament at Nationwide, are better start times.

If fans and communities want to make the trek. If schools want to head down in support.

Providing afternoon or, if possible, early-evening ice slots give those who are interested — no, obviously not Mr. "I don't want to read about this" — a fighting chance to get to Columbus should they choose to do so.

So for all the times I've written in this space or been nasty on social media about the powers that be trampling upon the experience for student-athletes and schools, for once the message is different: Thank you very much.

Maybe the statewide pushback was the equivalent of an annoying tap on the shoulder, stare or spider crawling up an arm.

But hey, it worked. And all parties involved come out a winner as a result.

For once.