April 2, 2006
NCAA Frozen Four

INCH's Milwaukee Primer

By Bill and Kelly Brophy

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The Frozen Four returns to a familiar site this week. That's good news for college hockey fans who came to realize in the '90s that when the national championship comes to Milwaukee, a good time is had by all.

Unlike last year, when Columbus, Ohio, was unknown territory for those wearing hockey sweaters and searching for beer amidst discussions of forechecking, left wing locks and Hobey Baker candidates, Milwaukee has a track record as a successful Frozen Four host.

Fans recall that Milwaukee embraced the event in 1993 when Maine won the national championship and in 1997 when North Dakota took the title. But as much as people recall Paul Kariya's exploits for Maine or Dean Blais' first championship behind the Sioux bench, fans also remember that the Bradley Center is a great facility to watch hockey and that there are lots of bars and restaurants within walking distance of the rink in Brewtown.

Let's get the grown-up part of this travelogue out of the way. Milwaukee is a major league city of approximately 600,000. Located on the western shores of Lake Michigan, it is the 22nd largest city in the country, something that tends to be forgotten when baseball fans try to turn it into a northern suburb of Chicagoland when the Chicago Cubs visit Milwaukee's Miller Park each summer.

Milwaukee has all the amenities you'd expect from a town that size. General Mitchell International Airport is a 15-minute drive from downtown, where the Bradley Center and most of the tourist attractions are located. They include the Milwaukee Theatre; the Midwest Airlines Center, which hosts conventions; the Shops of Grand Avenue, which is not the elegant shopping mall it was the last time the NCAA skaters stopped by Milwaukee; the Historic Third Ward, which features antique shops, restaurants, galleries and boutiques; the Museum Center and stunning new Milwaukee Art Museum on the lake; plus the Theater District, which consists of the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee's Repertory Theater and the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

This latter facility should not be confused with Art's Performing Center, off of Water Street. And that should remind us this article is written for INCH readers, not the Visitors and Convention Bureau, which has lots of swell information about the Milwaukee Zoo, the Allen Bradley Clocktower (a downtown landmark), the Pettit National Ice Center (where Olympic speedskaters train), and the festivals which come to Milwaukee's Summerfest grounds each summer.

Road Trip!

Thinking of driving to the Frozen Four? Here are the distances from each campus to the Bradley Center, as calculated by Microsoft Streets & Trips:

• Wisconsin: 79 miles or 1 hour, 19 minutes.
• North Dakota: 651 miles or 9:22
• Boston College: 1,069 miles or 15:44
• Maine: 1,311 miles or 19:30

How to befriend the locals

Thanks to Brian Elliott's goaltending, there will be lots of red and white Wisconsin hockey sweaters around town this week. Wisconsin fans put the flavor in the NCAA tournament in Boston in 1973, Detroit in 1977, Providence in 1978 (where they earned a plaque from the mayor for best fans) and Duluth in 1981. They will undoubtedly attempt to do the same in Milwaukee. Tickets are much tougher to obtain now than when Bucky made its last Frozen Four appearance in 1992.

People in Milwaukee love to talk sports, take shots and toast mugs of brew. It is much more of a basketball town than a hockey town, however. The local media give cursory coverage to the Badger hockey team or the Milwaukee Admirals, a minor league team in a city where the Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks dominate the sports page unless the Green Bay Packers, the state's darlings, are playing a game, making a trade, thinking about the draft, staging a press conference or holding a mini-camp.

If you need a conversational ice-beaker just ask any local whether Brett Favre is going to be back with the Packers and that should take up a good 10 minutes. Fans love their Green Bay Packers more than cheese or Harley-Davidson, which, oh yeah, is based in Milwaukee.

You should also know that Milwaukee is home to two other schools – Marquette University and UW-Milwaukee. Badger fans don't like Marquette and kinda like UW-M, since that's where current Badger hoops coach Bo Ryan was employed before coming to Madison.

If you want to talk more sports, be aware there is more optimism about the Milwaukee Brewers than any time in the last 15 years. This optimism is based on (don't laugh) a .500 season last year, the Brewers' first since 1992. The Brewers are home this week, so if you want to mix the Boys of Summer with NCAA pucks, you can tailgate at Miller Park, sit under the retractable roof and watch the sausage races on Wednesday and Friday nights at 7 or Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The Brewers take on Pittsburgh Wednesday and Arizona on the weekend. Miller Park is a 10-minute drive from downtown. Lots of tickets are available and if you get there early you can nab the Bob Uecker tickets for a buck.

By the way, this is Bob Uecker's hometown, Hank Aaron hit most of his home runs at County Stadium, next to Miller Park, and Robin Yount has returned to wearing a Brewers' uniform this season for the first time since he ended his Hall of Fame career.

How not to make friends with the locals

Be aware, Badger fans dislike Gopher fans intently. It has grown since Minnesota recruited Phil Kessel out of Madison. So don't bring up Phil's name to a Badger fan and say something like "Wasn't it great to see INCH named Kessel, the local kid, as its rookie of the year?"

The Badgers also have a long rivalry with North Dakota, but both schools' intense dislike of Minnesota has provided a sort of glue over the years. Fans of both institutions have grown to respect one another, although that respect may be tested should Bucky and the Sioux meet for the title.

Related Links

Schedule of Events

Milwaukee Weather

Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Lodge Bar & Restaurant

What to do after the game

We finally get to the point of the story. This won't come as a shock to you, but the home of Laverne and Shirley doesn't have a South Beach. There are, however, lots of places that serve cold beer within walking distance of the Bradley Center, which has been around since the late '80s and serves as home to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and American Hockey League's Admirals (Note to North Dakota fans: Tony Hrkac finally retired from the Admirals after last season, but still lives in Milwaukee).

Water Street and Old Third are located one and two blocks east of the Bradley Center. On 3rd street is where you will fine establishments such as Buck Bradley's, which has one of the longest bars east of the Mississippi River and a great Friday fish fry; Buckhead Saloon, Have a Nice Day Café, and Lucille's Piano Bar, plus Milwaukee's oldest German establishment, Mader's Restaurant.

Located directly behind 3rd street is Water Street, where you will find a mix of frat boys, sorority girls and Harley riders. Water Street is known in Milwaukee for having the most bars in the smallest radius. Places like The Harp, The Lodge, Brothers, and McGulicuddy's should be popular spots during the Frozen Four. Water Street Brewery offers a nine-beer sampler platter and good food for the brew-pub crowd.

Right across the street from the arena, you will run into Turner's and Gametime, both popular spots for a pre or post-game burger and beer. If you walk toward downtown, Major Goolsby's is a long-time sports bar favorite of fans coming from the Bradley Center or U.S. Cellular Arena, which is across the street from the Bradley Center and is now home to UW-M basketball.

There are other restaurants and bars downtown of course. Karl Ratzsch's Restaurant, like Mader's, is a favorite stop for German food; Calderone's, across the street from the Hyatt Hotel, serves fine Italian and is a long-time favorite of pizza expert Jeff Sauer. On Wisconsin Ave., Mo's is a great steakhouse, but you may need to borrow George Gwozdecky's pink tie to get in – it's a little fancy. The nearby Mo's Irish Bar is not as upscale. The Safehouse, a spy-themed club, is also worth a stop.

On Milwaukee and State Streets you will find Cathedral Square, which is surrounded by an array of bars and restaurants for an older crowd than the one on Water Street. The young professional group likes Flannery's, a great Irish Pub, Taylor's, a martini bar which can be swanky but jeans and hockey sweatshirts still should fit in, and Eve, an upscale dance club. If you are looking for food in this area, Mocean's (seafood) and Elsa's (burgers) will make you happy.

Things to know

Since Milwaukee is a small big city, getting around is easy. Cab fares are fairly cheap, running at about $7-10 to get from downtown to the lake. If you so chose to venture to the east side you will find more nightlife on the streets of Brady Ave., near Downer, and Lake Ave.

Brady Street offers live music at the Up and Under, good dancing at Joe Cats and Key West style food at Bosley. Also conveniently located on the East side is Lakefront Brewery, which offers a tour for $3 or $5 dollars on Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday afternoon. The tour includes three beers, a free mug and coupon for Milwaukee's greatest secret: Wolski's, where you can play darts, spit on the floor, and drink for a sticker that everyone envies.

If you are into gambling, the Potawatomi Casino, near the Marquette campus, is always busy.

The Bradley Center raised the bar for hosting this event in the '90s. Attendance records were set. They have since fallen to bigger buildings, but everyone remembers the Milwaukee tournaments with a smile.

This year shouldn't disappoint. For a week Milwaukee will be a hockey town. You will hear how Milwaukee University School was the first Milwaukee team to ever to win the high school state tournament last month. The Badgers making the tournament will make for a tough ticket and their fans are always energy-filled and entertaining. The Skills Challenge, after the Hobey Baker announcement, will add something unique to Friday's off-day. The flavor and personality of the city will ensure a good time.

And this tournament offers a guarantee. There will be a better ending than the last time Milwaukee hosted a sports event on a national stage, the baseball All Star Game in 2002. This one won't end in a tie.

Bill Brophy was the radio analyst for Badger hockey for 12 years. He has covered college hockey in Duluth and Madison since 1973, five years as a reporter at the Duluth News-Tribune and as a reporter and sports editor at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. He is the author of Shot and a Goal: The Tradition of Wisconsin Badger Hockey. His youngest daughter, Kelly provided much of the background for the article as she is a senior, majoring in communications at UW-Milwaukee.