Fargo is feasible for future North Dakota high school hockey tournaments

FARGO - The city of Fargo is experienced when it comes to hosting high school basketball, football and wrestling state tournaments. One sport it has a very limited history of hosting state tournaments in is hockey. Fargo's Scheels Arena and Veter...

Fargo's Scheels Arena is hosting the 2015 North Dakota high school boys and girls state hockey tournament this weekend.

FARGO - The city of Fargo is experienced when it comes to hosting high school basketball, football and wrestling state tournaments.

One sport it has a very limited history of hosting state tournaments in is hockey.

Fargo’s Scheels Arena and Veterans Memorial Arena in West Fargo are hosting the North Dakota boys and girls state hockey tournaments beginning Thursday.

Prior to this year, the total number of hockey tournaments hosted in Fargo is one.

“It is a very busy winter for us, but we’ll be ready for it,” Fargo Public Schools activities director and state hockey tournament director Todd Olson said. “We’ve met with the people at each of the arenas and we are feeling good about each venue. We think we will put on a good state tournament.”


The North Dakota High School Activities Association has sponsored boys hockey since the 1966-67 school year and in the 49 years it has been a sponsored sport, only twice – 1971 and 2015 – has its state tournament been hosted anywhere other than Grand Forks.

Girls hockey became a NDHSAA sponsored sport in 2002-03 and after five years of being hosted in Dickinson (2003, 2006), Jamestown (2004) and Minot (2005, 2007) its state tournament became combined with the boys at Grand Forks’ Ralph Engelstad Arena beginning in 2007-08.

With the opening of Scheels Arena in 2008, Fargo became a legitimate host site for state hockey and initially Fargo was to host the 2014 tournament, however, the schedule for REA – also the home of the University of North Dakota men’s and women’s hockey teams – conflicted with the high school tournament in 2015, so the two cities traded years.

Future state tourneys could land in Fargo

The UND men’s and women’s hockey schedules are what could possibly lead to Fargo hosting more state hockey tournaments in the future.

“I don’t think (this year) will be the last time the tournament will be in Fargo,” Olson said.

“Ralph Engelstad Arena is getting so busy. The weekend the tournament falls on is when the UND women would host a playoff game, and they will probably host a lot of years. And if you put the UND men in the rink that weekend, too, there isn’t a lot of room for high school hockey.”

The NDHSAA has been transitioning to what it has labeled as “preferred” state tournament sites for specific sports in recent years. The trend can be seen by looking at the NDHSAA’s seven-year tournament site rotation calendar that was approved by the NDHSAA Board of Directors late last month.


State tournament host sites are subject to change, however, the current rotation calendar has Grand Forks hosting the combined boys and girls state hockey tournament from 2016-2022.

NDHSAA Executive Director Matt Fetsch said venue availability plays the biggest role in where a tournament like state hockey is hosted.

“Our combined tournament committee that meets a couple of times a year will continue to look at different options based on availability as they do for every sport,” Fetsch said. “They only know so many years in advance, but with UND’s projected schedules moving forward, it is going to be virtually impossible to host state hockey in Grand Forks annually like they have fortunately been able to do for many years.”

Financial performance tough to ignore

The profits generated by the state hockey tournament have declined the past four years – a trend that led to the event to be financially in the red last year for the first time in 49 years.

The 2014 tournament held at REA resulted in a loss of $9,812.60. Gross admissions for that tournament were $75,014 – a seven-year low. Rent is traditionally the largest expense the NDHSAA has to pay with any of its tournaments. Rent for the three-day 2014 tournament at REA was $18,200 in 2014 – a $1,500 increase from the previous year.

“I wouldn’t say we were shocked,” Fetsch said of the 2014 tournament’s financial loss. “You can see the number of fans was down compared to a regular year or what we had seen in years past. The reality of our state hockey tournament is a lot of it is predicated by the teams that qualify and ultimately advance.”

This year only one metro boys hockey team – Fargo South-Shanley – qualified for the 2015 tournament. West Fargo, Fargo North-South and Fargo Davies qualified for the girls tournament.


Financial performance of a state tournament has been one of several key factors in determining preferred sites for the NDHSAA.

“That is something that definitely gets taken into consideration,” Fetsch said. “It is so difficult to determine because all of the numerous factors.”

Because the state hockey tournament has been almost exclusively held in Grand Forks for nearly 50 years, there isn’t enough relevant financial data available to suggest the tournament could consistently perform better anywhere else. However, the balance sheet from this weekend could be a start.

“We really don’t have that data at this point in hockey like we do for say, our basketball tournaments, but I’d be lying if it was something that wouldn’t be taken into consideration.”

Scheels Arena gets its chance to shine

Scheels Arena is the home of the United States Hockey League’s Fargo Force, and hosts many prep hockey games during the regular season. Capacity at Scheels Arena is listed at 6,000 so it is on a smaller scale than REA, which Olson said might not be a bad thing.

“I think Scheels Arena is going to a more appropriate-sized arena for the event,” Olson said. “In recent years, I have heard more and more talk of how empty it feels at Engelstad because the crowds haven’t been great in recent years at the state hockey tournament.”

A pair of former metro boys hockey coaches – Dean Wilson (Fargo South) and Ross Richards (West Fargo) are also excited for state hockey to be coming to Fargo.

“I think it is hard to compete with Ralph Engelstad Arena, but I think it is exciting bringing that tournament to a different venue and see how that venue does,” said Wilson, who coached the Bruins for 18 seasons, winning state championships in 1994, 1999 and 2006.

Richards, now the activities director at West Fargo Sheyenne High School, coached the West Fargo Packers for 17 seasons.

“I think this is a significant event for hockey in the state of North Dakota and without a venue like Scheels Arena it would not have been possible to host this tournament,” Richards said. “The hope is it lends itself to providing a great atmosphere and excitement for all involved.”


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