UND and Scheels Arena will host 2017 NCAA men's regional championship
GRAND FORKS - NCAA men's hockey regionals have come under fire in the past several years for being placed out of college hockey's footprint and for drawing poor crowds.
GRAND FORKS – NCAA men’s hockey regionals have come under fire in the past several years for being placed out of college hockey’s footprint and for drawing poor crowds.
Then, it tried a new site last spring.
Fargo’s Scheels Arena sold out every game, roughly 5,000 fans provided a raucous atmosphere in the small venue and the scenes on television depicted the unique college hockey experience.
So, it’s no surprise that the NCAA decided Thursday morning that it’s coming right back there.
Scheels Arena will host the West Regional again in 2017, and if the University of North Dakota makes the NCAA tournament next season, it will automatically be placed in Fargo regardless of seed.
It would be able to benefit from the same pro-UND crowd that watched their team beat Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State en route to the Frozen Four.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “It was something that everyone really cherished. Obviously, winning both games and going to the Frozen Four meant a lot to us, but going down the road to Fargo and having a lot of fans there infused a lot of energy into our games.”
The other teams at the regional – Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech – also had good reviews of the event.
“When you talk about college hockey, it’s about the student-athletes, it’s about the passion of fans who travel to home games and away,” Berry said. “Obviously, we had a strong contingent of fans, but I know fans from St. Cloud traveled. I know fans from Michigan Tech traveled and I know they had a great experience.
“I think they found a venue that works as far as attendance and game atmosphere. It’s something they took into consideration when they awarded it to Fargo, as they should have.”
The NCAA body of coaches has asked the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee to keep regionals away from home sites, which means no Ralph Engelstad Arena. It has had trouble coming up with sites that work in the spread-out West, though.
Recently, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio, have been flops.
Fargo wasn’t, though.
With several schools within driving distance of Scheels Arena – UND, Bemidji State, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Minnesota, Minnesota State-Mankato and Nebraska-Omaha – it figures to have a strong crowd regardless of which teams are there.
For one year, UND, Scheels Arena and Ralph Engelstad Arena meticulously planned the 2015 West Regional.
Officials often held meetings and discussions to make sure every detail was addressed, because they wanted to open the door wide open for the NCAA to return to Fargo for another regional as soon as possible.
As it turned out, the NCAA didn’t have a difficult decision to make this time.
Only two non-home venues bid for the Midwest and West Regionals – Cincinnati and Fargo. They were both awarded the regionals.
“We feel our site portrays what a NCAA championship event should look and feel like,” Scheels Arena GM Jon Kram said. “The arena staff is thrilled to host an atmosphere the participating programs, fans and media will remember for a long time, as well as recreate the experience student-athletes want – to play in front of a capacity crowd.”
Kram said that the arena is expected to complete two attached ice sheets by the end of 2016. They will be able to be used for skating and media for the regional.
UND also is expected to join with the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., for a bid to host the 2018 regional. That arena is only a year old and seats more than 10,000 for hockey.