UNO's desired postseason conference tournament destination will shift by just a few miles beginning in 2013-14.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which will include the Mavericks when the league starts play in the 2013-14 season, will conduct the semifinals, third-place and championship games of its tournament at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The Mavs' current league, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, finishes its season at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., 10 miles to the east.
A five-year deal to determine the NCHC's automatic NCAA tournament qualifier was announced in a Monday press conference.
“I'm excited about it,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “I think it's going to be really good for our league.”
Every other year, the NCHC will square off with the Big Ten in hockey-mad Minnesota. The Big Ten, which also starts as a hockey league in 2013-14, will alternate between St. Paul and Detroit for its conference tournament. The 2014 and 2016 tournaments are in St. Paul, setting up possible college pucks nirvana.
“I'm sure the Target Center is willing to go head-to-head with the Big Ten, based on the teams,” Blais said. “Obviously if Minnesota is playing (in St. Paul), they'll sell it out. But if fans can't get tickets to that, or — nothing against Penn State or Michigan or Michigan State or the Big Ten — if those teams are playing, I think they'll want to see our tournament.
“They're used to seeing North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and teams like Denver, and hopefully we'll be on the scene, too.”
Blais said there had been discussion of a one-site, eight-team tournament, with Omaha, Denver and North Dakota as possible hosts, but that the league was in favor of a neutral site, with that format offering the best chance for equal success over the long term.
“Our directors set out very high goals and aspirations for this conference, and one of those was to hold the best conference championship in college hockey,” said Jim Scherr, NCHC commissioner. “We believe we've found the city and arena that will allow us to do that.”
In the eight-team NCHC, the top four teams in the regular season will have home ice for best-of-three first-round playoff series.
The other NCHC teams — in addition to UNO, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota and St. Cloud State — are Colorado College, Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan.
Blais said he's interested to see how the third-place game will work out. It could help propel a bubble team into the NCAA tournament field, or it could knock a team out and force the NCHC to settle for two — or even one — postseason teams.
The Target Center is the home of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, but was originally designed as a dual-tenant, NBA-NHL facility. Instead, the Minnesota Wild got their own arena in St. Paul.
The Target Center, scheduled for a multi-million dollar renovation, has hosted a number of hockey events — including NHL regular-season and preseason games, U.S. Olympic Team exhibitions, college games including the WCHA's Final Five, the International Hockey League and Minnesota high school state tournaments.
“They're going to have to upgrade their facilities, including their dressing rooms, but this is something that's going to be immediately successful,” Blais said.
The dates and times for the games will be announced at a later date.
“The NCHC postseason hockey tournament will be one of our most important annual events, and a cornerstone of our winter calendar,” said Steve Mattson, president and general manager of the Target Center.
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