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As the number of regional bids dwindles, UND takes advantage

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Scheels Arena explodes after University of North Dakota's Christian Wolanin scores his game-tying goal in the third period against Boston University Friday, March 24, 2017, during the NCAA West Regional hockey tournament at Scheels Arena in Fargo.David Samson / The Forum2 / 2

For several years, college hockey head coaches have urged the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Committee to keep regionals away from home sites.

The coaches say it's too big of an advantage to play at home.

But in the West and Midwest, a dwindling number of venues have bid for regionals—and UND has taken advantage.

The NCAA West Regional will be held in Sioux Falls, S.D., next season and in Fargo in 2019, the NCAA announced Tuesday afternoon.

UND will host both events, which means it will automatically be placed in both regionals if it makes the NCAA tournament.

The decision was easy for the Committee—Sioux Falls and Fargo were the only off-campus sites that bid on a West Regional for those years.

The Sioux Falls regional will be played at the three-year-old, 10,678-seat Denny Sanford Premier Center. The building's assistant general manager is Chris Semrau, who worked at Ralph Engelstad Arena for years and paired with UND for the bid.

The Fargo regional will be played in the 5,000-seat Scheels Arena, just as it was last month and in 2015.

UND fans are expected to fill both venues if the Fighting Hawks are in the tournament. If not, several schools are within driving distance—Omaha, MSU-Mankato, St. Cloud State, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State—and can fill up the venues.

"Any time you can have a first round in the tournament and be within driving distance for fans, you're happy to be in that position," said UND athletic director Brian Faison, who is also a member of the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Committee.

While UND fans and administrators were pleased to land regionals for the next two years, Faison expressed his concern over the lack of bids being submitted to host regionals.

No Midwest off-campus venues bid for either year, so the Committee placed the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pa., for both 2018 and 2019. Allentown is the farthest east that the Midwest Regional has ever been played.

It's not the first time that the NCAA has had trouble finding neutral sites in the West and Midwest, either.

In 2015, the NCAA was forced to play a regional in South Bend, Ind., at Notre Dame's home rink because no off-campus venues in the Midwest bid.

Faison, who is required to leave the room when UND's bids are discussed among the Committee, said that some home facilities did submit bids this time, but they weren't considered.

"It's a concern, because under the existing process, you need to have facilities that are neutral and not home ice," Faison said. "Without any facilities bidding, that gets interesting.

"I think the dialogue has changed a little bit. We're going to go down to the convention in a week and I think there will be a lot more conversation about this situation. The coaches have been pretty strong about not wanting home ice in the NCAA regionals. They have been very, very strong about that. And I think, no matter the sport, you want to take the opinions of the coaches."

While the NCAA announced Frozen Four sites through 2022—it will be in Buffalo in 2019, Detroit in 2020, Pittsburgh in 2021 and Boston in 2022—it only announced regionals for two years, knowing that coaches may opt to change the current format.

College hockey coaches and commissioners will meet next week in Florida to discuss the topic.

Faison is a longtime proponent of bringing regionals back to campus sites, but acknowledges that, in the past, his view hasn't had a lot of support from the coaches.

"My position has been clear for years," he said. "I'm a home-ice guy, but we are where we are right now. I think there will be more robust conversation than in the past."

UND also submitted a bid to host a Frozen Four in St. Louis, but it did not win that bid. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference submitted a bid for a Frozen Four in Kansas City but did not win, either.

While hosting regionals is a profitable venture for UND, it isn't a significant amount of money, Faison said. Hosting Frozen Fours can be more profitable.

The men's hockey tournament is one of the few NCAA events that turns a profit.

Of the 90 events the NCAA hosts, the only ones that make money are Division I men's hockey, men's basketball, men's lacrosse, baseball and wrestling.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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