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NCHC to move Frozen Faceoff to Xcel Energy Center

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference will change the home of its postseason tournament from the Target Center in Minneapolis to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul beginning this season.

The NCHC signed a five-year contract with the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild, to host the league’s two-day postseason tournament, the Frozen Faceoff, while reaching an agreement to buy out of its last year of a five-year deal with the Target Center.

The Target Center had served as the home of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff since the league’s inaugural year of 2013-14.

Both parties agreed to separate this season instead of having an awkward lame duck year this spring. Financial terms of the agreements with the Target Center and Xcel Energy Center weren’t immediately available.

The Xcel Energy Center became a possibility after both the Big Ten and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association pulled out of the venue and changed their postseason tournament formats to home sites.

The Big Ten and WCHA previously alternated years at the Xcel Energy Center.

For fans of many NCHC teams -- North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, Colorado College and Denver -- the move may bring back memories to the old WCHA Final Five, which was hosted at the Xcel Energy Center from 2001 until the breakup of the league in 2013.

While no one is expecting the crowds of 19,000 to show up like the old days at the Xcel Center when UND, Minnesota and Wisconsin were all in the same conference, the NCHC hopes bringing the event to a building that hosts the NHL and the top high school hockey state tournament in the country will help the Frozen Faceoff.

“I think we’re excited about going back to a place we’re very familiar with in St. Paul,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “They have a long and rich tradition at the Xcel of hockey at all levels, whether it’s the Wild, the old WCHA days or the Minnesota state high school tournament.

“I think we also need to thank the Target Center for everything and respect all the work they put in and what they’ve provided us the last four years.”

The league playoffs -- both the best-of-three first-round series and the Frozen Faceoff -- is the primary financial driver for the NCHC.

The conference has been financially profitable during its first four years while the event was at the Target Center. UND, which has by far the largest fan base in the league, has reached the Frozen Faceoff each year, ensuring decent attendance numbers, though.

League members have debated whether to try to keep the tournament at the Target Center or to move it to the Xcel Energy Center in recent months, negotiating potential deals with both venues.

“We’ll do everything we can to make sure that from the time their plane touches down or when they arrive at their hotel to the end of the weekend, their experience will make them want to return the following year,” Visit St. Paul CEO and President Terry Mattson said.

While the other two Western conferences -- the Big Ten and WCHA -- have determined that holding a neutral-site league championship isn’t financially viable, the NCHC appears hopeful that it will be able to sustain its current format.

“It’s a weekend that people have circled on their calendars a year in advance,” Berry said. “It’s a destination.”

The NCHC said there are no plans, at this time, to get rid of the third-place game, which means the Wild will have to be out of town that weekend.

In recent years, the Wild have often played a Saturday afternoon home game with the college hockey conference championship game at night. This year, the Wild will be on a West Coast road trip during the Frozen Faceoff.

The NCHC is the only league in college hockey that still uses a third-place game.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th 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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