Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in 2001. UND did not host a first-round league playoff series that season. It went 16-19-2, finished seventh in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and played a best-of-three WCHA series at Minnesota.
Since then, first-round home playoff series have been a staple.
The Ralph hosted 16 in a row -- 11 under the WCHA’s umbrella and five as a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
It’s the longest stretch of sustained success in UND hockey history. Prior to the run of 16-straight top-half finishes -- the longest active streak in the country -- UND never had a run of more than six-straight years hosting a first-round league playoff series.
Along with those 16-straight home playoff series, Ralph Engelstad Arena and UND gobbled up extra money that comes with hosting.
But that run -- and that pot of cash at the end of the season that The Ralph has become accustomed to receiving -- won’t happen this season.
By virtue of Western Michigan’s 5-1 win over Miami on Friday night, UND became locked into fifth place in NCHC standings, setting up a road series at Denver beginning Friday night.
For the first time since the inaugural season of The Ralph, it will sit empty on opening playoff weekend.
Although the vast majority of the money from ticket sales in the first round goes to the league, The Ralph still makes money on concessions, food and beverage, ticket sales and a facility fee.
UND athletic director Bill Chaves said The Ralph generally brings in around $200,000 in revenue by hosting a first-round playoff series -- a cut of which goes back to the school. The Ralph also donates leftover profits annually to UND, too.
Chaves said UND won’t know the exact numbers and the exact impact of not hosting until it closes out the fiscal year.
“We try to be as conservative as possible when we’re budgeting,” Chaves said. “It’s not that we’re budgeting against us making home ice in the quarterfinals, but we have to be realistic and we can’t just assume that we’re going to be hosting.”
During the streak of 16-straight first-round home playoff series, UND won every single one of them to advance to the Twin Cities for either the WCHA Final Five or NCHC Frozen Faceoff. This year, the Fighting Hawks will have to do it on the road.
The last time UND won a road playoff series was 1995, when it swept St. Cloud State in the first round.
"It doesn't change anything," UND defenseman Gabe Bast said. "We've got to win a series on the road. We're going to do that. We've got to string a few games together. If not, we're going to have to go win the Frozen Faceoff. We have the group to do it."
Senior center Nick Jones added: “At the end of the day, we have to win two games. I don't care where it is. We're going to win two games."
UND still has a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament through either an at-large bid or by winning the Frozen Faceoff and taking the NCHC’s automatic bid.
That will be the focus of the Fighting Hawks as they hit the road this week.
“You've seen the teams that have gotten into the tournament over the last few years and what they've done,” UND coach Brad Berry said, referring to the fact that three of the last six NCAA national champions have been the final at-large team to reach the tournament. “We just have to make the tournament. There's got to be a single-game mindset.”