Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson found out Friday that the bid he put together to host the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's Pod was unsuccessful.
The Pod, which will feature all eight teams going to one location to play a combined 40 games (10 per team) for three weeks beginning Dec. 1, will instead be hosted in Omaha's Baxter Arena.
League members were debating between Omaha and Grand Forks, according to multiple sources, before choosing Omaha.
While Hodgson wishes Grand Forks was hosting the event, he said he's both proud of the efforts the community made to bring the event here and excited that Friday's official announcement means college hockey will soon return.
"One of the awesome parts of today was the release of schedule information," Hodgson said Friday afternoon. "We're going to start playing home games in January. We know what the schedule is going to look like. We know what division we're in. For me, it's awesome the league is going to start and college hockey is on its way back.
"I think the Pod is a positive. I love the idea. I think it's a fantastic way to get 10 games in and start playing. I think it's all awesome. Of course, I wish we were doing it at The Ralph."
Hodgson said it wasn't for a lack of effort by UND, Ralph Engelstad Arena and Greater Grand Forks as a whole.
Working in conjunction with mayor Brandon Bochenski, the City of Grand Forks pledged $100,000 for the event, Hodgson said. The Greater Grand Forks Visitors Bureau offered another $25,000. The Visitors Bureau also secured $70 per night hotel rates for the duration of the event.
Coronavirus testing was going to be done by Sanford and Edgewood Healthcare. Sanford and Edgewood pledged $50,000 toward testing. Sanford planned to bring a mobile unit to do PCR testing. The turnaround time was scheduled to be just hours. Edgewood was going to handle antigen testing with equipment from its Grand Forks lab. The turnaround time for that was minutes.
"The testing plan didn't include any public resources," Hodgson said. "We didn't want to be a drain on the public. We didn't want any one of our neighbors in town not to be able to get a test, because we needed to test a hockey player from Denver. We were very strategic with all of our testing protocols and the system we established, so it would not have been a drain or have any impact on our community."
NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said in a conference call Friday that coronavirus testing protocol and medical support was the top priority when choosing a site. Although UND and The Ralph put together a strong testing setup, the University of Nebraska Medical Center is one of the top hospitals in the country and has an expertise with pandemics.
It has the largest biocontainment unit in the nation and was one of the leaders in treating Ebola patients in 2014. It also has been a leader in dealing with COVID-19. It was a UNMC clinical trial that first showed remdesivir accelerated recovery in COVID-19 patients.
"I think the determining factor was the level of expertise in dealing with infectious disease at the University of Nebraska Medical Center," Hodgson said. "It's an extremely impressive facility."
Despite not getting the Pod, Hodgson said Ralph Engelstad Arena and UND will continue to pursue big events.
When asked if he was disappointed about Friday's news, Hodgson said: "I'm not disappointed at anyone or anything. We're just disappointed we're not going to be able to do the event. When you talk about UND, UND athletics, The Ralph, the hockey program, these events are in our DNA and what we love to be a part of. When you talk about Erik Martinson and his crew at UND athletics, and our crew at The Ralph, we were certainly excited at the prospect. These are the types of things we want to do.
"We think it would have been a positive thing for our community as we all try to get out of this situation we find ourselves in."