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NCHC should keep third-place game

MINNEAPOLIS--The NCHC Frozen Faceoff is the only conference tournament in NCAA Division I college hockey to hold a third-place game. UND's 1-1 tie with Denver on Saturday to share bronze at Target Center was the perfect case for those who oppose ...

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Tom Miller

MINNEAPOLIS-The NCHC Frozen Faceoff is the only conference tournament in NCAA Division I college hockey to hold a third-place game.

UND's 1-1 tie with Denver on Saturday to share bronze at Target Center was the perfect case for those who oppose the third-place game.

There was nothing to gain for either team. Win or lose, the Fighting Hawks were going to be a No. 1 seed in next weekend's NCAA tournament. Win or lose, Denver was going to be a No. 2 seed.

Before the game even started, the game had bland written all over it. When starting lineups were released, both teams reflected the low-stakes matchup by resting regulars.

Once the puck dropped, the game lacked atmosphere with both fan bases understanding the scope.

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Does that mean the NCHC should rethink the consolation round? It's a legitimate question that was thrown around by many following UND's third consecutive appearance in the NCHC's unique event.

UND senior Drake Caggiula was asked about the difficulty of playing an unimportant game on such a big stage. The star forward did his best to say all of the right things, but he also had to admit there's an awkwardness to a game in which the goal for both teams is not to get hurt.

"Regardless of the situation, you have to show up and play the game," Caggiula said. "You don't look at it like it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't matter the circumstances, you go out there and play just like any game. It shouldn't affect you, but it's tough. Both teams knowing they're in the tournament already is a tough situation."

UND coach Brad Berry was a little torn on the debate. When pushed on the task of motivating a team for this scenario, the first-year coach pointed to the players' pride.

"Whenever you put the North Dakota jersey on, you have to go to battle and our guys did," Berry said. "It doesn't matter if it's for third or first, they put their hearts on the line."

But Berry admitted support across hockey for the third-place game is perhaps split 50-50. There are years, like UND's 2014 season, in which the third-place game plays a major role in the national picture.

That 2014 season, UND beat Western Michigan in the third-place game and that result eventually helped the team reach the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

But that isn't why the NCHC should keep the third-place game. No, the NCHC should stick with the current setup so fans get optimum bang for their travel buck.

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Denver coach Jim Montgomery and Berry agree.

"I think it's important for us to build our brand and sell our league ... and sell tickets, first of all," Montgomery said.

Said Berry: "Our passionate fans come here and we get to play two games in front of them, so from that perspective I like it."

That's the most important element of the conversation. At a time in college hockey where empty arenas are killing atmospheres at tournaments in the WCHA and Big Ten, the NCHC shouldn't do anything to cheapen the price of a trip to the Frozen Faceoff.

If you're going to ask fans to make the Frozen Faceoff trek an annual tradition, at least guarantee they can see the favorite squad twice.

The NCHC was the only league in the Midwest this weekend to have a respectable turnout for the conference's postseason tournament. Let's not do anything to mess that up.

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