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UND's fan base intrigued MSG officials in planning Showdown

NEW YORK--Three years ago, Josh Fenton walked into the offices at Madison Square Garden with an idea. The commissioner of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference asked if the arena's officials would have any interest in partnering with the new ...

UND players Troy Stecher and Colten St. Clair greet fans as they walk the red carpet for the NCAA Frozen Four championship game at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Fla. on Saturday, April 9, 2016.David Samson / The Forum
UND players Troy Stecher and Colten St. Clair greet fans as they walk the red carpet for the NCAA Frozen Four championship game at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Fla. on Saturday, April 9, 2016.David Samson / The Forum

NEW YORK-Three years ago, Josh Fenton walked into the offices at Madison Square Garden with an idea.

The commissioner of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference asked if the arena's officials would have any interest in partnering with the new league in putting together a special college hockey showcase or event.

"At the time, I wasn't even sure on the teams or how it would work," he said.

That set the wheels in motion to get to where we are today: two days away from college hockey's two winningest teams over the past decade playing a game in America's biggest city in a venue known as 'The World's Most Famous Arena.'

Defending national champion North Dakota will meet defending NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist Boston College at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Madison Square Garden in a game dubbed the College Hockey Showdown.

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Arena officials helped decide the teams that would be playing in the event.
UND intrigued those in New York because of its large, traveling fan base as much as the program's reputation for success.

Boston College intrigued the officials because of its national profile, proximity to the venue and its long history of playing against North Dakota in big games.

The teams have met in the NCAA tournament eight times in the past 17 years, five of them coming in the Frozen Four-2000, 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Two of those meetings occurred in the national championship game.

"Ultimately, it led us to thinking it could be a creative and unique matchup," Fenton said.

The NCHC signed the contract with Madison Square Garden. Then, the NCHC signed separate deals with UND and Boston College.
Fenton said the NCHC decided to sponsor the event for three reasons.

First, he wanted to provide a unique and different experience for the student-athletes.

Second, he wanted to find a way to extend and promote the conference's brand in ways outside of the annual league tournament, the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and regularly scheduled conference games.

Third, the league was looking for ways to profit.

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If this event is successful, the NCHC would likely try to attempt to put together more showcase games. They purposely chose a name for the event that could carry over into the future.

"That's a name we came up with, with the idea and concept that we could travel that name to various locations around the country, different venues around the country," Fenton said. "Where those places may be, time will tell, this is really our first crack at it. It's a learning experience for us and our conference."
Discussions to play this game were finalized when Dave Hakstol was still the head coach at UND, but second-year coach Brad Berry, an assistant when talks started, said he's a big proponent of the event.

"It's a way to identify and establish and grow the college hockey game with a couple of programs that have played each other in the past with rich tradition and history," Berry said. "It's something Josh has orchestrated. I think it's great for college hockey in general to have a game in a neutral site and in a facility that bodes well for growing the game."

Fenton expects the NCHC to more heavily discuss the event in April at the league's annual meetings. By then, they'll have more information on the financials of the inaugural College Hockey Showdown.

"There are no definite plans for something like this to come back," Fenton said. "We're definitely looking at different types of options. What's important for us in looking at these things is that we want it to be unique and creative enough to give participants a great experience. The business model has to make sense-and this one made sense.
"I think it's going to be a pretty incredible experience for two great college hockey programs to play in the world's most famous venue."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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