MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s postseason tournament is coming to Target Center.
The new eight-team league announced a five-year agreement to hold the semifinals, third-place game and championship at the downtown arena beginning in March 2014. The semifinals and championship games will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.
The NCHC begins play next year for the 2013-14 season, with Colorado College, Denver, Miami of Ohio, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan, pulling programs primarily from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association but also from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The quarterfinals will be held on home ice of the top four teams in the regular season standings.
Commissioner Jim Scherr said the league wanted to play the event in the Twin Cities, even though Duluth and St. Cloud are the only campus sites less than a five-hour drive from the downtown arena. Minnesota, which fed the WCHA tournament with thousands of local fans, is moving to the Big Ten next year. Proximity to a prime recruiting area and a central location in a big city were major factors in the choice.
The planned $135 million renovation to Target Center, part of the recently approved Vikings stadium bill, is a welcomed bonus. Construction will take place over the next year and a half. Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, who spoke at a news conference discussing the NCHC deal, was equally pleased by the promise of another major event downtown to boost hotels, bars, restaurants and theaters. North Dakota fans in particular are always active travelers, Minnesota Duluth is about 2½ hours away and St. Cloud State is closer than that.
“This is what a mayor looks like very, very happy,” Rybak said Monday.
Target Center is used primarily for basketball and concerts, but Minnesota and Wisconsin have played college hockey there a half-dozen times over the years and the WCHA held its Final Five tournament there in 2000 while Xcel Energy Center was under construction in St. Paul. Target Center was actually designed with hosting hockey full time in mind when it opened in 1990, according to arena general manager Steve Mattson, but after the North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993 the city was never able to seal a deal for an NHL franchise.
North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol played at Target Center for a few games while playing with the Minnesota Moose in the International Hockey League in the mid-1990s.
“It sets up great for hockey. The sightlines and the atmosphere in this building will be outstanding,” Hakstol said.
Xcel Energy Center will host the inaugural Big Ten hockey tournament, also in March 2014. Neither dates, for the NCHC or the Big Ten, have been set but there is likely to be some overlap.
“We feel like the market is large enough and hockey is popular enough and our fan base is strong enough that we’ll have a successful tournament here. And we hope anybody else who has a tournament in the region has a successful tournament as well,” Scherr said. “We think if there is competition, it’ll be good. It’ll be good for the game of hockey, good for college hockey and good for our tournament.”
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