NCHC On Target
Fledgling League Makes Splash With Postseason Venue Announcement
by Eric Stromgren/CHN Writer
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference's decision to hold its postseason championship tournament at Target Center — an agreement that was officially announced Monday — came down to three factors.
NCHC commissioner Jim Scherr cited team and fan experience, exposure and financial profitability as criteria the league used to determine the tournament's ability to be successful in Minneapolis.
"We think with those three critical factors, this city and this venue made all the sense in the world," Scherr said after Monday's press conference announcing the five-year tournament agreement.
The tournament, with an automatic NCAA Tournament bid and yet-to-be determined trophy on the line, will cap the NCHC's inaugural season in March 2014.
Winners of the NCHC tournament quarterfinals between the league's schools (Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan) will advance to the semifinals in Minneapolis. The semifinals and championship will be televised on CBS Sports Network, the third-place game will not.
Speaking at the press conference in the Target Center lobby was Scherr, Target Center vice president and general manager Steve Mattson, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, Minnesota-Duluth athletic director Bob Nielson, North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison, North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol and NCHC consultant Bobby Goldwater.
The NCHC chose Target Center, home of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, after exploring campus sites, Denver's Pepsi Center and the Xcel Energy Center in neighboring St. Paul. The latter will host the Big Ten tournament in alternate years.
"This is college hockey and the conference championship is a central experience for those student athletes," Scherr said. "We want this to be the best possible experience from the hotels, to the venues to how they are treated by the fans and the city. We think this will be a fantastic venue from that perspective."
Scherr also talked about the league's exposure at the Target Center in the Twin Cities market.
"Does it build our brand?" Scherr said. "Is there a media center here? Can we build the brand of this conference through the championship? We think that's another great benefit of being in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the state of Minnesota."
Scherr went on to talk about economic reasons for selecting the Twin Cities market.
"Can we get fans in the building and can we build a successful revenue model from the fans buying tickets?" Scherr said. "We think this is a fantastic market with all the corporations and the support for hockey here."
The NCHC had discussions of rotating the tournament to different sites, but Nielson said the league felt the fixed location was the best option.
"The Target Center stepped forward as the right place because of the fact that we're in a hotbed for college hockey from a fan-based standpoint and I think as you look at the state of Minnesota for all programs from a recruiting standpoint as well," Nielson said. "You put that together with the fact several schools in our new league have very strong alumni and fan bases in the Twin Cities, it just seemed to make the most sense."
Head-to-head with the Big Ten
Monday's announcement means the NCHC postseason tournament and the Big Ten postseason tournament will be held in the Twin Cities on the same weekend in 2014 and 2016, a rather fascinating development, though downplayed Monday.
The Big Ten is alternating its tournament sites between Xcel Energy Center and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
"It will be tough for us to anticipate that we will sell out in our first year but we will always set our goals pretty high," Scherr said.
The WCHA will hold presumably its last Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center in 2013, so Scherr said each of the three leagues will be 'on even footing' with new tournaments in March 2014.
"We're going to do the best we can to build a tradition here at the Target Center and we have a five-year run to do that." Scherr said. "We would anticipate the Big Ten between Joe Louis and the Xcel will do the same thing. We know them well, we know the teams well and we wish them well. We're certainly going to compete as hard as we can."
The Target Center has hosted a number of hockey-related events in its 21-year existence from NHL games, IHL games, four games between Minnesota and Wisconsin (most recently in 2010) to WCHA Final Fives and the Minnesota State High School tournaments when the Xcel Energy Center was under construction.
The Target Center has been criticized as a hockey venue from ice quality to fan sight lines, something officials addressed in the press conference and with the media afterword.
Scherr said there have been "very specific discussions" on ice quality.
Mattson has worked at the Target Center since the building opened and said past problems could be attributed to quick turnaround times required from the staff. Ice before the state high school tournaments in 1999 and 2000 were put in a few days before the tournament, Mattson recalled.
"We know we've got to get it made earlier, give it a proper amount of time to get it ready, get it skated on and get it roughed up — that's a challenge we're up for," Mattson said.
Mattson said ice will likely be made in mid-February to avoid potential problems and the Timberwolves would play above the ice with the court placed on a "deck."
"You develop a little bit of a criticism and I'm not going to say those people were wrong, but that is a really high-maintenance crew that we respect and we know we've got to go right at them and try to figure out that maintenance level we need to adhere to," Mattson said.
The Target Center is also in the beginning stages of a multi-million dollar upgrade to the facility in part to funding from a bill to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium recently passed in the state legislature.
New dasher boards and locker rooms with improved amenities were specific hockey upgrades Mattson noted. He also said the upgrade will help improve the fan experience, though those details are in the works.
Scherr is from Colorado Springs and is familiar with the Broadmoor Trophy awarded to the WCHA Final Five champion.
He said the NCHC has yet to decide the trophy that will be awarded to the NCHC Tournament champion.
"It (Broadmoor Trophy) has been nice for our community and I don't know if it (NCHC tournament) will end up with something of that kind of a tie," Scherr said. "Obviously, the schools will have a lot of input on that."
Scherr said the NCHC plans to announce its brand and logo within the next three weeks. Naming a postseason trophy will follow and Nielson said that decision could be made within the next six months.
"We want it to be something our teams take a great deal of pride in," he said. "It will be a great challenge so we want it to certainly represent that kind of a challenge."