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College men's hockey: NCHC moving Frozen Faceoff from Target Center to Xcel Energy Center

UMD players hold the NCHC postseason trophy aloft after defeating North Dakota 4-3 in the championship game of the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff in March at Target Center in Minneapolis. The Frozen Faceoff will be moving to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in 2018. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

The NCHC announced Thursday it is moving its postseason championship from a basketball arena in Minneapolis to a hockey arena in St. Paul.

The league is ending a five-year contract with Target Center a year early and beginning a new one with Xcel Energy Center.

The NCHC Frozen Faceoff will move to the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild this season after a four-year run at the home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. This season’s semifinals and final will take place March 16-17, 2018.

The new deal between the NCHC and Xcel Energy Center runs through the 2021-22 season.

”The NCHC is excited about our new partnership with Xcel Energy Center and Minnesota Sports and Entertainment,” NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said in a statement. “Regarded as one of the country’s best hockey venues, along with being familiar to many of our passionate fans, we believe the Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center will provide a great experience for our student-athletes and fans.”

Minnesota Duluth, which has played in the Frozen Faceoff championship each of the past two seasons after missing the first two, is the tournament’s defending champion.

The NCHC had one year left on its initial five-year deal with Target Center that began with the league’s inaugural season in 2013-14, but an agreement was reached to opt out of the final year in order to avoid an awkward divorce year this spring.

Financial terms of the agreement with Target Center weren’t immediately available. According to a release issued by the NCHC, both parties, “reached a mutual and amicable agreement to waive the final year.”

“Target Center is proud to have been a part of one of the country’s top college hockey tournaments,” Steve Mattson, Target Center vice president/general manager, said in a statement. “We wish the NCHC well in their future endeavors.”

Xcel Energy Center became a possibility for the NCHC after both the Big Ten and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association pulled out of the venue and changed their postseason tournament formats to home sites. The Big Ten and WCHA previously alternated years at Xcel Energy Center.

For fans of many NCHC teams — Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Colorado College and Denver — the move may bring back memories of the old WCHA Final Five, which was hosted at Xcel Energy Center from 2001 until the breakup of the league in 2013.

While no one is expecting crowds of 19,000 to show up like the old days, the NCHC hopes bringing the event to a building that hosts the NHL and the country’s top high school hockey state tournament will help the Frozen Faceoff.

Xcel Energy Center also will host its third NCAA Frozen Four this year and first since the Bulldogs won the national championship in 2011.

“Xcel Energy Center is tremendously excited to be bringing the NCHC Frozen Faceoff to St. Paul,” Jack Larson, Xcel Energy Center’s vice president and general manager, said in a release. “Our goal is to deliver the best fan experience possible and truly showcase an exciting weekend of high-level collegiate hockey.”

The NCHC has been financially profitable during its first four years while the event was at Target Center. The league playoffs — both the best-of-three first-round series and Frozen Faceoff — has been the primary financial driver for the NCHC.

League members have debated whether to try to keep the tournament at Target Center or to move to Xcel Energy Center in recent months.

Target Center is undergoing extensive renovations that include a new $1 million ice floor for hockey or events such as Disney on Ice.

“The NCHC is extremely appreciative for all the support and effort that has been put forth by Target Center’s staff, along with the city of Minneapolis, over the Frozen Faceoff tournament’s four-year history,” Fenton said.

While the Big Ten and WCHA have determined that holding a neutral-site league championship isn’t financially viable, the NCHC appears hopeful that it will be able to sustain its current format.

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