Early Saturday evening, Josh Fenton took his place on the press conference riser and gave a bit of a “State of the NCHC’’ address during Frozen Faceoff weekend. The commissioner of the six-year-old league sees challenges but is happy with the direction of his conference. And this was before Minnesota Duluth defeated St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime, guaranteeing that the NCHC ended up with the top two overall seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Here are some highlights from Fenton’s comments:
On the future of the Frozen Faceoff third-place game. The NCHC is the only conference that still holds the consolation game: “We’ve certainly had the conversation about the third-place game – and frankly have had the conversation about the third-place game really since the start of the conference. We felt it was right and good to create an event experience weekend, where there were more hockey games guaranteed. Each team was going to play two games, and you knew that going into it. We know that it is a difficult game to play and may have seen that in the past one [a 6-1 Denver win over Colorado College on Saturday]. … I also know there are years and situations where teams need the game and need to win the game to get in the [NCAA] tournament or advance in themselves in the seedings.
“We’re going to keep having the discussion and the biggest discussion is with our partner, and the partner is Xcel Energy Center and the Minnesota Wild. It’s an important discussion we’ll have over the next couple months.
On the competition in the NCHC: “We’ve talked about it since the start of the conference. Incredible amount of parity from top to bottom. Night in and night out, it’s a battle. There’s certainly no gimmees. … That’s what’s great about our conference. I think our fans enjoy it, knowing that they’re going to get great hockey every night.’’
On attendance without North Dakota, which didn’t qualify for the Frozen Four for the first time: “I think the attendance has been pretty darn good. (Friday’s session drew an announced 9,571, Saturday’s had 10,621.) All four schools, in particular the two schools that have been more geographically located to this area, have done well. … We’re going to keep building on it, and we know that the success of this event isn’t going to be based on who’s in and who’s not in.’’
Last year, with North Dakota in the field, the sessions drew 11,983 and 11,372 in the first year of the event at Xcel Center.
On the league’s finances, with North Dakota not hosting a first-round playoff series and not making the Frozen Faceoff: “I feel confident that our financial situation – albeit it will ebb and flow each year based what happens in a quarterfinal round or in a Frozen Faceoff – we’ll still be strong this year.’’
On independent Arizona State making the NCAA tournament and possible NCHC expansion: “First off, incredible season for an independent. It raised some eyebrows as it relates to what [coach] Greg Powers and his staff have done at Arizona State this season. ... As it relates to us, membership is looked at based upon what adds value and what doesn’t add value to the conference. That’s not necessarily expansion, just membership in general.
“We haven’t had a ton of discussion about the current membership makeup or even expansion with new members down the road. The focus has been on the eight members. That continues to be the focus, and I don’t know that I see that changing anytime soon.’’
On St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and the WCHA’s Minnesota State earning No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament: “It tell you what, it makes me have a lot of pride. I grew up 75ish miles west of here and played youth hockey in Litchfield and played high school hockey at Litchfield-Dassel-Kokato. Like a lot of small boys during my time, I’d watch the University of Minnesota on Midwest Sports Channel, and college hockey was the thing to do. For us to be sitting here today and seeing how strong college hockey is in the state of Minnesota, it’s a testament to the people in the state and the people that are at each of those institutions. … It’s a good thing for hockey in the state of Minnesota, no doubt.’’