GRAND FORKS, N.D. — After more than two years of planning, the University of North Dakota finally announced Monday its destination hockey game for next season in Nashville.

The game will be played against Penn State at 7:07 p.m. on Oct. 17, 2020 — but it will be much more than just a hockey game.

UND and Ralph Engelstad Arena have set aside 2,500 hotel rooms for UND fans, planned a pair of pregame parties and are expecting to sell out the 17,159-seat Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

“A question might be, ‘What do you anticipate? How many tickets do you plan to sell or hope to sell?'” said Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson. “We absolutely plan and absolutely anticipate a sellout. We believe Bridgestone Arena is going to be full to the rafters when the puck gets dropped in October of 2020.”

It has yet to be determined whether the Predators will be playing at home that weekend or even earlier that day, Hodgson said.

Ticket prices for the UND-Penn State game range from $49-$400. The most expensive tickets are in the first few rows of the arena and will feature unlimited food and beverage.

Ticket presales will begin at 10 a.m. Dec. 9 for Champions Club members with a priority rank 1-100. They will continue at 10 a.m. Dec. 10 for Champions Club members ranked 101-400. The third day of ticket presales will be 10 a.m. Dec. 11 for Champions Club members ranked 401-800. The fourth day of presales, Dec. 12, will be for Champions Club members ranked 800 and above.

UND ticket presales end at 10 a.m. Dec. 13.

Ticket sales open to the general public at 10 a.m. Dec. 14.

After roughly 8,000 UND fans traveled to New York City for a destination game against Boston College in 2016, and roughly the same number traveled to Las Vegas for last season’s destination game against Minnesota, UND is expecting this one to be the biggest yet.

“Nashville is one of America’s great tourist destinations,” Hodgson said. “It’s an absolute Southern boom town today. It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., and certainly, it’s Music City USA. When you talk about the fan experience and everything we hope to provide for our fans, certainly the focal point for these neutral-site weekends has become the fan experience and the ancillary events that we’re able to plan around it.”

To accommodate the large anticipated crowd, UND and REA have set aside 2,500 hotel rooms at 27 different properties located everywhere from downtown to the Opryland Resort to the Vanderbilt area. They are available for booking now at www.theralph.com/nashville.

“We think that’s really going to provide a great event experience for our fans,” Hodgson said. “When you think of it, there’s nothing better than walking into an event hotel where it’s branded. You’re going to see green and white everywhere.”

Hodgson said he’s been in touch with officials at Grand Forks International Airport about adding flights.

“They’re working with the carriers to try and see if we can add flights or if arrangements can be made to meet what we think is going to be heavy local demand,” Hodgson said. “Much like the Las Vegas event, the carriers added planes and larger planes in order to accommodate demand. We’re optimistic that carriers out of Grand Forks will be able to do that again and help us accommodate what we think is going to be significant demand for travel.”

UND fans wait in line for beer during the pregame party ahead of the Las Vegas game in October 2018 against Minnesota. Brad Elliott Schlossman/The Rink Live

Pregame parties

Planned events will begin Friday morning with a golf outing for UND hockey alums.

The Las Vegas destination game against Minnesota last season drew more than 100 former men’s hockey players. They had a reception the night before the game, highlighted by the presence of most of the 1968 NCAA national runner-up team.

“The party will get started in big fashion Friday night,” Hodgson said.

UND’s first official pregame party will be from 8 p.m. to midnight Oct. 16 at the Wildhorse Saloon, a 66,000-square foot, three-story facility downtown, just a couple blocks from Bridgestone Arena.

UND has bought out the venue and will sell 2,000 tickets at $49 each to the party. Those tickets will go on sale at the same time as game tickets. There will be live music and complimentary Nashville Hot Chicken — a local staple — along with fried pickles and a salsa trio.

There will be another pregame party from 1 to 6 p.m. on game day just outside of the arena by the Music City Walk of Fame Park. That party will be free and will last until the doors open for the game.

“If you think of Vegas, it’s going to be Vegas plus about 5,000 people out there Saturday afternoon for our official UND pregame party,” Hodgson said.

In Las Vegas, Orleans Hotel and Casino had trouble keeping up with the demand for beer at the pregame party, but Hodgson said that topic will be addressed.

“There will be lots of discussion relative to that issue as the event draws near,” Hodgson said.

Picking the opponent

UND has been careful in selecting marquee opponents for its recent destination games.

It played longtime nemesis Boston College in Madison Square Garden in 2016 and its biggest rival, Minnesota, last October in Las Vegas.

This time, UND landed on Penn State — an opponent it has never played.

The Nittany Lions, who moved to Division I in 2012, have reached the NCAA tournament in two of the past three seasons and are currently ranked No. 6 nationally.

“We were looking for an opponent that added value in terms of alumni base, an opponent we thought that was a good fit from an opponent standpoint on the ice,” Hodgson said. “Obviously they’re a new program, a program that has risen to national prominence really quickly — a Big Ten tournament championship in 2017 — and certainly a program that’s on the rise and up at the top of the national picture today.

“We were also looking for somebody in that part of the world, somebody geographically. It’s not a short drive, but there aren’t a lot of short drives to Nashville in college hockey. We think it is drive-able.”

Hodgson also said Penn State, whose football team is playing at home against Iowa that day, was eager to play in the game.

“They were certainly motivated,” he said. “They reached out and wanted to be part of one of our special events, should we secure another one. We just thought it was a great fit. They’re a great program with a huge alumni base.”

Hodgson said the event also fits what UND wants to do.

“When you talk UND hockey program, I think coach Brad Berry would tell you that he seeks to play on the biggest stages in the biggest environments against the biggest opponents and certainly one of their goals is to create lifetime experiences and lifetime memories for their student-athletes,” Hodgson said. “We think the Nashville event fits in perfect with that.”

University of North Dakota players perform a stick salute to the crowd after beating rival Minnesota in the 2018 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game in Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Courtesy of Russ Hons/UND athletics.

UND destination games

2022 — TBD

2020 — vs. Penn State (Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena)

2018 — UND 3, Minnesota 1 (in Las Vegas, Orleans Arena)

2016 — UND 4, Boston College 3 (in New York City, Madison Square Garden)

2012 — UND 3, Clarkson 1 (in Winnipeg, Bell MTS Place)

Brad Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) can be reached at BSchlossman@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1129.