The Frozen Four is headed to Vegas, baby, and UND will be hosting it.
The NCAA announced Frozen Four and regional sites for 2023-26 on Wednesday afternoon and the headliner was the 2026 Frozen Four, which will be in Vegas for the first time.
It will be played at T-Mobile Arena, which serves as home to the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights. The bid was sponsored by UND.
The other future Frozen Four sites are Tampa (2023), St. Paul (2024) and St. Louis (2025). Previously, the NCAA announced this year's Frozen Four will be in Pittsburgh and 2022 will be in Boston.
In addition to that, UND landed the 2023 and 2025 NCAA regionals in Fargo's Scheels Arena. Those will go along with the previously awarded bid for Fargo this spring.
UND has been hosting regionals in Fargo every other year. The school did it in 2015, 2017 and 2019 and will continue in 2021, 2023 and 2025.
Sioux Falls, S.D., will host regionals at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in 2024 and 2026. Those are being hosted by Omaha. UND previously hosted a regional in Sioux Falls in 2018.
Hosting the Frozen Four is fairly new territory for UND.
It hasn't done that since 1983, when the event was in Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.
"Once the NCAA lifted restrictions on playing championship events in Nevada, this became a possibility and now it's coming to fruition," UND athletic director Bill Chaves said.
UND has strong ties to Vegas.
The Engelstad family, the hockey program's biggest benefactors, live in Las Vegas. UND played a 2018 regular-season hockey game there against rival Minnesota, selling out the 7,500-seat Orleans Arena. The Fighting Hawks won the game 3-1.
Chaves said Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson and his staff, UND associate athletic director Erik Martinson and Las Vegas Events coordinator Dale Eeles did the heavy lifting on the Frozen Four bid and will continue to work together, and with the NCAA, on particulars of the event.
"It's exciting," Chaves said.
When asked if the Frozen Four is a potential money-maker for UND, Chaves said: "The best way to say it is we won't lose money on it. We figured that having the connection with an event such as this, given our historic program, it made a lot of sense to be associated and affiliated with it. Financially, there is no downside. The upside is somewhat limited. Ultimately, it's about being connected with the exposure with that event."
UND's logo will be either on the ice or on the boards during the 2026 Frozen Four. Outwardly, there aren't direct benefits for UND's hockey team or fans by hosting the Frozen Four.
That's not the case with the regionals.
Bids were submitted for Fargo, Grand Forks
Winning regional bids can give schools a distinct advantage, because if a hosting team qualifies for the NCAA tournament, it is automatically put at its home regional. The hosting team's fans also get first crack at tickets.
UND reaped those benefits in 2015, when it won an NCAA regional in front of a raucous crowd in Fargo.
During this NCAA bidding cycle, UND bid on regionals for all four years from 2023-26. It submitted bids for Fargo's Scheels Arena in 2023 and 2025 and Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks for 2024 and 2026.
The NCAA has gone away from putting regionals at home sites, though, and passed on the Ralph Engelstad Arena bids.
"We've been in the regional-hosting game for quite a few years now," Chaves said. "We're sensitive to making sure that we potentially spread it out. We know that Fargo and Scheels Arena have done a fantastic job. But we're also thoughtful that potentially hosting on an annual basis might be too much. Getting a couple in a four-year span makes a lot of sense to us.
"We know the NCAA, for sure, would much prefer to be at a neutral site. We knew that, for sure. But we felt there's no reason not to at least put (Ralph Engelstad Arena) into the mix. If it ever came into fruition, we know how great of a job we could do in the facility we have. In a sense, it's not surprising that if there are options to go to a neutral venue or setting, that's going to be optimal for the NCAA."
Ralph Engelstad Arena did host a regional in 2006, but since then, the focus on putting regionals at neutral sites has tightened. UND submitted a bid for The Ralph to host the 2020 regional during the last cycle, but it was passed over.
UND also partnered for a bid to host the Frozen Four in St. Louis during the 2019-22 cycle, but did not get picked.
This time, it did land a Frozen Four to go along with two regionals.
Chaves said he's looking forward to the 2026 event in Las Vegas.
"It maybe feels like 2026 is a long time away, but it will be here soon enough," Chaves said.
Future NCAA Frozen Fours
2021: Pittsburgh (Host: Robert Morris)
2022: Boston (Host: Hockey East)
2023: Tampa (Host: Wisconsin)
2024: St. Paul (Host: Minnesota)
2025: St. Louis (Host: Vermont)
2026: Las Vegas (Host: UND)
Future NCAA regionals
2021: Fargo, Loveland, Colo., Bridgeport, Conn., Manchester, N.H.
2022: Albany, N.Y., Allentown, Pa., Worcester, Mass., Loveland, Colo.
2023: Fargo, Allentown, Pa., Bridgeport, Conn., Manchester, N.H.
2024: Sioux Falls, S.D., Maryland Heights, Mo., Providence, R.I., Springfield, Mass.
2025: Fargo, Allentown, Pa., Manchester, N.H., Toledo, Ohio.
2026: Sioux Falls, Albany, N.Y., Loveland, Colo., Worcester, Mass.