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Pandemic and all, Pittsburgh organizers excited to host another Frozen Four

For the second time ever, the NCAA Frozen Four is coming to Pittsburgh. The crowds will be smaller inside the Pittsburgh Penguins' home rink than they were in 2013, but local organizers are working to ensure that fans and players have a safe and memorable experience, even with the pandemic on-going and safety measures in place.

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The ice at PPG Paints Arena has been prepared for the 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins

It won’t be a “normal” Frozen Four in Pittsburgh starting on Thursday. Nothing is these days, as the pandemic slowly wanes but definitely lingers after 13 months. Still, the lack of normalcy has done little to curb the excitement of the organizers in Steeltown, as they get to host a live event after a year with almost nothing of the sort.

Officials from NCAA ice hockey, the city of Pittsburgh and the local organizing committee held a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the national media to go over what can be expected by those few thousand fans coming to town to see the Huskies, Mavericks, Bulldogs and Minutemen. The biggest thing they stressed is that Pittsburgh will be clean and visitors will be as protected from COVID-19 as is possible.

“I want to welcome the teams, I want to welcome the fans and the families to Pittsburgh,” said William Peduto, the city’s mayor, who played club hockey at Carnegie Mellon University when he was a collegian there. “Know that while you’re here, you will be safe, and that while you’re here, we ask you to enjoy our city.”

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PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins’ home rink that will host the three Frozen Four games, will be at 25 percent capacity for the weekend, under guidance from the State of Pennsylvania, meaning a little over 4,000 fans will be in attendance. Jennifer Hawkins, the executive director of SportsPITTSBURGH which hosted the call, even announced that 150 general public tickets would go on sale Tuesday, and expected them to be snapped up quickly. Even with the restricted attendance, they expect the tournament will have a $3.5 million positive economic impact in the city.

Cognizant of the fact that the four teams will be spending the bulk of their time in Pittsburgh isolated in their respective hotels, the organizing committee members have taken steps like decorating the team meeting rooms in their respective school colors and having groceries delivered to the hotels. They are also bringing back the popular red carpet arrivals at the arena for the championship game on Saturday.

Players will also enjoy little local touches as well, like a Pittsburgh-area bow tie manufacturer that has made 130 ties in the respective team colors that will go to each player. A western Pennsylvania glass maker is also providing a black and gold glass hockey puck with the Frozen Four logo to each participant, to take home as a memory of the weekend.

Similar to Minnesota, bars and restaurants in Pittsburgh are open with restricted capacity to encourage distancing, and masks must be worn inside while moving about, but can be removed while at a table, to eat and drink.

Peduto, who noted that he grew up next door to Lane MacDonald, the 1989 Hobey Baker Award winner from Harvard, said that he had been able to visit the arena and see the Penguins logos removed from the ice and the four team logos in their place, which got him excited for the college games.

“Let the tournament begin, and thank you to everyone involved in bringing this amazing tournament to Pittsburgh,” he said.

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Pittsburgh mayor William Peduto. Submitted photo

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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