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NCHC commish: No plans to expand; third place game up for discussion

NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton spoke to the media prior to the league's championship game Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 2
NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton delivers the State of the Conference during NCHC Media Day on Tuesday, march 19, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL -- After months of professional headaches caused by snowstorms in Colorado which prevented teams like Denver and Colorado College from reaching their destinations and starting their games on time, Mother Nature issued National Collegiate Hockey Conference commissioner Josh Fenton an official apology on Saturday.

As hundreds of fans, bands, cheerleaders and others representing all eight of the league’s teams filled an outdoor plaza across the street from Xcel Energy Center for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff’s official fan fest, they basked in 55-degree temps and abundant sunshine. Meeting with the media prior to Saturday night’s conference championship game, Fenton noted that the Saturday of the Frozen Faceoff in 2018 and 2019 has been the warmest day of the year to date both times.

“I joke ... that apparently we are the reason good weather finally comes to St. Paul,” said Fenton, who has been the league’s commissioner since games started six years ago. “I’m sure that streak will run out soon.”

To more serious matters, after Denver spanked Colorado College 6-1 in a third place game that meant little for either team, Fenton addressed the much-discussed idea of dropping the consolation contest from the tournament.

“Frankly we’ve had the conversation about the third place game really since the start of the conference,” said Fenton, 40, a native of Litchfield, Minn. “We felt it was right and good to create an event experience weekend where there were four hockey games and each team would be guaranteed two games.”

He added that they will discuss the game’s future with their partners, including the Minnesota Wild, over the next few months, but no decision has been made. It was also noted that Arizona State will most likely qualify for the NCAA tournament as an independent on Sunday, and the Sun Devils are still searching for a conference home. There’s been speculation about them joining the NCHC since the ASU program came on line four years ago, but Fenton said there is no current talk of expanding or otherwise changing the makeup of the conference.

“We haven’t had a ton of discussion about the current membership makeup or even expansion into new members down the road,” Fenton said, while offering praise to the Sun Devils for the breakout season they have had. “I think the focus continues to be on the eight member institutions, and...I think that continues to be the focus. I don’t know that I see that changing anytime soon.”

The NCHC was formed with the shakeup of western college hockey earlier this decade and had its first season of competition in 2013-14. NCHC teams have won the past three NCAA titles, with national championships claimed by North Dakota in 2016, Denver in 2017 and Minnesota Duluth last season.

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