Target Center to host NCHC tournament

MINNEAPOLIS — The Target Center in Minneapolis is finally getting its hockey tenant, just not the NHL like it had planned so many years ago.

The Target Center and the newly-formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference announced a partnership to hold the league’s postseason tournament at the 21-year-old arena. The NCHC, which begins play in the 2013-14 season is paired with the Target Center, which originally had designs as a dual-sport facility and also hosts the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA’s reigning champion Minnesota Lynx.

It’s the second major announcement for the facility in the past month. Target Center will be receiving a $155 million renovation, approved recently by the Minnesota legislature and city council as part of the bill for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

“The NCHC postseason hockey tournament will be one of our most important annual events and a cornerstone of our winter calendar,” said Target Center vice president and general manager Steve Mattson. “Whereas Target Center has become, in many ways, Minnesota’s gym as the proud home of the Timberwolves, Lynx and the boys and girls state basketball tournaments, we are also a fully-capable ice and hockey venue.”

Target Center has hosted several types of events, including concerts, wrestling, rodeos and political conventions. The arena has also hosted numerous hockey games, but it’s never fulfilled the hope of having a full-time home team since it tried to draw the NHL back to the state after the Minnesota North Stars left town. Eventually, the Xcel Energy Center was built across the metro area in St. Paul and was awarded the expansion Minnesota Wild.

Since its debut in 1990, the Target Center has hosted NHL regular and preseason games, International Hockey League games, four games between the University of Minnesota and Wisconsin, WCHA Final Five tournaments, state high school hockey tournaments and U.S.A Olympic exhibition games.

“This is a game, but we take hockey very, very seriously here in Minnesota.,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said noting the hospitality business in the city. “We’re super, super excited about this, but it’s also a call to action, Minnesota. We’re going to get to work. We’re going to make sure we’re phenomenal hosts and we’re going to have a venue that’s even better than it is today, in fact, dramatically better.”

The NCHC is a new conference, formed last July in the aftermath of the creation of the Big 10 conference. With the Big 10 also starting in 2013-14, the WCHA and CCHA were several diminished with the losses of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State to the Big 10. Many of the WCHA and CCHA holdovers looked to form another potentially strong hockey conference and joined up in the NCHC, which will be comprised of Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.

Now, the new conference, still able to boast some of the strongest teams in college hockey has a place for its postseason tournament.

“I’m looking forward to bringing old rivalries, like Denver, into this building,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “As you see some of the jerseys hanging up there, establishing some new rivalries in postseason play. I think players, coaches, fans from around our conference are going to love coming to this building. It will be a tremendous venue. I know for Sioux fans, North Dakota played in the last Final Five championship that was played here in 2000 and came away with the tournament championship that year. So, great memories for North Dakota fans coming back to this building.

“I think a lot of people know the Target Center as basketball, but my first memories of this building are as a great hockey venue. I played a few games back here in the mid-90s with the IHL for the Minnesota Moose, and I recall sight-lines, atmosphere, everything being tremendous in this building in terms of set-up for hockey.”

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