10 NCAA arenas that should host NHL preseason
The Chicago Blackhawks devoted four days of preseason practice at the University of Notre Dame this past week. It was their third time in four years spending a portion of training camp in Indiana.
On Sept. 17, the Colorado Avalanche kept up an established custom with their intramural exhibition at Denver’s Magness Arena.
And the Buffalo Sabres took a bigger stride with their second extramural engagement at Pegula Ice Arena. Penn State capitalized on a can’t-miss connection by pitting the team owned by its arena’s namesake against Pittsburgh.
NHL preseason games in AHL and junior buildings are standard. Doing the same in NCAA hockey arenas is about as new as Penn State hockey itself. In recent memory, only Army’s Tate Rink (2016) and Colorado College’s World Arena (2014) have joined the party.
The Penguins’ proximity to State College and status as the reigning champions made their involvement an emphatic encore to last year’s visit by the Minnesota Wild. Regardless, as the NHL and college game intertwine with more force, this habit ought to spread to other campuses.
The Penguins-Sabres reception at Pegula last week speaks for itself. This arrangement affords students an intimate glimpse at the sport’s quintessential stars. With a growing percentage of those stars being NCAA products, it lets those skaters relish in an authentic throwback.
Every overlapping NHL and college hockey market has at least one ideal facility for a professional preseason tilt. The top 10 NCAA hockey arenas that have not been used for such purposes lately are listed alphabetically.
3M Arena at Mariucci (Minnesota)
While the NHL is out of the Olympics, there is no reason its veterans and aspirants cannot scrimmage on an Olympic-size sheet. There is every reason to let them do that at the State of Hockey’s definitive college venue.
Why not have the hometown Wild host an ex-Gopher and his professional associates in his old haunts? Captain Blake Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets, who also employ Minneapolis native Dustin Byfuglien, would be a sound starter.
Compton Family Ice Arena (Notre Dame)
As noted, the Blackhawks have conducted public practices in South Bend. But they have yet to put on a game there.
With that said, the Fighting Irish will be the host program for the United Center’s first Frozen Four this April. The perfect follow-up next fall would be to have the Hawks host a select NHL rival at Compton.
Conte Forum (Boston College)
Only Amherst’s Mullins Center and Hartford’s XL Center (a former NHL and current AHL venue) eclipse Conte among Hockey East’s biggest buildings. The BC Eagles’ nest is therefore the largest of the 617 area code’s NCAA hockey arenas.
Naturally, its added advantage is the program’s perennial proliferation of prominent alumni.
The Bruins would surely be enough of an attraction on their own if they graced the Chestnut Hill campus. But any visting ex-pupil of Jerry York’s, especially a recent departure from the school, would be a plus.
Gutterson Fieldhouse (Vermont)
The Catamounts’ den is a two-hour drive south of Montreal’s Bell Centre. This past March, their campus hosted a panel detailing the state’s history of French-Canadian influence.
In addition, Gutterson was once the training-camp facility for the New York Rangers. Do you see where we’re going with this?
Houston Field House (Rensselaer)
At 4,780 seats, RPI’s historic ice house would likely be the ECAC’s best bet to attract an NHL ticket. Odds are the league and select member clubs would not want to go too small, and this is the largest the conference can offer.
As it happens, Houston Field House has a history of pro hockey. The Capital District Islanders honed AHL prospects for Nassau Coliseum for three years in the early ’90s. Taking the current Isles and their crosstown clash with the Rangers to Troy would be an easy sell.
MacInnes Student Ice Arena (Michigan Tech)
Like the Blackhawks and Notre Dame, the Detroit Red Wings and MTU have one half of a bargain to fulfill.
The late MTU Huskies coach John MacInnes is the namesake for the program’s arena and the Great Lakes Invitational trophy. In collaboration with Detroit scout Jack Paterson and Olympia Stadium general manager Lincoln Cavalieri, he begat the time-honored tournament.
More than half a century later, the holiday excursion from the Upper Peninsula to the Motor City remains a staple on MTU’s calendar. But the exposure between the state’s two hockey worlds has never witnessed a role reversal.
Matthews Arena (Northeastern)
While the Huskies lack the on-ice chronicle of BC or Boston University, their venue is uniquely rife with major-league ghosts. In Stadium Journey’s latest review, Jeffrey Werner wrote, “The history just drips in this wonderful old arena.”
Why wouldn’t it? As Boston Arena, Matthews was the first home of America’s first NHL franchise. The Bruins moved to the Boston Garden in 1928, but pro hockey returned via the New England Whalers for one season in 1972-73.
With those connections, Bruins-Hurricanes would be a natural card for the 4,666-seat, 107-year-old Matthews.
Ralph Engelstad Arena (North Dakota)
This is the exception to our rule about staying within established NHL territories (e.g. New England, Michigan, Minnesota). The Grand Forks sports mansion is the most reminiscent of a professional venue of all NCAA hockey arenas.
The other extenuating circumstance stems from UND continuously producing one of the most noticeable waves of NHL talent. Take your pick of any combination, and it would generate a rabid sellout. But with geography and name recognition in mind, Zach Parise’s Wild and Jonathan Toews’ Blackhawks would be the best choices.
(Note that, if this list had extended beyond 10, Wisconsin’s Kohl Center would have been an easy addition for similar reasons.)
Slater Family Ice Arena (Bowling Green)
The Falcons boast the most historic college hockey program in Ohio. Among others, they have produced Hall-of-Fame defenseman Rob Blake, current Anaheim blueliner Kevin Bieksa and Vegas general manager George McPhee.
And their 5,000-seat campus rink sits two hours north of Columbus’ Nationwide Arena and 90 minutes south of Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena. In the true college spirit, the Blue Jackets and Red Wings should contemplate a home-and-home set, beginning at Bowling Green. For the other half of that hypothetical series, we turn to our 10th venue.
Yost Ice Arena (Michigan)
Like BC, Minnesota and UND, the Wolverines have an exemplary quantity and quality of alumni in the pros. One recent product, Dylan Larkin, is employed one hour to the east in Detroit.
Ann Arbor’s football facility has hosted an NHL regular-season game. Why shouldn’t its hallowed hockey abode see a little preseason action? Its size is on a par with Pegula, and its student section’s fervor rivals Mariucci’s and Engelstad’s.