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How Tampa Became an NCAA Hockey Hub

The city doesn't have a Division 1 team, but thanks to the success of the Lightning, it has become a repeat destination for the men's Frozen Four.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The NCAA just released its latest batch of host cities for upcoming championships and once again, Tampa made the cut for the men's Frozen Four. The city will host the national championship in 2023 at Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is the third time the city has hosted the Frozen Four and while Tampa doesn't have a D1 college program, the town has a lot going for it as a host and it's really no surprise the NCAA is heading back down south again.

The first Frozen Four in Tampa was back in 2012, with Boston College knocking off Ferris State 4-1 in the final. But the groundwork for the event was laid many years before, according to Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

"Right off the heels of the Lightning winning their first Stanley Cup in 2004, we started to look into the potential of different events that could make sense in our community," he said. "And the Frozen Four rose to the top of that list."

The TBSC worked with the arena on feasibility, then got the University of Alabama-Huntsville on board as the host school - since there needs to be a D1 anchor attached to a bid. In 2005, Tampa won the right to host that 2012 tournament and the success of the event validated the city as a destination for college hockey - something that initially had its skeptics.

"Certainly there were some people who scratched their head," Higgins said. "I remember seeing articles questioning the decision and some of those same writers, fast-forward seven years later in 2012, were saying Tampa should be in the permanent rotation for the Frozen Four."

As it so happened, the NCAA seemed to agree, as Tampa was chosen to host the 2016 men's tournament as well, giving the city the fastest return for the tournament in 20 years (Saint Paul, Minnesota hosted in 1991 and 1994).

The 2016 Frozen Four, which saw North Dakota defeat Quinnipiac 5-1 in the final, boasted the third-highest attendance ever for a college hockey final with 19,358 fans packing into the building.

Many fans travel to the Frozen Four whether their team is participating or not, so finding a city that appeals to neutral observers can really help. And Florida in April certainly has its allure.

"They're coming from north of us to a warm-weather destination and a community that appreciates and knows hockey," Higgins said. "It's a reward for a fantastic season for those student-athletes and their fans and we love every second of the opportunity to host it."

As anyone who attended the NHL All-Star Game in 2018 can attest to, the area surrounding Amalie Arena also lends itself to big events thanks to open spaces around the rink and hotels nearby.

"The walkability of our destination can help make the event special," Higgins said. "To have that compact footprint - you have fans from all over the country, many who come every year, that can put on their team's jersey, some shorts and a pair of flip-flops for probably the first time in several months, and enjoy all that our community has to offer without sitting in traffic."

Tampa still doesn't have a D1 hockey program, so for the 2016 and 2023 bids, the University of Wisconsin has been the host school. Geographically, it's a big leap, but the school's football team has been to the area for the Outback Bowl, while other administrators know the city from women's basketball and volleyball. The school helps with game management, NCAA compliance and the student-athlete experience during the Frozen Four and the TBSC is very glad to have the Badgers on board.

Along with Tampa, the Frozen Four will be coming to Saint Paul, St. Louis and Las Vegas (another intriguing spot) after Pittsburgh hosts in 2021 and Boston in 2022. On the women's side, the newly-awarded venue cities are Duluth, Durham (New Hampshire), Minneapolis and State College (Penn State). Erie is slated to host in 2021 and State College in 2022.

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