COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – With the 2018-19 season complete, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) reflected on its sixth season of competition, looking back at the successes, changes from previous seasons and how the NCHC can continue to build upon what’s already been accomplished. Highlighting the 2018-19 NCHC season was Minnesota Duluth completing back-to-back National Championships, marking a fourth straight NCAA title by an NCHC school.
The NCHC held its annual Board of Directors Meeting with member Presidents and Chancellors on Thursday, May 17 in Colorado Springs, after holding its Annual Meeting with athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives (FARs) and coaches in Naples, Fla. on April 29-30. Both meetings covered a variety of topics, including a review of last season, as well as possible changes for the future.
Below is a look at some of those possible changes for the 2019-20 season in our “Focus for the Future,” while we also look back at some of the achievements and accomplishments from the past year.
FOCUS FOR THE FUTURE
1. Student-Athlete Experience
- Student-Athlete Well-Being Committee – The NCHC membership and conference office have established a Task Force to review and address various student-athlete well-being issues and topics. The Task Force has been charged with helping the conference adjust existing and develop new conference policy, documents and educational programming in the areas of sportsmanship, diversity and inclusion, mental health, and more. The Commissioner is chairing the Task Force, which consists of a president/chancellor (or appointed designee), athletic directors, FARs, and coaches. The Task Force will have recommendations that will be made to the entire membership over the next month, for implementation during the 2019-20 season.
- Team Travel in Postseason – The membership approved an increase to the per flight amount the conference reimburses for teams traveling in the Quarterfinal and Frozen Faceoff rounds of the NCHC Tournament. The increase will offset the financial challenges that can come with commercial air travel on short notice. This past season’s conference tournament brought on difficulties due to weather, which encouraged the membership to discuss the possible changes. The policy does not cover the cost of charter air travel, but the conference will assist institutions in booking charter aircraft, if necessary.
- Third Assistant Coach – NCHC coaches continue to support the addition of a third, full-time coach or allow coaching duties to the director of operations position for both men’s and women’s college hockey. Currently under NCAA rules, only two full-time assistant coaches are allowed in college hockey. An additional person with coaching duties would provide more support on the ice during practices when multiple coaches may be on the road recruiting, while also serving as an additional resource for student-athlete development. The conference will continue to work with others across the sport nationally to determine the best route to pursue change.
- Conference Enhancement Projects – The membership approved a new financial expenditure policy, which gives the Commissioner discretion to use reserve funds above an annually determined threshold toward projects that are intended to enhance the experience of everyone associated with the conference, but in particular, student-athletes. The types of projects are intended to be one-time in nature with their cost and have no limitation in their scope or purpose. The conference is currently looking into various projects that can add value for the coming season.
- International Showcase Event – The conference is exploring the possibility of participating in an international showcase event at some point in the future. The conference would like to be a part of an event that can provide excellent cultural and international opportunities to student-athletes.
2. Branding/Exposure/Fan Engagement
- Mic’ing Referees – After performing a successful test-run at Ralph Engelstad Arena during an exhibition game last season, the conference is exploring the possibility to mic up referees for all games in an NCHC venue. This would provide an enhanced experience to the in-venue audience and fans watching on television or NCHC.tv. The microphones would be used by the referee to announce penalties and/or reasons for a video review over the PA system. Project costs are being gathered and the membership will decide whether to implement it for the coming season.
- NCHC.tv Transition – Over its first five seasons, the NCHC.tv platform has been hosted by NeuLion/NeuLion College. However, starting in 2019-20, NCHC.tv will be hosted by SIDEARM Sports, which purchased NeuLion College this past spring. Throughout the summer, NCHC.tv will be transitioning to the SIDEARM platform, which also currently hosts all eight NCHC member school athletics websites. The conference’s goal in the transition is to provide an equal experience fans have grown accustomed to, while making enhancements to areas of the platform that can be improved. The same tools and technology fans have become familiar with on NCHC.tv will still be available on the new SIDEARM platform.
- Television – The NCHC has once again extended its partnership with CBS Sports Network. CBS Sports Network will air one game each Friday night during the second half of the season (after Jan. 1), leading up to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. CBS Sports Network will continue to air both semifinals and the championship of the Frozen Faceoff, as they’ve done the past six seasons. The conference is in the middle of a partnership with FOX Sports North (FSN), which was extended in the summer of 2018. FSN will air a to-be-determined number of games from St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth on the regional sports network. Although the FOX Sports regional networks are in the process of being sold to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the NCHC anticipates a similar FSN schedule for the upcoming season.
- School-Colored Logos – Beginning in 2019-20, schools will have the option to use a specific school-colored NCHC logo on various printed and digital materials. The NCHC logo on jerseys will remain the primary red, white and blue NCHC logo.
- Schedule - The NCHC will continue to use a 24-game conference schedule. The coaches and conference believe that gives conference members the best chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, while providing at least 10 opportunities for non-conference contests. The 2020-21 conference schedule is finalized and the 2021-22 NCHC schedule is currently being built.
- Overtime – The NCHC will continue to use its 3-on-3 overtime/sudden-death shootout model for conference games only that are still tied following 5-on-5 overtime in 2019-20, per NCAA rules. The conference will continue to advocate for 3-on-3 to become part of the national overtime standard in all of college hockey during the next rule change year in 2020-21. The conference strongly believes that college hockey should evolve, as most other hockey entities/leagues around the world have done, in their overtime structure.
- Frozen Four – The conference is exploring different possibilities to serve as a host for a future NCAA Frozen Four. The bid process for various NCAA championships will open in August and last until February. The conference hopes to be a part of that process, serving as a host conference.
- Awards – Currently only head coaches vote on NCHC year-end playing awards, but the conference is considering involving media in year-end award voting. In addition, the NCHC is looking to rename the “Offensive Player of the Week” as “Forward of the Week,” given the conference has specific weekly awards for Defenseman and Goaltender, already.
4. Frozen Faceoff
- Fan Experience/Fan Fest – As always, the conference, along with Xcel Energy Center, has reviewed feedback from fans who attended the 2019 Frozen Faceoff to see what changes could be made to improve the event in 2020. Fan Fest will be moved to a new location for the 2020 Frozen Faceoff with construction of a new hotel set to take place on the previous site of Fan Fest. Plans for the new Fan Fest location and details will be announced once finalized. In addition, new Priority Ticket Holder perks will be announced this coming fall.
- Ticket Renewals – The conference is working with Xcel Energy Center to finalize the ticket renewal process for fans that attended the 2019 Frozen Faceoff and would like to renew their seats for 2020. As has been standard in year’s past, ticket renewal information will be announced in September.
5. Officiating/Video Review
- Video Review Technology – The NCHC is exploring the possibility of upgrading technology within each NCHC venue to improve the video review process for technicians, officials, and supervisors.
- Officials Evaluation Tool – The conference office and coaches are collectively developing a new tool coaches can use to evaluate officials. The tool will provide the conference office subjective and objective perspectives in how a coach believes an official performed.
- Team Initiated Supplemental Discipline – The membership voted to remove any ‘team-initiated’ supplemental discipline requests. All supplemental discipline reviews will be initiated through the conference office.
- Officiating Staff – The NCHC Director of Officiating will complete a review of the NCHC officiating staff over the summer and add new referees and linesmen to the staff, as needed, to replace those that may retire or not be renewed.
6. Staffing/Leadership Roles
- Communications Intern - For the second straight year, the NCHC will hire a part-time, paid marketing and communications intern, completing a four-person staff within the Colorado Springs office. The conference felt the position over the past year added value to the office and provided more engaging content to fans.
- Board of Directors – Miami University President Greg Crawford will serve as the Chair of the NCHC Board of Directors for the next two academic years (2019-21), replacing Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler.
- Athletic Council – University of Nebraska Omaha Vice Chancellor, Athletics Trev Alberts will serve as Chair of the NCHC Athletic Council during the upcoming academic year (2019-20), replacing University of Minnesota Duluth Athletics Director Josh Berlo.
2018-19 YEAR IN REVIEW
While there is lots to look forward to in the upcoming 2019-20 NCHC season and beyond, there were plenty of highlights and successes during the past 2018-19 campaign, as well. Some of those highlights and successes are listed below.
- NCAA Tournament – For the second straight season, the NCHC placed three teams in the NCAA Tournament field, with Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State both earning No. 1 seeds, while Denver was a No. 2 seed. UMD won the Midwest Regional, while Denver won the West Regional as the NCHC had two teams advance to the Frozen Four for the fourth time in six years. Minnesota Duluth went on to defeat UMass in Buffalo, N.Y. to win its second straight National Championship and a fourth straight NCAA title for the NCHC. UMD became the first team to win back-to-back NCAA championships since Denver in 2004-05, while the NCHC is the first conference to win four straight titles since the WCHA won five in a row from 2002-06. NCHC teams went a combined 6-2 in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and are now a combined 35-19 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The NCHC’s 10 Frozen Four participants over the last six years are the most from one conference.
- Non-Conference Success – For the fourth time in six years, NCHC teams combined to post the best non-conference winning percentage among the six Division I men’s hockey conferences, with a 52-25-8 (.659) record in regular-season non-conference play. In the conference’s six-year history, NCHC teams have now combined to produce a .633 winning percentage in regular-season non-conference play (288-153-67). Including the NCAA Tournament, NCHC teams were 58-27-8 (.667) in 2018-19, with the Big Ten second at .590. Along with UMD winning the NCAA Tournament, Western Michigan won the Ice Vegas Invitational in January. In addition, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth combined to hold the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com Poll 19 of 24 weeks during the season. Over the last three seasons, an NCHC team has been ranked No. 1 in the USCHO Poll 60 of 73 weeks.
- Individual Awards – Six NCHC skaters earned AHCA All-America honors, including three on the First Team and three on the Second Team, with SCSU senior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt and UMD sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich repeat selections. Schuldt was also named to the Hobey Hat Trick as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, while UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard was one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award.
- NCHC Awards – The NCHC recognized 162 student-athletes on the Academic All-Conference Team for achieving a cumulative grade-point average of a 3.0 or better, the second-most in NCHC history, while a record 73 earned Distinguished Scholar-Athlete distinction for a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better, the most Distinguished Scholar-Athletes in the four years the NCHC has presented it.
- National Awards – Denver junior defenseman Erich Fear won the NCAA’s Elite 90 Award for having the top GPA among Frozen Four participants. He’s the third NCHC student-athlete to earn the honor. In addition, he was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-District Men’s At-Large Team by CoSIDA.
- Post-Graduate Scholarship – In its fourth year, the NCHC presented its Post-Graduate Scholarship ($7,500), which is provided by a grant from the El Pomar Foundation, to Omaha forward Ryan Galt. Galt, who earned his undergraduate degree in business administration, is the third straight Maverick to earn the scholarship.
- APR Scores – Omaha earned a Public Recognition Award from the NCAA for its success in the latest Academic Progress Rate (APR) results. They achieved an APR in the top 10 percent of Division I men’s hockey, one of only nine teams to do so. Colorado College was the last NCHC team to earn a Public Recognition Award for APR success back in 2014.
3. Fiscal Operations
- General Financial Operations – The NCHC is expecting to generate a surplus for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ends in August. Despite lower than average overall revenue, the business model is structured in a manner that will still allow the NCHC to finish in a sixth-straight surplus position. Revenue generation through opportunities separate from the conference tournament contributed to the NCHC achieving the positive mark. Following the 2017-18 season, the conference was able to reach an internal reserve account goal. With the reserve fund goal met following the 2017-18 season, the conference made an equal distribution back to the members and expects to do the same once the 2018-19 results are finalized. In addition to the general operational distributions, the conference has also made annual distributions to member schools based on NCHC.tv revenue results each of the past five years.
- NCHC Tournament – The NCHC Tournament still accounts for a majority of the NCHC’s revenue each season. In the 2019 NCHC Tournament, only one best-of-three Quarterfinal series went the distance (Colorado College at Western Michigan), with Denver, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State also hosting series that ended after two games. Despite having the lowest NCHC Quarterfinal-round revenue in the conference’s six-year history, the NCHC still expects to finish in a surplus position. In its second year at Xcel Energy Center, the NCHC Frozen Faceoff had a combined four-game, two-day attendance of 20,138, which provided the fourth-highest Frozen Faceoff revenue in its six-year history. The attendance at the 2019 Frozen Faceoff was the second-highest attended conference championship weekend in college hockey.
- Sponsorships – Through internal and Frozen Faceoff partners, the NCHC was able generate its highest sponsorship revenue to date. Trade partnerships also created significant value-in-kind, allowing for items such as student-athlete/fan gifts, medical services, printing services and hockey tape at the Frozen Faceoff.
- UNRL – The conference launched a new online fan shop partnership in 2018-19 with UNRL. By partnering with UNRL, the NCHC can provide fans with better quality apparel for an athletic lifestyle. Online store revenue was up approximately 35 percent this past season.
- NCHC.tv – The conference saw continued growth in NCHC.tv revenue in 2018-19, with enhancements made to the platform and new OTT apps launched (Amazon FireTV). In doing so, revenue from 2017-18 to 2018-19 grew slightly after seeing a significant increase the previous season, which related to a new partnership structure and technology enhancements. Eighty-five percent of all revenue generated is distributed back to the conference members through an internal model based upon each subscriber’s school affiliation. The remaining 15 percent of revenue is retained by the conference office to support the network.
4. Frozen Faceoff
- Fan Experience
- Priority Ticket Member Perks – Fans that purchased 2019 Frozen Faceoff tickets prior to Dec. 31, 2018 received priority seat selection, a complimentary event program and were entered into a drawing to win one of four prize packs that included a free hotel stay, Saint Paul restaurant gift card, NCHC gear and a behind-the-scenes tour at the Frozen Faceoff. Discounts were also offered at local Saint Paul bars and restaurants.
- National Television – Both semifinals and the championship game were once again broadcast live on CBS Sports Network, which is in approximately 60 million homes throughout the country. The Frozen Faceoff is one of only two men’s college hockey championships aired on a national TV network.
- NCHC.tv/Live Streaming - The Third-Place Game was streamed on NCHC.tv in HD with enhanced graphics, replays and multiple camera angles. In addition, a neutral radio broadcaster was brought in to call the game on NCHC.tv, the first time the NCHC has used a neutral broadcaster. Once again, all press conferences on Thursday and after the games each day were streamed live for free on NCHC.tv, while other on-demand and feature content was also posted to NCHC.tv.
- Student-Athlete Experience
- Branding – Although Xcel Energy Center already has a tremendous hockey feel, some NCHC branding was placed around the building and in the locker room hallways. Each team door had large team-specific graphics covering the doorways, while school and Frozen Faceoff logos were placed on floors, walls and entry doors. In addition, the NCHC logo was placed at center ice, while team names and logos were placed on the boards, along with tournament sponsors.
- Apparel – Through value-in-kind from corporate partners (STX Hockey, CCM and Bauer Hockey) and Xcel Energy Center, the NCHC was able to supply participating student-athletes with gift packages to commemorate their experience. In addition, UNRL supplied Minnesota Duluth with Frozen Faceoff championship hats and t-shirts on the ice, through the NCHC’s new partnership.
- Media – Over 100 media members were credentialed to cover the Frozen Faceoff, several of which also attended the NCHC Awards Celebration on the eve of the tournament. Press conferences were held after each practice and game. New in 2019, the conference had NCHC-branded flags on the microphones on stage, as well as a new NCHC-branded backdrop for press conferences.
- Medical – The health and well-being of our student-athletes remains a focus for the conference. For a fourth straight year, a partnership with TRIA Orthopaedic Center allowed the Frozen Faceoff to have superb medical care for participating teams.
5. Fan Engagement
- NCHC.tv - The NCHC’s digital network continued to make improvements during the 2018-19 season, including adding social media to already existing NCHC.tv mobile apps and providing better quality live game streams from schools. Last season, 147 games were streamed live on NCHC.tv, along with many hours of free on-demand content, including Top Plays of the Week, feature videos on each school and the “Morning Skate” weekend preview, as well as highlights and press conferences. Total video views on NCHC.tv in 2018-19 were up 16 percent from the previous season, while seven live games had over 3,000 unique viewers, compared to three games in 2017-18. The improvements also led to an increase in new subscribers, including a nearly 18 percent increase in NCHC Annual Passes from the previous season.
- OTT Apps – Adding to NCHC.tv’s over-the-top (OTT) app collection, the NCHC and NeuLion College launched an Amazon FireTV app for NCHC.tv at the start of the 2018-19 season. The FireTV app was added to Roku and AppleTV apps that already existed for NCHC.tv.
- New On-Demand Content – In addition to the Top Plays of the Week and “Morning Skate” weekly video segments, the conference added a “Movin’ on Up-date” video series on Thursdays, which spotlighted NCHC alumni who have had success in the NHL. By adding the “Movin’ on Up-date” series, the conference produced an on-demand video for each day Tuesday through Friday.
- Television – Helping to expand the NCHC brand to a larger and more national audience, the NCHC once again partnered with CBS Sports Network and FOX Sports to air several NCHC games on the national and regional networks. Fourteen games aired on CBS Sports Network, including 11 regular-season contests and the Frozen Faceoff semifinals and championship. Twelve games were shown regionally in the upper Midwest on FOX Sports North (or FSN PLUS), with nine originating from St. Cloud State and three from Minnesota Duluth. Nine of the FSN games, along with nine others for a total of 18 NCHC games, were elevated from a local/regional station to FOX College Sports, which is available nationally. In addition, three NCHC games were also shown on linear TV in Canada on TSN or TSN2, while 17 other games involving NCHC teams were available via stream on TSN’s website/app.
- Social Media – The NCHC saw all four of its social media platforms grow in 2018-19, including a more increased presence on Instagram Stories and on Snapchat, as well as better quality graphics for various events and announcements. In its second year of existence, the NCHC Snapchat account saw a student-athlete from each team “take over” the account to give fans a behind-the-scenes look heading into their weekend series. Snapchat, along with Instagram Stories, also gave fans additional access and content during NCHC Media Day, the Frozen Faceoff and the Frozen Four. The NCHC’s other social media platforms expanded their reach as well, with Twitter gaining more than 3,000 followers from last season (29.7K), Facebook gaining more than 1,000 followers (12.6K) and Instagram adding about 3,500 followers (8.9K). The NCHC once again used SnappyTV in 2018-19 to tweet out in-game highlights during one “featured” game each Friday and Saturday night. Fan contests also took place on the NCHC’s social channels throughout the season.
- New Content – Two new elements that were added to the NCHC’s weekly social media content in 2018-19 were “Spot the Puck” and “Wallpaper Wednesday.” “Spot the Puck” was a popular contest on Instagram and Twitter each Tuesday in which fans had to guess where the puck was located in the picture (the puck was covered up in the photo). “Wallpaper Wednesday” was a new addition on Instagram Stories, where the NCHC created various phone backgrounds for fans to save and use on their mobile device.
- Website – NCHCHockey.com once again provided fans a place to look up schedules, rosters, statistics, standings and more throughout the season. Along with that, several historical and awards pages were added in 2018-19, allowing fans to look at past All-Americans, NCHC alumni in the NHL, and past NCHC award winners and all-conference members. A feature story was posted to NCHCHockey.com nearly each week during the season as well, providing unique content to the site that couldn’t be found elsewhere.
- Media Day – For the second straight year, NCHC Media Day was held at Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 25. Approximately 40 media members were in attendance, including TV partner CBS Sports Network and St. Cloud State’s Husky Productions. The head coach and one student-athlete from each team took part in interviews with the media. Fans were also engaged with Twitter Takeover Q & A sessions with the student-athletes, Facebook LIVE interviews with coaches and players hosted by St. Cloud State senior Robby Jackson, and a free live stream of Commissioner Fenton’s State of the Conference address on NCHC.tv.
- Communications Intern – To help expand the NCHC’s commitment and level of fan engagement, the conference hired a part-time marketing and communications intern for the first time in 2018-19. Paige Shacklett was the inaugural intern and helped implement several of the new social media contests and content, such as “Spot the Puck” and “Wallpaper Wednesday.” In addition, the intern ran the conference’s Instagram account, adding lots of content on Instagram Stories, which was not previously used much by the NCHC. In addition, the intern wrote feature stories, created graphics and provided other content for fans to enjoy on NCHCHockey.com and social media.
- Officials’ Movember Team – The NCHC’s “ninth team,” its officiating staff, once again put together a team for Movember to help raise money and awareness for men’s health issues. They raised more than $20,000 for the cause, which was the team’s goal, thanks to the help of fan donations. In 2017, the NCHC’s officiating staff raised $15,000, but with silent auctions held at Denver and North Dakota home games this past season, the staff was able to raise even more money in 2018.
As the National Collegiate Hockey Conference looks forward to 2019-20, the conference would like to thank all its fans for their support and passion during the NCHC’s sixth season. The feedback provided by fans is very valuable and helps steer the conference’s focus for improvements and changes going forward. With summer upon us and hockey games still a few months away, we encourage fans to stay involved on social media and visit NCHCHockey.com and NCHC.tv (or download the mobile app), as content will still be posted regularly. The NCHC looks forward to creating an even better fan and student-athlete experience in 2019-20 and can’t wait to drop the puck on season number seven on October 5!