COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – With the 2017-18 season complete, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) reflected on its fifth 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 2017-18 NCHC season was a third straight national championship, a new home for the Frozen Faceoff, a relaunched digital network (NCHC.tv) and the addition of mobile apps for NCHC.tv, along with continued strong operating results.
The NCHC held its annual Board of Directors Meeting with member Presidents and Chancellors on Thursday, May 17 in Colorado Springs, after holding the conference’s Annual Meeting with Athletics Directors, Faculty Athletics Representatives (FARs) and coaches in Naples, Fla. on April 23-24. Both meetings covered a variety of topics, including a review of last season, as well as possible changes for the future.
“The continued success of the NCHC is reflective of the commitment our eight member institutions have toward Division I hockey at the highest level,” NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton said. “The 2017-18 season was arguably our best yet and we are even more excited about what our future may hold.”
As has been the case the past few years, the NCHC had incredible success on the ice in 2017-18, as both teams and individuals flourished.
- NCAA Tournament – The NCHC placed three teams in the NCAA Tournament field with St. Cloud State earning a No. 1 seed, Denver a No. 2 seed and Minnesota Duluth a No. 3 seed. Minnesota Duluth went on to capture the West Regional and won the program’s second national championship in St. Paul on April 7, giving the NCHC three straight national champions. The NCHC became the first conference to win three straight NCAA titles since Hockey East from 2008-10. Overall, NCHC teams went 5-2 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, while the conference has now placed 20 teams in the NCAA field over its first five seasons, making up 25 percent of NCAA Tournament participants, second-most behind only Hockey East (21 participants). NCHC teams are now a combined 29-17 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The NCHC has also now had at least one team make the Frozen Four all five seasons, with eight NCHC teams earning a berth in the Frozen Four over that span, making up 40 percent of the field, the most from one conference.
- Non-Conference Success – In non-conference play (regular season and NCAA Tournament), NCHC teams combined to post a record of 52-24-15, with the .654 winning percentage second-best among the six conferences in 2017-18, behind only the Big Ten (.694). NCHC teams did post a 10-5-2 record against Big Ten foes, however. In addition to its national title, Minnesota Duluth also captured an in-season tournament title, winning the Ledyard Classic (hosted by Dartmouth). Three NCHC teams held the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com Poll in 2017-18, with the NCHC being home to the No. 1 team in the country 17 of the 23 weeks during the season.
- Individual Awards – Minnesota Duluth freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich became the first NCHC player to earn the Hockey Commissioners’ Association Tim Taylor Award as National Rookie of the Year, while also claiming College Hockey News and USCHO.com Rookie of the Year. In addition, six NCHC student-athletes earned AHCA All-America honors, with four on the First Team and two on the Second Team. UMD head coach Scott Sandelin was also honored by USCHO.com as their Coach of the Year.
- Overtime – For the third straight year, the NCHC implemented a 3-on-3 overtime structure to follow the NCAA-mandated 5-minute 5-on-5 overtime. Of 96 NCHC conference games, 13 games (13.5 percent) required 3-on-3 overtime (up from 11 in 2016-17), with 11 of those 13 games ending in 3-on-3 overtime and the other two ending in a shootout (one in one round, one in four rounds).
While the NCHC has had tremendous success on the ice, it’s also proud of the accomplishments of the student-athletes in the classroom.
- Awards – The NCHC honored 111 student-athletes on the Academic All-Conference Team for earning a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or better, while 38 earned Distinguished Scholar-Athlete distinction for a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better, the second-most Distinguished Scholar-Athletes in the three years the NCHC has presented it, only one less than last year. Eligible freshmen will be added to the academic teams this June.
- Post-Graduate Scholarship – In its third year, the NCHC presented its Post-Graduate Scholarship ($7,500), which his provided by a grant from the El Pomar Foundation, to Omaha defenseman Joel Messner. Messner plans to pursue a professional hockey career next season, before beginning his postgraduate studies.
- APR Scores - The NCAA released its latest Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores recently and several NCHC teams performed well. Miami (995) and Omaha (992) both ranked in the top third among men’s college hockey teams, while five NCHC teams posted APR scores at or above the NCAA men’s hockey average (986). As a whole, the NCHC posted an average APR score of 984.75, slightly behind last year’s mark (985.6).
Having generated a surplus in each of the conference’s first four seasons, the NCHC is expecting one of its best years financially. The NCHC has been able to sustain a healthy financial model thanks to appropriate budgeting, efficient spending, growing existing revenue streams and creating new revenue opportunities. After five years of operations and building reserve assets, the conference expects to make a distribution back to the membership following completion of fiscal year 2018. The anticipated distribution is separate from any NCHC.tv allocations, which have been made consistently over the past four years. Among the factors that contributed to the NCHC’s financial success in 2017-18 are: NCHC Tournament (Quarterfinal and Frozen Faceoff rounds), conference sponsorships and NCHC.tv.
- NCHC Tournament – The NCHC Tournament typically accounts for a majority of the NCHC’s revenue each season, and the 2018 Tournament was no different. Two of the four best-of-three quarterfinal series went three games, leading to additional revenue and an increase from the 2017 first-round series. With the NCHC Frozen Faceoff moving to a new home in Xcel Energy Center, the event saw its highest gross revenue in its five-year history. The two-day combined attendance of 23,355 was the largest in NCHC history and the highest attendance among the 2018 neutral-site men’s ice hockey conference championships. Overall revenue from the 2018 NCHC Tournament (Quarterfinals and Frozen Faceoff) was up 26 percent from a season ago and the highest in its five-year history.
- Sponsorships – The NCHC continues to create and build partnerships with corporate sponsors. In addition, the NCHC was able to bring on board new sponsors for the Frozen Faceoff through the assistance of the Minnesota Wild. 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.
- NCHC.tv – NCHC.tv revenue saw tremendous growth in 2017-18. Thanks to new technology and a better user experience, new subscriptions increased 46 percent. From 2016-17 to this past year, NCHC.tv revenue grew by 91 percent. Eighty-five percent of all revenue generated is distributed back to the conference members through an internal model based upon subscriber affiliation. The remaining fifteen percent of revenue is retained by the conference office to manage the network.
The biggest change in the NCHC in 2017-18 was the host of the conference’s championship weekend, as the NCHC moved from Target Center in Minneapolis to Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. The 2018 Frozen Faceoff served as the first of a five-year contract, which was announced last September, with the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, and allowed for an outstanding fan, student-athlete and media experience. In addition, the conference also established a new partnership with Visit Saint Paul, the city’s convention & visitors bureau, to help with promotion of the Frozen Faceoff, Fan Fest and fan engagement in the city.
- Fan Engagement/Fan Experience
- Priority Ticket Member Perks – For fans that purchased 2018 Frozen Faceoff tickets prior to Dec. 31, 2017, they were given a complimentary event program, a commemorative poster, a discount on NCHC merchandise and discounts at local Saint Paul bars and restaurants. All Priority Ticket Members were also entered into drawings for larger prizes, including Minnesota Wild tickets and two nights hotel stay for the Frozen Faceoff in Saint Paul.
- Community Involvement – Members of the local Saint Paul police department were recognized for their service during the games, and along with members of the Minnesota National Guard served as the color guard on the ice during the national anthem prior to each game. In addition, the Minnesota National Guard held a large U.S. flag on the ice prior to the championship game. Through partnerships with Minnesota Hockey and TRIA Orthopaedic Center, youth teams skated between periods for intermission entertainment, as well, with a player interviewed during the intermission. Saint Paul’s new mayor, Melvin Carter III, attended the tournament, while Visit Saint Paul set up a portal for fans to book discounted hotel rates in Saint Paul.
- National Television – Both semifinals and the championship game were 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 (Big Ten championship on Big Ten Network).
- NCHC.tv/Live Streaming - The Third-Place Game was streamed on NCHC.tv in HD with enhanced graphics, replays and multiple camera angles to a viewing audience of approximately 4,500. Once again, all press conferences on Thursday and after the games each day were streamed live for free on NCHC.tv. Free feature content, interviews and highlights of each game were also created at the Frozen Faceoff and placed on NCHC.tv for fans to enjoy.
- Frozen Faceoff Live/Social Media – SportsEngine, which hosts NCHCHockey.com, helped run the Frozen Faceoff Live page on the NCHC’s website, which serves as a one-stop shop for fans to stay connected to the championship weekend. Content included event information, behind the scenes photos and videos, and social media. It was the most viewed page on NCHCHockey.com outside of the home page for the third straight year. In addition, the NCHC also provided behind-the-scenes video and photos on its social media platforms.
- Fan Events
- Awards Celebration – With the Frozen Faceoff moving to Saint Paul, the NCHC Awards Celebration was held at the Science Museum of Minnesota for the first time, again on the eve of the semifinals. The venue was branded with NCHC and school logos to give it a unique feel, while the Awards Celebration were once again hosted by CBS Sports Network personalities. The NCHC’s top players and student-athletes were honored with videos and awards. Approximately 225 guests attended the event, which included the four participating teams. The Awards Celebration was streamed for free live on NCHC.tv for the second straight year. The inaugural NCHC Media Excellence Award was also presented at the event.
- Fan Fest – Visit Saint Paul planned and executed NCHC Fan Fest, which was held outdoors across W. 7th Street from Xcel Energy Center on both Friday and Saturday of championship weekend. Admission was free to all fans, who were able to enjoy food, drinks and games provided by several sponsors at Fan Fest, which was presented by Bud Light. Both days of Fan Fest were well attended, with Saturday being St. Patrick’s Day, making for a festive atmosphere.
- Fan Skate – The NCHC once again hosted a Fan Skate, this time on the ice at Xcel Energy Center, on the Thursday night before the semifinals. The event was open the public, allowing between 150-200 people to skate on the same ice used by the Minnesota Wild and Frozen Faceoff.
- Brewery Tour – New in 2018, Experience the Twin Cities hosted a craft brewery tour on Friday and Saturday afternoons, where fans could sign up in advance and sample local breweries. Transportation was provided for the tour, along with snacks and beer samples.
- 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.
- Media - Over 115 media members were credentialed to cover the Frozen Faceoff, several of which also attended the NCHC Awards Celebration. Press conferences were held after each practice and game, while select players were also spotlighted during CBS Sports Networks’ coverage of the tournament.
- Medical – The health and well-being of our student-athletes remains a focus for the conference. For a third straight year, a partnership with TRIA Orthopaedic Center allowed the Frozen Faceoff to have superb medical care for participating teams.
While the NCHC Frozen Faceoff is certainly the showcase event for the conference, engaging with fans throughout the season and promoting the conference’s successes is also a big priority. Whether its through the NCHC’s website, digital network (NCHC.tv), television, social media or other mediums, fans have plenty of ways to engage and follow the conference, while the NCHC also expands its brand to a more national audience. And with several enhancements and additions made to NCHC.tv and on social media, NCHC fans now have an even better experience when watching and following games during the season.
- NCHC.tv – The NCHC’s digital network received several upgrades during the 2018-19 season, adding on to the already existing Over-The-Top (OTT) apps available on AppleTV and Roku. In 2017-18, 154 games were streamed live on NCHC.tv, along with approximately 15 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. All games were streamed in HD, while schools worked to improve live game production.
- Mobile Apps – Perhaps the biggest addition to NCHC.tv was the creation of mobile apps for iOS (Apple) and Android environments, which were launched near the beginning of the season. The apps provide fans a more engaging experience on NCHC.tv. In addition to watching live games and on-demand videos, fans can select their favorite team for a customized experience, which includes the NCHC standings, news articles and the latest Twitter posts.
- Browser Redesign – Coinciding with the mobile app release, the browser version of NCHC.tv received a redesign. Similar to the apps, the new-look browser version of NCHC.tv also now includes news articles from the NCHC and each team, as well as social media posts. In addition, the schedule and subscription pages were redesigned to be more user-friendly.
- Timeline Markers – Another new technological addition to NCHC.tv in 2017-18 were timeline markers. The small dots in the timeline bar allow fans to easily find and watch when goals occurred and big saves were made during the game, should they join the live stream late or want to go back and re-watch the important plays during a live game.
- 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. Thirteen games were shown regionally in the upper Midwest on FOX Sports North (or FSN PLUS), with 10 originating from St. Cloud State and three from Minnesota Duluth. Those 13 games, along with 10 others for a total of 23 NCHC games, were elevated from a local/regional station to FOX College Sports, which is available nationally. A handful of NCHC games were also shown in Canada on one of TSN’s networks.
- Social Media – While the NCHC has established three of its social media platforms, the conference enhanced its arsenal in 2017-18 with the addition of Snapchat. During the season, a student-athlete from each team “took over” the NCHC Snapchat account to give fans a behind-the-scenes look heading into their weekend series. The account 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 4,100 followers from last season (26,670), Facebook gaining nearly 2,000 followers (11,343) and Instagram adding about 1,400 followers (5,407). To help provide more content during games on Twitter, the NCHC used SnappyTV for the first time in 2017-18 and tweeted 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.
- Weekly Newsletter – New in 2017-18 was a weekly digital newsletter the NCHC sent out each Friday morning to fans and media (anyone can sign up to receive it), that included a feature story, other news, a weekend preview video, the upcoming schedule, standings and more.
- Podcasts - Once again the conference produced the NCHC Radio Show, which was a podcast recapping and previewing the week in the NCHC that is available on iTunes and Podomatic. The show was also posted on NCHC.tv and played during teams’ radio broadcasts. In addition, the NCHC produced extended specialty podcasts focusing on the 2018 World Junior Championship and 2018 Winter Olympics, as well as interviews with NCHC alumni on the “Where Are They Now” podcast over the summer.
- Media Day – For the first time, NCHC Media Day was held at Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 20. Prior to the start of Media Day, the NCHC and Xcel Energy Center held a press conference officially welcoming the NCHC to its new home with several guests. 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, and a free live stream of the Xcel Energy Center press conference and State of the Conference address on NCHC.tv. SportsEngine also again helped run a live blog on NCHCHockey.com covering the day.
The NCHC continued its focus on education, communication and supervision with the Officiating Program.
- Staff - NCHC Director of Officiating Don Adam continued to lead the program for a fifth straight season. One referee was added to complete a 15-man NCHC referee roster for 2017-18. The NCHC used 28 linesmen during the season, including five newcomers. The referees are located throughout the country, while the linesmen are geographically clustered near member schools.
- Officiating Camps – Before the season began, the NCHC held its annual officiating camps in September. For the second straight year, the three-day referee camp was held in the Twin Cities to coincide with NCHC Media Day. One-day linesman camps were also held in Kalamazoo, Denver and the Twin Cities (following referee camp). The camps encompassed a wide spectrum of educational sessions for referees and linesmen, including on and off-ice training, as well as a focus on NCAA rule clarifications, team building and video review capabilities.
- Evaluation – During the season, the officials are evaluated and ranked by Adam and supervisors. They provide each official individual feedback and determine who has earned the opportunity to work the NCHC and NCAA Tournaments. Two NCHC officiating crews were selected to work the NCAA Tournament, including one that worked the NCAA Frozen Four.
- Promotion/Philanthropy – The NCHC continues to promote its “ninth team” through stories, videos and awards. In addition to the NCHC officials page on NCHCHockey.com, stories were written focusing on the NCHC officials Movember efforts, which raised more than $15,000 in 2017-18 thanks to a pair of silent auctions at Denver and North Dakota. Timm Walsh, through his Movember efforts, was awarded the fourth annual Mark Rudolph Officiating Achievement Award. The officials also continued their Butch Mousseau Mentoring Program that was established in 2016-17.
While most fans do not think about the behind the scenes organization of the conference, there are several documents, committees and governance structures to run the conference and outline operations. The governing documents are updated each offseason with policy and rule changes, while the leadership of various Boards, Councils and committees changes.
- Board of Directors – Represented by the Presidents/Chancellors
- The Board of Directors has general oversight of all decisions, with specific attention to membership, budget, commissioner employment and significant contract decisions. The Board delegates many other general policy decisions to the Athletic Council.
- Current Chair (2017-19): Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, Colorado College President
- Athletic Council – Represented by Athletics Directors
- The NCHC Athletic Council consists of the eight member institutions Athletics Directors, who have voting power on general, day-to-day conference policy decisions.
- Current Chair (2018-19): Josh Berlo, Minnesota Duluth Athletics Director
- Past Chair (2017-18): David Sayler, Miami Athletics Director
- Advisory Committee – The committee offers advice and guidance to the NCHC Commissioner, Athletic Council and Board of Directors in decision-making processes. The committee consisted of the following people for 2017-18:
- David Sayler, Miami Athletics Director (Chair)
- Josh Berlo, Minnesota Duluth Athletics Director
- Trev Alberts, Omaha Athletics Director
- Ron Grahame, Denver Deputy Athletics Director
- Faculty Athletics Representatives (FARs)
- FARs are involved in academic awards and post-graduate scholarship processes, participate on the Athletic Council and other committees, and look out for student-athlete welfare.
- Current Chair (2018-20): Dr. Ron Scott, Miami
- Other Committees – Meet as needed
- Head Coaches
- Finance-Audit Committee
- Conduct Committee
- Awards Committee
- Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC)
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
After another successful season in the books, the NCHC is focused on continued improvement as we approach the 2018-19 season. During the NCHC’s 2018 Annual Meetings in Naples, Fla. and Colorado Springs, Colo., many topics were discussed with some changes finalized. In addition, the conference will review its strategic plan, while taking into consideration feedback from fans, coaches, student-athletes and administrators. As always, most changes will be rooted in improving the fan and student-athlete experience.
- Scheduling – Beginning with the upcoming 2018-19 season, NCHC teams will conclude the regular season playing against their rivalry partner to allow for easier travel home the week prior to the conference tournament beginning. The rivals will alternate ending the regular season at home and away, but will still face each other in two series each season. While the 2019-20 schedule is already set, the 2020-21 conference schedule will be voted upon this summer and could see changes to the bye weekend structure in the second half of the season.
- Overtime – With 2018-19 being an NCAA rules change year, the conference will monitor any rulebook changes regarding overtime and adjust its overtime format if needed, based on what’s permissible by NCAA rules. The NCHC’s current overtime format will continue, assuming it’s allowed by the NCAA Rules Committee.
- Branding/Exposure/Fan Engagement
- NCHC.tv – While NCHC.tv received several technological upgrades, including mobile apps this past season, the conference will continue to focus on how to improve the fan experience and the quality of live streams moving forward. The NCHC plans to add a third Over-The-Top (OTT) app to the NCHC.tv platform -- an Amazon Fire TV Stick app for 2018-19, in addition to the already existing AppleTV and Roku apps.
- Television – The NCHC continues its national television partnership with CBS Sports Network, which will once again air 14 NCHC games in 2018-19, including the Frozen Faceoff semifinals and championship. The conference is working to continue the partnership with FOX Sports North (FSN), airing games from St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth on the regional sports network. The conference will also look to keep the national relationship with FOX, elevating games from FSN or other regional outlets to simulcast over FOX College Sports.
- NCHC Tournament/Frozen Faceoff
- Ticket Renewals – The conference is working with Xcel Energy Center to finalize the ticket renewal process for fans that attended the 2018 Frozen Faceoff and would like to renew their seats for 2019. Ticket renewal information will be announced in September.
- Fan Experience/Fan Engagement – The conference will review feedback from fans who attended the 2018 Frozen Faceoff to see what changes could be made to improve the various fan events associated with the championship weekend, as well as the in-game experience inside Xcel Energy Center.
- Third-Place Game – With the NCHC being the lone conference that still holds a third-place game on its championship weekend, the membership will continue exploring the possibility with Xcel Energy Center to eliminate the game. If removed, a Minnesota Wild game could replace it on Saturday afternoon. The earliest this could occur is the 2020 Frozen Faceoff due to schedule commitments. The conference will take into consideration scheduling, ticket pricing, fan and team experiences, and other financial factors before deciding.
- Officiating Fees – The Board of Directors approved an increase to both the referee and linesman game fees in 2018-19. This is the first fee increase in the conference’s five years.
- Secondary Medical Insurance – The NCHC is looking into options to offer its officials a secondary health insurance plan to help cover medical costs not covered under the officials’ primary plan. NCHC officials are considered independent contractors.
- Staffing – With some NCHC officials retiring and others not returning, Director of Officiating Don Adam expects to hire a limited number of new referees and linesmen for next season to complete the staff and ensure the NCHC has linesmen in all necessary geographic regions.
- Rule Changes – With 2018-19 being an NCAA rule change year, the conference will educate its officials on any new rules, rule changes or interpretations heading into next season. The rule changes will also be spotlighted at the NCHC’s Officiating Camps.
- Office Staff – While the NCHC has operated with three full-time staff members for the last two seasons, the conference will be adding a part-time intern in 2018-19. The position will assist with communications, new media and technology, as well as other areas of the office.
- National Topics
- Recruiting – Commissioner Josh Fenton, Colorado College Athletic Director Ken Ralph and Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin have been serving on an ad-hoc Men’s Ice Hockey Recruiting Committee along with other Division I men’s ice hockey commissioners, head coaches and athletic directors. The committee has been examining recent recruiting practices in men’s ice hockey and is working with the NCAA on ways to improve recruiting legislation in men’s college hockey to make a better experience for the student-athletes and more clearly defined recruiting rules for the schools themselves.
- NHL Development Summit – For three years, Commissioner Fenton has been one of three college hockey representatives on the NHL’s Hockey Development Summit Committee. The Hockey Development Summit is made up of stakeholders across all levels of the game. The focus of the group has been on improving experiences and opportunities for those who play the game at all levels. The NHL’s Declaration of Principles, which were announced last September, was a byproduct of the Hockey Development Summit.
As the National Collegiate Hockey Conference looks forward to 2018-19, the conference would like to thank all its fans for their support and passion during the NCHC’s fifth season. Without all the fans’ support, the conference would not be as strong as it is in only five short years. The feedback provided by fans is very valuable and helps steer our focus for improvements and changes going forward. As we head into the summer, we encourage fans to stay involved on social media and visit NCHCHockey.com and NCHC.tv (or download the mobile app). While preparing for the 2018-19 campaign, the NCHC hopes to create an even better fan and student-athlete experience next season. We can’t wait to see all our fans and student-athletes back in their arenas come October as we drop the puck on season number six!