The NCAA Frozen Four ascends upon Xcel Energy Center beginning Thursday and ending with the title game on Saturday.
For 26 players it’s a return to their home state of Minnesota, and for a majority of natives it’s back to a hockey hallowed ground that has already yielded success.
Not only did the lone team representing Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, claim their first-ever title in program history at Xcel Energy Center in 2011—the last time St. Paul hosted the Frozen Four—but a number of players have either participated or won the coveted Minnesota State High School boy’s hockey tournament in the same building.
Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin led the Bulldogs to the championship banner seven years ago and was witness to his son, Ryan, winning back-to-back state titles with Hermantown High School in 2016 and 2017.
“I mean the national championship for me [was special],” Sandelin said, identifying that feat as his top moment at Xcel Energy Center. “When you do something for the first time in program history, it's special.
“I would probably say real close to that is watching my [son]. I actually didn't see the second state championship, I saw the first state championship, so I'll put that right underneath (winning our national championship). Not to be selfish, but it was pretty special for our program to do that here.”
Bulldog defenseman Dylan Samberg captained that Hermantown team.
“Any Frozen Four is extremely special, but knowing it's in Saint Paul, that kind of meant a little more to me.”
Notre Dame defenseman Jordan Gross (Maple Grove)
Notre Dame senior defenseman Jordan Gross, who pushed the Fighting Irish past the first round with an overtime goal against Providence College in the NCAA East Regional semifinals, was a part of a Maple Grove High School squad that made its first-ever state tournament appearance in 2012. Fate wasn’t in store for Gross and Maple Grove, who were knocked out in the first round.
“Any Frozen Four is extremely special, but knowing it's in Saint Paul, that kind of meant a little more to me,” Gross said.
Gross’ Notre Dame teammate Dylan Malmquist was on the winning end of state with the Edina Hornets, capturing back-to-back titles in Class AA in 2013 and 2014 along with Ohio State’s Miguel Fidler. Bulldogs forward Joey Anderson made a state tournament appearance with the Hill Murray Pioneers in 2013. The list goes on.
And while some are getting re-acquainted with the Minnesota Wild’s home facility, three Wild prospects will be familiarizing themselves with what could be their potential NHL home rink. Avery Peterson (Minnesota Duluth), Nick Swaney (Minnesota Duluth) and Nicholas Boka (Michigan) all have their rights owned by the Wild. Minnesota leads all 31 NHL teams with three prospects competing for the championship banner this weekend.
Ultimately, players and coaches from top to bottom seem to be happy to be hosted by Minnesota.
“I wanna give a shoutout to St. Paul and the Xcel Energy Center,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “When…you're looking for different places to put (the tournament), this is one of the cities that comes to mind right away. You could almost do it every year here. They do a fantastic job here.”