Since first stepping inside the St. Paul Civic Center in late March of 1989 and being awed by the spectacle of the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four (then snappily known as the “NCAA Ice Hockey Championships”), I can admit to becoming a bit of an addict for this event.
Last March, I had an airline ticket purchased and plans made for my 28th Frozen Four, which was to be held in Detroit. Alas, the cruel hand of fate, and a nasty pandemic, quashed any Motown momentum, but hope prevails that a return to some kind of more normal life in 2021 will mean a return to the Frozen Four.
This week the NCAA announced the next round of host cities, so we now know where this event will be held for the next six hockey seasons. Here is a look at the good and the bad of all of the future sites, along with a few places we should hope to see the Frozen Four in the future, and a few past sites that we don’t need to revisit anytime soon.
Pittsburgh 2021, PPG Paints Arena (previously hosted in 2013)
- Good: The Penguins play in a relatively new downtown rink which is a great place to watch hockey. The ‘Burg has an underrated restaurant scene (they have the nation’s best pierogies and the famous deli sandwiches with french fries on them) and thanks to Mario and Sidney, has become a passionate hockey community.
- Bad: When we went there in 2013, transportation was a headache. The airport is small, and a long way from downtown, and before ridesharing apps were a thing, the community’s odd lack of taxis made getting around the city a headache.
- Bonus: Johnstown, where the iconic hockey movie “Slap Shot” was filmed, is an easy off-day trip through the scenic hills of western Pennsylvania.
Boston 2022, TD Garden (previously hosted in 1998, 2004 and 2015)
- Good: That odd little neighborhood sticking out into Boston harbor that you see from the air when landing at Logan Airport is Winthrop, Mass., is the home of both Mike Eruzione and Rick DiPietro. This is the eastern equivalent of Minnesota when it comes to hockey heritage and passion. Plus, it is the best Frozen Four trip for families, with endless walkable history in town.
- Bad: Boston is a big, eastern city, meaning it can be crowded and expensive. And, like a few other big cities, the Frozen Four can get “swallowed up” in everything else going on, especially when the Red Sox home opener and Bruins playoffs are happening at the same time.
- Bonus: Take the T to Harvard Square and just feel the history and intelligence that oozes out of the place that gave us John F. Kennedy and Facebook.
Tampa 2023, Amalie Arena (previously hosted in 2012 and 2016)
- Good: In 2012 when the Frozen Four went there the first time, many questioned why you would have a hockey tournament in Florida. Today, many seriously question why it should be held anywhere else. Tampa has everything: weather, a great rink, some hockey tradition, nearby bars and hotels and a local sports commission that does big events right.
- Bad: Florida is the least-drivable locale from the rest of the traditional college hockey world, and flights can be expensive. Orlando is a relatively short drive away, so look for theme park packages that can save some money on airfare and car rentals.
- Bonus: We flew to Tampa a week early and rented a condo on Anna Maria Island in 2012, making it a fun family beach/hockey vacation. Not something you can do in, say, Columbus.
St. Paul 2024, Xcel Energy Center (previously hosted in 2002, 2011 and 2018)
- Good: Welcome to the State of Hockey, where they do this event up top-notch. Xcel Energy Center is one of the great venues in the game, and there’s a fun “home ice advantage” thing happening where the three previous Frozens held there have all been won by Minnesota teams (the Gophers in 2002, the Bulldogs in 2011 and 2018).
- Bad: When Minnesota musician Prince crooned “Sometimes it Snows in April,” he wasn’t kidding. Winter can linger, creating travel headaches for those looking to fly into and out of MSP. You don’t come to Minnesota in April for the weather.
- Bonus: Go to Mall of America on the Saturday morning before the championship game and see if you can spot a fan in a jersey or sweatshirt from 50 or more college hockey programs. Betcha can.
St. Louis 2025, Enterprise Center (previously hosted in 2007)
- Good: Solid sports town, when it comes to baseball, but the Blues’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup has renewed the hockey passion (especially with the Cardinals playing mediocre ball). It is a short flight from much of the country, and the Arch is a good off-day attraction for visitors. Lots and lots of Anheuser-Busch products available everywhere, of course.
- Bad: St. Louis is the southern-most part of the Rust Belt, and has earned the title of the nation’s murder capital in a few recent years. We never felt unsafe there during the 2007 Frozen Four, but it remains a place where keeping an eye on your surroundings is wise.
- Bonus: The Hill is a classic Italian neighborhood in the city that is home to baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. It has an outstanding restaurant scene, although when asked about Ruggeri’s, a popular eatery there, Berra quipped, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”
Las Vegas 2026, T-Mobile Arena (first-time host)
- Good: The Frozen Four is headed west of the Rocky Mountains for the second time (after Anaheim in 1999) when it touches down just off The Strip in the relatively new home rink of the Golden Knights. There is plenty to see and do in the entertainment capital of the nation, and an abundance of hotel and flight availability. Plus we love the idea of Vegas-born rock stars The Killers singing the national anthem before the title game.
- Bad: Like Florida, it is a lengthy drive for much of the college hockey world to get to southern Nevada. And if you are turned off by bright lights, traffic and the endless temptations of “Sin City,” this might be one you watch on TV.
- Bonus: With the success of Arizona State’s program (without a real rink or a conference) there has been much talk of UNLV as the next western school to add hockey. We can think of no better time than now, with the chance of playing in a Frozen at home, for the Rebels to come aboard.
Three Frozen Four sites we would like to see in the future:
- Detroit: New rink, refurbished downtown, good hockey community, and definitely deserves another chance after losing the 2020 event to the pandemic.
- Nashville: Fantastic merger of hockey passion and live entertainment in a warm-weather site. Sadly, the overbooked home of the Predators did not bid on the event.
- Phoenix/Glendale: Great arena/hotel/restaurant/bar cluster in the suburban home of the Coyotes, and it is sunny and 82 with no clouds every day in April there.
Three past Frozen Four sites we do not need to re-visit:
- Buffalo: Small, cold, tough to get to, tougher to get out. It’s a nice rink, the people are friendly and they play “O Canada” before games, but twice (2003, 2019) is plenty for a while.
- Cincinnati: Nearly everything about the 1996 Frozen Four was a disaster, starting with an empty run-down rink where the ice plant was damaged. We like the chili. That’s not enough.
- Chicago: Much to see and do, and centrally located, but the 2017 Frozen Four got lost there, and the United Center is a long way from downtown, in a rough neighborhood.