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UMD home ice set to host 21st annual Ice Breaker this weekend

In this file photo, the crowd watches as the UMD men's hockey team plays against Alberta last year at Amsoil Arena. Bob King / Forum News Service

DULUTH, Minn. — Duluth's Amsoil Arena is the site of the 21st annual Ice Breaker Tournament this weekend and not since the 2012 NCAA Women's Frozen Four has the almost seven-year-old building hosted a college hockey tournament of this magnitude.

But no one inside Amsoil is worried. That's because the home of Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey was made for weekends like this.

"This building was specifically built to do tournaments of this size," said DECC Venue Operations Director Jeff Stark. "We have enough locker room space, we have enough auxiliary space to make it work. We're excited to have the Ice Breaker. It's something we've been targeting since 2010 when we opened the building."

The Ice Breaker Tournament is put on by College Hockey Inc. and the commissioners of NCAA Division I hockey's six conferences. The tournament is considered the annual kickoff to the men's season and includes teams from four conferences.

This year's tournament features Michigan Tech of the WCHA taking on Eastern College Athletic Conference member Union at 4:07 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, followed by the NCHC's Bulldogs vs. the Big Ten's Minnesota at 7:37 p.m. The winners meet in the championship Saturday, Oct. 7, while the losers play in the consolation. No matter what the results, the Gophers will play at 4:07 p.m., while the Bulldogs play at 7:37 p.m.

UMD has competed in two previous Ice Breakers as guests, most recently in 2014 at Notre Dame and in 2003 at Michigan State.

"It's awesome, we get a chance to play at home against some great teams," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "A lot of people did a lot of work and certainly need to be thanked for putting this together. We tried to get it here in Year 2 of the rink and it was awarded elsewhere. We stayed after it."

Amsoil Arena is used to handling a packed hockey schedule, regularly hosting doubleheaders for the UMD men and women — there are three such weekends this season. Then there is what the staff at the DECC has dubbed "Semifinal Saturday" when the arena is host to eight teams for the Section 7A and 7AA high school semifinals.

Amsoil Arena ice maintenance supervisor Jake Magdzas said for him and his crew, it's all about paying attention to detail on a weekend like this.

"It's nothing new for us," said Magdzas, who along with his brother, Zach, have been in charge of the ice at Target Center for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff each of the previous two seasons. "We know the protocol and what needs to be done. With that (NCHC) experience, I have full confidence in the building and in the crew that we shouldn't have any issues this weekend."

Stark said the ultimate goal for Amsoil Arena in the future is to host an NCAA men's regional tournament, having been built to the NCAA's specifications for hosting such an event with plenty of locker rooms, banquet space, possible media work areas and auxiliary press seating.

All of that came in handy last March when the UMD women hosted Minnesota in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal.

In the future, Stark said Amsoil Arena would consider a joint bid with another community to host international events such as Under-18 World Championships or the Women's World Championship if the terms and timing were right.

Also high on the priority list is another NCAA Women's Frozen Four, as well as the women's WCHA Final Face-Off.

"It's been rotating around a little bit and we're hoping to get in on that rotation as well," Stark said of the WCHA's championship weekend.