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Commentary: UND destination games keep growing in popularity

The North Dakota Fighting Hawks celebrate a third period goal by defenseman Colton Poolman (6) during the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game against Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph

LAS VEGAS—The first sign that this might be a home run came on Feb. 9, 2013.

On that day, UND played an outdoor game against Omaha at T.D. Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.

Yes, UND drew more than 7,000 people to a game in Winnipeg a year earlier, but it was the Omaha outdoor game that really opened eyes.

UND fans flooded Omaha that weekend and turned the outdoor game into a home game, even though UND was technically the visitor.

It was after that weekend that fans printed t-shirts that said, "Every game is a home game."

And officials at UND and Ralph Engelstad Arena realized the potential of these unique, destination games.

They tried New York City in 2016 and far exceeded their own expectations about how many people would travel that far for a UND regular-season game. It was estimated that roughly 8,000 of the 11,348 in Madison Square Garden were Fighting Hawk fans.

The New York City success helped fuel the demand for the next destination game, which happened this weekend in Las Vegas.

Once again, it was a home run.

The game sold out in less than 10 seconds. More than 7,000 UND fans took over Las Vegas for a few days. They gathered for a wild pregame party outside the arena, and watched their team beat rival Minnesota 3-1.

Walking through the pregame tailgate, I repeatedly heard three things from fans:

• How great is this?

• They ran out of beer.

• I can't wait until Nashville. I'm definitely going.

During the college hockey regular season, is there anything going that's better than the UND destination game?

What other event can bring fans from 44 different states, five Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom and Japan like this one did?

What other event has so many people planning to attend two years out—before it's even officially announced?

The UND destination game is turning into a staple in the college hockey calendar once every two years thanks to the program's large passionate fan base, the work of Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson and his staff, and the success of the team on the ice.

The demand for tickets has been higher for each event than the one before it.

Omaha was bigger than Winnipeg.

New York City was bigger than Omaha.

Vegas was bigger than New York City.

And, assuming they get things finalized, Nashville 2020 will be bigger than Vegas.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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