While the dreams of Bridgestone Arena hosting a NCAA Frozen Four have yet to materialize, college hockey will be coming to Nashville next year. As part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame celebrations, the annual collegiate game will be held on Bridgestone ice with perennial powerhouse North Dakota and one of the best offenses over the last year in Penn State.
The Nashville Predators obviously have a few connections to North Dakota, most notably prospect Grant Mismash who, should he not sign with the Predators before the game, will be playing as a senior. However, Rocco Grimaldi is also an alumni of North Dakota’s prestigious program, who launched the careers of Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Brock Boeser, and Zach Parise.
“As a former North Dakota player, it’s great to see UND get a chance to play a game in my new home of Nashville,” said Grimaldi to reporters upon the announcement. “I’m excited to see Bridgestone Arena packed out in green with the best traveling fans in college hockey. I know the atmosphere is going to be crazy and hopefully it will be a fun game for the players and fans.”
Penn State is no slouch of a program either, despite being new to the college hockey scene. Founded in 2012, Penn State won the Big Ten Conference Championship in 2017 and has qualified for back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. For those World Junior fanatics out there, Aarne Talivite—the captain of last year’s gold medal winner Team Finland and the tournament MVP—is a sophomore for Penn State. Additionally, head coach Guy Gadowsky loves to play a high-pressure, turnover-based system that leads to tons of odd-man rushes for both teams. There’s nothing that Penn State loves doing more than scoring goals, and they do a lot of it.
More details about tickets are yet to be released, but this should be a thrilling event for the growth of hockey. The only NCAA Division 1 hockey team in the Southeast United States is the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Despite there being a respected AAA youth hockey program in Nashville in the Jr. Predators, there is no intermediary link in the south between elite youth hockey and professional hockey. The growth of the college game in the South is the missing piece. As more schools such as Arizona State and Illinois add hockey programs, this game will be a huge test for how college hockey can fare in a region where there is nearly no blueprint on how to create a sustainable program.