ALL ACCESS PASS: Setting women’s college hockey’s biggest stage

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 10:54 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - The vision began four years ago when UMD and AMSOIL were in the final pool to become a possible Frozen Four host city.

When UMD won the bid to host the 2023 Frozen Four tournament, they understood the assignment and accepted the challenge.

The City of Duluth is expected to see a significant economic impact as they receive traffic and recognition under the national championship spotlight.

The first time was back in 2012 when the Minnesota Gophers were crowned national champions.

UMD’s Athletic Director of Compliance and Frozen Four Director Abbey Strong says between all of the preparation with partnerships and collaboration between various departments and organizations, she’s just excited for this vision to become reality on center ice.

“I knew how hard it is and how many details go into it, so I knew it was going to be a lot of work from the get-go, but I knew it was going to be fun for Duluth,” said Strong. “AMSOIL is an amazing facility for hockey and our location. We have some of the best fans in hockey. We have the third-highest attendance for women’s hockey so that’s a huge part of it. We want to fill that building and have the best experience for student-athletes.”

Strong says AMSOIL has been an amazing partner and she looks forward to celebrating a weekend full of women’s hockey.

So what goes into hosting a national tournament?

The women aren’t the only teams who have taken their talents to the ice this weekend. Reporter Alexis Bass had backstage access to see the stage set for this year’s Frozen Four.

“When we unrolled the Frozen Four logo yesterday I was like a little kid in the candy shop,” said Jake Madgas, DECC Ice & Grounds Foreperson. “I’m just going like ‘oh my gosh it’s happening, it’s real’.”

The weekend of March 17th was circled on the calendar for quite some time.

“It’s been a blur for the last four months,” said Troy Olson of SOTA Signs & Graphics. “They called and said ‘we got the bid’ and just kind of started moving on from there and started working. It’s exciting for our community, ya know, it’s a great event for Duluth to host. We get to showcase our beautiful arena here.”

The event promises to bring the City of Duluth and the sport together, but before the puck drops, a lot of work has to be done behind the scenes to get the arena up to tournament standards.

“Knowing how much work goes into it, it’s not something you dread, but you got a lot of stuff to do this week,” said Olson.

AMSOIL’s Iceman Jake Magdzas proves that setting the scene for a national tournament is both a science and an art.

“Starting last Thursday, when both the men and women’s teams left for their games this past weekend, we started working on the ice. We took it roughly from an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half of ice, shaved it down to a quarter of an inch, and painted over it on Saturday. And then [we] re-logoed and rebranded the neutral zone logos that you see here now,” said Magdzas.

In order to paint the 17,000 square foot canvas, it took 12,000 gallons of water, 300 gallons of paint, eight icemen, and seven new logos. All was transformed in just about 30 hours.

But the ice wasn’t the only part of this venue that would require meticulous planning in part of this massive transformation.

Olson was tasked with his biggest operation and marketing mission yet: creating a championship stage by following detailed protocols from the NCAA to ensure neutral advertising at AMSOIL.

“[It’s] a little nerve-racking and a little overwhelming, but taking a look into the depth to each sign I knew we could do it,” said Olson.

He partnered with Duluth Signs, Stat Design in Grand Rapids, and Section 127-- a firm that specializes in designing advertisements for big events including NCAA national championships like this one.

“It’s very complex. In Excel we have everything documented down, how long each install should take, which ones we are starting with, which ones are a priority, and which ones are team specific.”

From the hotels to lockerrooms, to around the arena itself, there are about 160 different signs, graphics, and decals displayed.

Everything from custom game nets, bench pads, shovels, water bottle carriers, zambonies, and advertisements are filtered throughout AMSOIL.

But even that doesn’t “break the ice.”

Along the inner perimeter of the bowl, 494 square feet of vinyl boards have been individually installed adding to the extensive hours put in at AMSOIL.

One section of new vinyl boards installed for the 2023 Frozen Four
One section of new vinyl boards installed for the 2023 Frozen Four(Northern News Now)

“It’s amazing how much vinyl can change an arena or a room just by putting it up,” said Olson. “It brightens everything up and makes it look a lot better”

It all begins Friday afternoon when No. 5 Northeastern faces the defending national champs and top-ranked Ohio State.

The puck drops for that first semifinal at 2:30 p.m.

Then at 6 p.m., it’s a border battle when the No. 2 Minnesota Gophers take on the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers in the second semifinal.

“Really making it a top-notch, world-class event for people to attend not only for the players but for any fans as well,” said Magdzas. Ya know, they really try to spruce things up and make it look beyond presentable, I’d almost say like an NHL facility.”

The spotlight is on, the stage is set, and a new national champion is ready to light the lamp and hoist the trophy in Duluth, Minnesota.

For tickets to the event, you can visit UMD’s website.