MILWAUKEE — Those involved with launching a holiday college men’s hockey tournament at Fiserv Forum next season are looking to go big.
Rick Giles, the president of event promoter Gazelle Group, said he wants the Holiday Face-Off that will feature the University of Wisconsin to be the top college hockey event of the season.
“That’s not hype,” Giles said. “Our goal is to sell it out.”
The inaugural event, scheduled for Dec. 28-29, was formally unveiled at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday, with arena and Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin calling it the beginning of the road map of bidding on a Frozen Four.
The Badgers will be joined by Arizona State, Clarkson and UConn in the first year of a tournament that has a three-year contract with UW. That contract calls for the Badgers to get paid $20,000 per year.
The first-round matchups haven’t been announced.
It’s not exactly the Badger Hockey Showdown, which was for a while a major box-office success in a 14-year run at the Bradley Center that ended in 2002. But organizers are hoping to get back to that era with the tournament.
“We’ve been trying to put this together for a while,” Feigin said. “And, of course, having the Badgers involved is just another real boost for us to create something that has real substance.”
It’ll be the first hockey event at Fiserv Forum, which opened in 2018. Along with that comes a long list of logistical challenges, from obtaining plexiglass and protective netting to making sure there are enough portable fans to dry equipment in locker rooms.
Feigin and Giles said the arena, which was built for basketball but has ice-making capabilities, will have a hockey capacity of between 15,000 and 16,000.
“It’s a sensational building,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “Obviously, the Bucks are doing extremely well. There’s a lot of buzz and excitement about sports in Milwaukee, and to come in here and be part of it and be associated with it, for us, it’s a winning combination.”
Granato called Milwaukee “a special area to our program” because of the 14 years the Badger Hockey Showdown was played at the Bradley Center, which stood immediately to the south of the Fiserv Forum. UW also won the 2006 NCAA championship at the since-demolished facility.
That was the last of three Frozen Fours played in Milwaukee. Feigin said he’s interested in bringing it back, but the facility didn’t enter a bid this year for openings from 2023 to 2026.
Fiserv Forum has bid to host NCAA basketball and volleyball tournaments, and putting on the Holiday Face-Off will help show how feasible it would be to host the NCAA hockey championship.
“We spent a lot of time talking with the NCAA, talking with Marquette and Wisconsin as sponsors for, really, a lot of Big Ten sports, a lot of NCAA tournaments,” Feigin said.
Giles connected with staff at Fiserv Forum in discussing his New Jersey-based company’s interest in staging a hockey tournament. Once Gazelle Group had a building and dates, it went looking for teams.
Some of the teams for the 2021 and 2022 events are in place, said Giles, who didn’t disclose them.
“We want to mix in some other teams that are a little bit more geographic to this region,” he said. “But we also want it to be a national event. We want to bring teams that are highly ranked from back East and around the country to play here.”
As for the prospect of capturing attention at a time when the holidays and college football bowl games are front and center, Giles said his company was being careful not to price out fans.
Tickets for the 2020 tournament, which go on sale to the general public on Thursday, will be $10 for students and up to $75 for premium seating areas. Two-thirds of the seats in the building will sell for $35 or less, Giles said.
“We think people are going to want to come into the building for something different just like they do now,” Giles said. “There’s only so many Bucks tickets. Now people come for other kinds of shows. This will be something unique. There’s no other hockey event here.”
Badgers freshman center Alex Turcotte was named the Big Ten Conference’s third star for the second straight week. He recorded a goal and two assists against Ohio State last weekend.
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