GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota hockey team might not play a game in front of fans for the rest of the season.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, no fans will be allowed at UND's first-round National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff series against Colorado College this weekend.
The NCHC has not yet barred fans from attending the NCHC Frozen Faceoff next weekend in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, but that decision could come later on.
"Following the lead of the NCAA, best practices of others, and at the recommendation of local and state health officials regarding COVID-19, the NCHC and its member institutions have decided that the four NCHC Quarterfinal Series this weekend (March 13-15) will be closed to the public. Attendance will be restricted to only student-athletes, coaches, event and team staff, credentialed media and student-athlete family members," the league announced in a statement.
Fans looking for a ticket refund should contact UND's ticket office.
The NCHC will stream all games for free on NCHC.tv.
NCAA tournament to be played without fans
The NCAA hockey tournament, which will begin in two weeks, also will be played without fans. NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement Wednesday afternoon that it would turn away fans at all of its sanctioned events -- including men's and women's basketball -- as coronavirus concerns grow nationwide.
Only essential staff and limited family members will be allowed to attend.
"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel," Emmert said. "Based on their advice and my discussion with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance. While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States.
"The decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."
That means UND will play its NCAA regional hockey tournament games in front of a nearly empty arena.
The NCAA regionals are scheduled for March 27-29 in Loveland, Colo., Albany, N.Y., Worcester, Mass., and Allentown, Pa. UND is the No. 1-ranked team in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to seed and select the 16-team NCAA tournament field. So, the Fighting Hawks are a lock to be in the field.
The Frozen Four, which also will be played in front of an empty arena, is scheduled for April 9-11 in Detroit's Little Caesars Arena.
Quickly changing landscape
At 4:13 p.m. Wednesday, Ralph Engelstad Arena was still planning on holding its series against Colorado College as planned and even released a statement saying so.
But by the end of the night, that changed.
Players comment on fan-less games
UND players talked about the possibility of fans being barred from events during Wednesday morning's press conference in The Ralph.
"It (will) be different, because our fans are such a big deal to us and how passionate they are," UND captain Colton Poolman said. "Obviously, we want our fans, but you've got to be safe, too, at the same time and follow recommendations and guidelines."
UND defenseman Andrew Peski said he's gotten a taste of playing in poor fan environments before.
"I used to play in a junior league back home in Ottawa, where a couple of the lower-tier teams, there weren't so many people," Peski said. "You'd get some parents and maybe a couple people wandering in like, 'I wonder what's going on here?' I've done it before. It's not fun. It's always better hopping out on the ice and seeing a big crowd with lots of energy."
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