GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota hockey team is headed back to Las Vegas.
This time, the Fighting Hawks are doing it big.
Close to four years after UND played Minnesota in a raucous, sold-out game in the 7,500-seat Orleans Arena, the Fighting Hawks will return to Vegas and play at T-Mobile Arena, the 17,500-seat home of the NHL's Golden Knights.
UND will play Arizona State on Oct. 29, 2022 in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. The game time is tentatively set for 7:07 p.m.
It will be the first-ever meeting between the programs.
The Herald previously reported the schools had verbally agreed to the game. Now, the contract has been signed.
UND will be designated as the home team for the game. The Fighting Hawks will pay Arizona State a $40,000 guarantee and the Sun Devils will receive 100 complimentary tickets.
If either team backs out of the agreement, there's a $75,000 buyout penalty.
This means UND will play destination games in back-to-back years. The Fighting Hawks are scheduled to play Penn State in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 30.
UND's first venture into Las Vegas occurred on Oct. 27, 2018. The Fighting Hawks beat rival Minnesota 3-1 behind two goals from East Grand Forks Senior High graduate Colton Poolman.
The event was wildly successful. The 7,500 tickets sold out immediately and UND and Ralph Engelstad Arena officials privately pondered whether they could have played at the larger T-Mobile instead.
Now, they'll get their chance.
Las Vegas, known as one of the world's top party cities, is a popular destination for fans. The abundance of flights and hotel rooms in the city make travel easier and more affordable than other potential spots.
The 2022 Hall of Fame Game opponent, Arizona State, will fuel interest, too. Las Vegas is a drivable destination from the Sun Devils' home of Tempe. Arizona State has played there once before, beating Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech in the Las Vegas Invitational in January 2018.
While UND and Ralph Engelstad Arena officials also looked at possibly putting the 2022 destination game in Seattle, perhaps its relationships in Las Vegas won out.
The school already worked with Las Vegas and T-Mobile Arena to bid on hosting an NCAA Frozen Four there. That bid was successful and the first-ever Las Vegas Frozen Four will happen in 2026.
The city also is home for benefactors Betty Engelstad and Kris Engelstad McGarry. They are the wife and daughter of the late Ralph Engelstad, a former UND goalie and Vegas developer who built UND's current $104-million arena. When UND played Minnesota in Las Vegas in 2018, it warmed up in jerseys with Engelstad's name and number, 23, on the back.
Because the NCAA ruled the pandemic-altered 2020-21 season did not count against anyone's college eligibility, three UND players who suited up in the 2018 Vegas game could do it again in 2022: captain Mark Senden, alternate captain Gavin Hain and alternate captain Jasper Weatherby.
"It was crazy," UND forward Rhett Gardner said after the 2018 Vegas game. "I’ve been to a Frozen Four, played in a ton of games at The Ralph and the Fargo regional — that was the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. It was incredible. I’m so glad we got a win to reward all the people that came down here and wore green all week."
Poolman, the team captain that season, added: "That was crazy. I’ll remember that noise forever. That was really loud. That came close to what The Ralph sounds like. They made it such a cool experience and I’m so happy we all came down here and played the way we did, because that’s how we’re going to remember it."
UND has generally been spacing out destination games every other year.
In 2016, it played against Boston College in New York City. In 2018, it played against Minnesota in Las Vegas. The Nashville game was originally supposed to be played in 2020, but was backed up a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The upcoming Nashville and Las Vegas destination games will mark first-time meetings between UND and a couple of college hockey's newer Division-I programs, Penn State and Arizona State.
The only other Division-I opponents UND has never faced are Connecticut, Bentley, Mercyhurst, RIT, Sacred Heart and D-I newcomers Long Island University and St. Thomas.