NCAA Men’s Hockey Regional Packs Centene Community Ice Center with Marquee Teams Set to Face Off Tonight and Sunday

ST. LOUIS – March 29, 2024 – Brand name programs, elite college talent, a jam-packed arena, national television coverage, and visitors from all around the country.  The St. Louis region has it all this weekend as the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Regional descends on Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights.  Of the four teams scheduled to play in the Maryland Heights Regional, three of them are traditional powerhouses with 20 national championships combined, and there are 34 NHL draft picks among the four rosters.  “This is our hockey version of March Madness,” said St. Louis Sports Commission President Marc Schreiber.

Two semifinal games will be played back-to-back tonight at Centene Community Ice Center, with the winners advancing to a regional final at Centene on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2.  The winner of that game will move on to the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn. 

The regional’s top seed is Michigan State, which has experienced a resurgence this season following a 12-year absence from the NCAA Tournament.  The Spartans hockey program has ties to St. Louis, with St. Louis Blues defenseman Torey Krug a proud Michigan State alum and the Spartans last Frozen Four championship coming in St. Louis in 2007.  Michigan State plays in-state rival Western Michigan at 4 p.m. today on ESPNU. 

Western Michigan makes its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and is no stranger to Centene Community Ice Center, having played two games in the venue against Lindenwood University this past January.  With Centene’s intimate setting and an already sold-out crowd of more than 3,100 fans, tickets were tough to get but the players on all four teams are excited for the raucous atmosphere that awaits them.  “Obviously not a lot of seats here, so the atmosphere is going to be loud, it’s going to be crazy, and we’re really excited for it,” said Western Michigan junior forward Dylan Wendt. 

Western Michigan coach Pat Ferschweiler said, “We’ve played the past couple years in a bigger venue that wasn’t full.  All four teams here are used to playing in sold out arenas, so at least this building is going to be full and have energy and that’s what these guys deserve this time of year.”

The other regional semifinal game tonight features two “blue bloods” of college hockey as North Dakota faces Michigan at 7:30 p.m.  For Michigan goaltender Jake Barczewski, there is added significance as the O’Fallon, Mo., native returns home to play in the biggest game of his career in front of more than 30 family and friends.  “Still trying to wrap my head around it honestly, it’s pretty special and just going to enjoy the moment, go out there and have fun,” Barczewski said.  “It’s nice to be home for sure but at the end of the day you’ve got to put distractions aside whenever it comes (to) gametime.  Obviously it’ll be a packed place for my family but we’re just staying focused on the task at hand.” 

North Dakota will try to spoil Barczewski’s homecoming as the Fighting Hawks bring an experience-laden and battle-tested group into the Maryland Heights regional.  North Dakota averages more than 13,000 fans at home games, and their rabid fan base is considered the best traveling fans in college hockey. 

The St. Louis region is ready to welcome all the fans coming to experience the passion and pageantry of college hockey.  There will be pep bands, cheerleaders, student sections, and all the trappings of a major NCAA event, and it is a prelude to St. Louis hosting the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four for the first time in 18 years next spring. 

“What’s really exciting about this year’s regional is to be able to play it at Centene Community Ice Center and have a capacity there where there is a great demand for tickets and it also provides an outstanding student-athlete and fan experience,” Schreiber said.  “At the same time, the regional whets the appetite for local hockey fans and traveling college hockey fans for the much-anticipated return of the Frozen Four to St. Louis in 2025.  The Frozen Four will sell out Enterprise Center, be another boost for our hospitality industry, and be a fabulous showcase event for St. Louis.”