Frozen Four back at Xcel Center in 2011

The Gophers will also play host to a regional in 2009, the NCAA announced Thursday.

Matt Perkins

Nineteen thousand three hundred twenty-four hockey fans share the first-hand memory of one of the – if not the – most thrilling finishes in NCAA men’s hockey history when Maine and Minnesota faced off in the 2002 NCAA Championship at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

It was a defining moment for the State of Hockey, and, more importantly, an epic tale that Gophers players and fans will always be able to share.

And with the 2011 Frozen Four scheduled to return to the Xcel, diehard fans are already preparing their scrapbooks for what hopes to be a repeat of what many thought to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“The fact is that the Xcel Center is probably the greatest hockey arena in the world, and I’ve played at a lot of different places,” said Grant Potulny, the former Gophers forward who scored the overtime goal that gave Minnesota the 2002 national championship.

Along with the Frozen Four, the Gophers will play host to the 2009 West Regional at Mariucci Arena.

But coach Don Lucia said 2009 and 2011 are just too far away.

“If I had it my way, places like Minnesota and Boston would get to host (the Frozen Four) more often,” Lucia said. “I mean, in my opinion, (the Xcel Energy Center) is the nicest place you could imagine to play hockey in.”

Lucia said he was not too keen on the 2010 Frozen Four being held at Ford Field in Detroit, the first time the NCAA has ever tried to hold the event at a football stadium.

The NCAA threw hockey fans for another loop when it accepted Tampa Bay’s bid for the 2012 Frozen Four. Tampa currently does not even have a Division I hockey team, and Alabama-Huntsville will play host to the tournament even though it is located approximately 600 miles from the St. Pete Times Forum.

But Lucia said the fact that the championship will be returning to the Xcel Energy Center is great news to college hockey fans for many obvious reasons.

“I have not been in a better facility,” Lucia said. “It’s player-friendly with four nice locker rooms, its fan-friendly – especially the location – they can get a hotel downtown and walk and, for the fans, the Mall of America is close by. And St. Paul is used to hosting big-time tournaments, and it’s just a great atmosphere and a great event there.”