Beginning with the 2026 conference tournament, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will be moving its playoffs entirely to campus sites, the NCHC announced Tuesday. The decision was approved unanimously by the NCHC’s Board of Directors on Monday, Dec. 18.
The 2026 NCHC Tournament and beyond will be played over three weeks. The biggest change sees the semifinals move to single elimination at two campus sites on the Saturday after the quarterfinals, with the championship game held at the highest remaining seed a week after the semifinals.
The new playoff format begins with a play-in game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, which will start with the 2025 NCHC Tournament when Arizona State University becomes a member of the NCHC and was first announced in August. Also, in the first week of the playoffs will be four best-of-three quarterfinal series, which have always been part of the NCHC Tournament format.
Starting in 2026, all NCHC Tournament games will be held at the higher seed, save for the No. 8 vs. No. 9 play-in game, which will be hosted by the No. 1 seed. As has always been the case, teams will be re-seeded following the quarterfinal round, which will determine the semifinal match-ups and host sites. The champion of the NCHC Tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“The NCHC Frozen Faceoff was introduced shortly after the inception of the Conference as a destination tournament in the Twin Cities. As the membership discussed the future of the NCHC in an increasingly competitive NCAA Division I environment, the rest and recovery available to our student-athletes in the final weeks of the season became of paramount importance,” said NCHC Commissioner Heather Weems. “The expansion to a three-week playoff immediately preceding NCAA regional play maintains the competitiveness of our Frozen Faceoff Championship while providing our teams with a better schedule for travel and rest. NCHC member institutions are excited to battle for home-site seeding and to play in front of loyal fans and supporters as they chase the Frozen Faceoff Trophy and automatic qualification into the NCAA Tournament.”
In the first year of the new tournament format, the 2026 NCHC Playoffs will begin on Wednesday, March 4 with the play-in game at the site of the No. 1 seed. The best-of-three quarterfinal series will take place from Friday, March 6 through Sunday, March 8, if necessary. The two semifinals will be held on Saturday, March 14 at the two highest remaining seeds, with the 2026 champion crowned on Saturday, March 21 at the highest remaining seed.
With the change in format, higher seeds advancing all the way to the championship game will play between four and five games in March leading into the NCAA Tournament, with limited travel. Under the current NCHC schedule and playoff structure, NCHC teams can play up to seven games in March heading into NCAA Regionals, with the potential for multiple weeks of travel.
“Prioritizing student-athlete and fan experience is paramount to the core of NCHC,” said Dr. Joanne Li, the Chair of the NCHC Board of Directors and Chancellor at the University of Nebraska Omaha. “Taking into consideration our student-athletes’ opinions, the NCHC is excited to take advantage of some of the top venues in college hockey and the incredible post-season atmospheres that will take place on our campus sites.”
Due to the extra week included in the NCHC Playoffs, conference play in the regular season will start a week earlier than in the past beginning with the 2025-26 season (Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in 2025). The full 2025-26 schedule will be released in the spring of 2025.
Media rights and coverage for the NCHC Tournament and Championship starting in 2026 and beyond will be announced at a later date.
The 2024 and 2025 NCHC Playoffs and Frozen Faceoffs will continue as scheduled, with the semifinals and championship held at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. The 2024 NCHC Tournament begins March 15-17 with best-of-three quarterfinal series on campus sites, while the Frozen Faceoff is set for March 22-23. All-session tickets to see the 2024 NCHC Tournament champion crowned at the Frozen Faceoff are now on sale. The 2024 and 2025 Frozen Faceoffs will once again be televised on CBS Sports Network. The 2025 NCHC Tournament will begin on Wednesday, March 12, 2025 with the play-in game at the No. 1 seed.
“The partnership we have enjoyed with Xcel Energy Center and Visit Saint Paul over the last six years has helped highlight the pinnacle of the NCHC season. The experience fostered for our student-athletes at the Frozen Faceoff in an NHL facility set the bar high and was embraced by Minnesota Wild President Matt Majka, Xcel Energy Center General Manager Kelly McGrath and their entire teams,” Weems said. “While we may be changing our playoff format starting in 2026, we are very grateful and thankful for the amazing relationship we share and the commitment they have made to help showcase our signature event. We look forward to celebrating our next two championships at Xcel Energy Center and hope fans will join us in Saint Paul for all the fun and excitement. The Frozen Faceoff in the Twin Cities will always be a big part of NCHC history.”
The NCHC has historically held its championship at a neutral site since play began in 2013-14, either at Target Center in Minneapolis (2014-17) or Xcel Energy Center (since 2018). The lone year the NCHC held its championship on a campus site was in 2021, when the entire tournament was single elimination and held at the University of North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(info courtesy of NCHC)