For the second time in two years, the NCHC is expanding. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) announced on Wednesday that the University of St. Thomas has been accepted as a full-time member of the NCHC beginning in the 2026-27 season. The decision was approved with a unanimous vote from the NCHC Board of Directors on Tuesday night.

With the addition of St. Thomas, the NCHC will become a 10-team conference in two seasons when the Tommies are officially welcomed as an NCHC member on July 1, 2026. Last July, the NCHC announced the addition of Arizona State University, with the Sun Devils set to be the NCHC’s ninth member starting on July 1, 2024. Those two schools will join Colorado College, the University of Denver, Miami University, the University of Minnesota Duluth, the University of Nebraska Omaha, the University of North Dakota, St. Cloud State University and Western Michigan University in composing the NCHC’s membership.

“The NCHC is excited to welcome the University of St. Thomas to our ranks in 2026-27. During our annual NCHC meetings in Naples, the athletics directors engaged in robust conversation about the Conference’s vision and goals in the current NCAA landscape, including membership. St. Thomas’s institutional vision and commitment to nationally competitive hockey, as well as their central location in our footprint and new facility, make them an ideal fit,” NCHC Commissioner Heather Weems said. “The window of opportunity arose quickly, and we worked efficiently with our Board of Directors, Athletics Council, and the University of St. Thomas to achieve expansion. I want to thank St. Thomas President Rob Vischer and Vice President and Director of Athletics Phil Esten for their vision and investment in hockey. We expect they will compete well against our current members and only strengthen the depth and quality of the NCHC.”

St. Thomas heads to the NCHC after making the jump to Division I for all sports beginning with the 2021-22 season. The Tommies recently completed their best-ever season in Division I men’s hockey, finishing as runner-up in the CCHA regular season with a 12-11-1 record. St. Thomas also hosted a first-round playoff series for the first time in 2024, compiling a 15-20-2 overall record after posting only three wins in its first season of Division I two years ago.

Prior to reclassifying to Division I, St. Thomas was a force in Division III men’s hockey, winning six conference championships in its last 10 seasons in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). The Tommies also made three NCAA Tournament appearances over their final nine years in Division III (17 overall D-III NCAA Tournament appearances) and have two D-III Frozen Four appearances in their history (2000, 2005).

“We are excited about the significant investments St. Thomas has made in hockey in recent years. They have proven to be an institution deeply committed to future success in hockey, and a 10th NCHC member will provide balance to our membership and scheduling,” said Western Michigan Vice President/Director of Athletics and Chair of the NCHC Athletics Council Dan Bartholomae. “This is certainly an excellent addition to the greatest conference in college hockey. We look forward to welcoming the Tommies in 2026.”

St. Thomas is scheduled to open Lee & Penny Anderson Arena in the fall of 2025 on campus, with work already underway. Anderson Arena will be a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose facility, which will serve as the home of St. Thomas men’s and women’s hockey, as well as men’s and women’s basketball. The 253,000 square foot Lee & Penny Anderson Arena will include two sheets of ice, a 12’x22’ center-hung videoboard in the main arena, three visiting team locker rooms and full student-athlete support services, such as strength and conditioning space, a shooting room, a fueling station and sports medicine facilities/training rooms.

Anderson Arena will have a capacity of 4,000 for hockey games when it opens, while it will be able to hold up to 5,300 people for a basketball game. Premium seating options for fans at future Tommies hockey games will include loge boxes, suites, a party deck, a Champions Club and club seating.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am thrilled to welcome the University of St. Thomas to the NCHC. St. Thomas is an excellent institution of higher education that will add academic and competitive value to our conference,” said University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor and Chair of the NCHC Board of Directors Dr. Joanne Li. “Since transitioning to the Division I level, St. Thomas has made significant investments into its athletic department and facilities that has positioned its hockey program well to compete successfully in the NCHC.”

The University of St. Thomas is located in Saint Paul, Minn. and has an enrollment of 9,146. The Catholic university, which first opened in 1885, has produced approximately 115,000 alumni, with more than 85 percent residing in the Twin Cities metro area. St. Thomas is located in a top-15 media market nationally that is home to six major professional sports teams. The Tommies themselves sponsor 21 Division I sports, including men’s and women’s ice hockey, with the majority of their other sports in The Summit League.

“The NCHC is among the premier conferences in all of college hockey and we are thrilled to announce our membership in 2026. The move aligns with our institutional and athletics trajectory and we are enthusiastic about the new strategic opportunities this will bring our University and department as we will bring new rivalries to St. Paul and compete in expanded markets nationally,” said St. Thomas Vice President and Director of Athletics Phil Esten. “I would like to thank Commissioner Weems, University of Nebraska Omaha Chancellor Joanne Li, and the entire NCHC Board of Directors for the invitation and support as St. Thomas joins one of the most competitive conferences in college hockey.”

While the NCHC will continue with a 24-game conference schedule through at least the 2025-26 season, the scheduling model, parameters and rotation for the 2026-27 season and beyond are still to be determined. The NCHC’s postseason format beginning in 2027 is also still to be finalized. The final Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul will be this upcoming 2024-25 season, while starting in 2026, the NCHC will move its playoffs to a three-week tournament entirely on campus sites.

The Tommies will play the next two seasons in the CCHA before beginning NCHC competition and battling for the Penrose Cup starting in 2026-27.

The NCHC has won six NCAA National Championships in its first 11 seasons, with Denver (2017, 2022 and 2024) winning three, including this season, Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) winning two and North Dakota (2016) earning the NCHC’s first national title. NCHC teams have combined to make 14 Frozen Four appearances in conference history, as well as 39 NCAA Tournament berths.

(info courtesy of NCHC)

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