NHL and North Dakota: Everything you need to know about the league’s possible return

It’s been more than three weeks now since the NHL went on pause on March 12. Since then a number of ideas have been tossed out in regards to how and when the league will stage the season if it resumes.

One proposal, as reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, has the NHL playing the rest of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs in North Dakota, if given the all-clear to resume play amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 31 NHL teams have between 11 and 14 regular-season games remaining with four playoff rounds to potentially play.

Why North Dakota?

A Great Plains state, North Dakota has a population of 762,062, per the 2019 census, and the fourth-lowest population density in the United States. The 19th-largest in area, it also has the fourth smallest population.

According to CNN, as of April 6, it has the second-lowest number of reported cases among the 50 states with 207 cases, which equates to 27 per 100,000 residents. By comparison, New York which has been the hardest hit state has 672 cases per 100,000.

What is the potential venue?

The Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks is the home of the University of North Dakota Division I men’s ice hockey team and has served as the host for two international events: the 2005 World Junior Championships and the 2016 World Under-18 men’s tournament.

Opened in 2001, the $104 million facility holds a capacity crowd of 11,643 and includes a 10,000 sq. ft. weight room and underwater treadmill, 14 locker rooms, and an extra sheet of ice that is Olympic-sized.

Current NHLers including Brock Boeser (Canucks), Aaron Dell (Sharks), Derek Forbort (Flames), Zach Parise (Wild), T.J. Oshie (Capitals) and Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks) played their college hockey for UND at Engelstad Arena.

Reactions around the league

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice spoke Monday to reporters about the possibility of his team playing in North Dakota and other neutral sites for the Stanley Cup playoffs, stressing the preference is to play in front of hometown fans.

“It’s gonna be something unusual,” he said. “The first thought is the Winnipeg Jets fans, I’d like to play in front of them, right? Everybody wants to play in front of their home crowd.”

Before the season was paused, the Jets were sitting in the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The veteran head coach added that he just wants to play, no matter the location.

“I’m not much of a TV watcher at all, but I’ve been surfing TV recently at night and if there was a hockey game on, man, I’d be watching it,” Maurice said. “I don’t care where games are played. I want it at home in Winnipeg, but we just want to play. It’d be wonderful, maybe partial distraction, for some people who are dealing with tough times to watch a game.”

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