ALBANY — The Times Union Center lost out on hosting NCAA Tournament action in both men’s basketball and men’s hockey last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the arena is on the verge of recovering one of them right away.
Mike Kemp, the NCAA Men’s Hockey Committee chair, told Jess Myers of The Rink Live podcast on Monday that the Division I men’s hockey Northeast Regional scheduled for Manchester, New Hampshire, on March 27-28 would be relocated to Albany.
SNHU Arena officials and the host school University of New Hampshire had announced on Jan. 26 that the venue was withdrawing from holding the four-team event there because of ongoing COVID-19 safety concerns.
A person close to the situation in Albany confirmed that there will be an announcement from NCAA Hockey this week.
“They have experience, and that gives our committee a lot of comfort, knowing that they’ve hosted so many times, they’re familiar with the NCAA and with our event,” Kemp said by phone Tuesday evening. “So the comfort level to be able to step in and pick up the pieces here for us, that gives us a great deal of comfort.”
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Feb. 10 that sports and entertainment venues of at least 10,000 capacity would be allowed to open up to 10% of capacity, it stands to reason that the TU Center will be allowed to sell some tickets for the Northeast Regional.
Fan attendance would be contingent upon New York State Department of Health approval and COVID-19 safety rules.
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were scheduled to allow fan attendance at their respective home games on Tuesday, the first day the new policy was in effect.
Capacity for ice hockey at the TU Center is 14,236.
The NCAA is limiting attendance at the four regional sites and the Frozen Four, which will be held on April 8 and 10 at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, to 25% capacity.
The other regional sites are Bridgeport, Connecticut; Loveland, Colorado; and Fargo, North Dakota.
The 16-team field for the NCAA tournament will be announced on Sunday, March 21, and the regionals will start later that week.
The TU Center has hosted NCAA Division I regionals eight times and the Frozen Four twice, in 1992 (when it was called the Knickerbocker Arena), and in 2001 (as the Pepsi Arena).
Kemp, now the associate athletic director at Nebraska Omaha, was an assistant coach at Wisconsin when the Badgers played in the 1992 Frozen Four at the Knickerbocker Arena and in the 1994 East Regional. As the head coach at Nebraska Omaha, he attended the 2001 Frozen Four in Albany, also, when one of his players, Jason Cup, received the Hockey Humanitarian Award.
“When Manchester announced that they were not in position to host the tournament this year, we were in a situation where we had to look for something else,” Kemp said. “I’ve got a lot of real good memories of Albany, and I know that they’ve done a phenomenal job over the years in the hosting capacity.”
Albany was already scheduled to be the site of the 2021 NCAA Division II men’s basketball East Regional in March.
The College of Saint Rose is hosting the regional in conjunction with the Albany Capital Center and TU Center, the school announced on Feb. 12.
Regional quarterfinal games will begin on Saturday, March 13, followed by semifinals on March 14 and the regional championship on Tuesday, March 16.
The TU Center also has secured a franchise in the National Lacrosse League to begin play in the fall of this year, bringing indoor lacrosse back to Albany for the first time since the NLL Albany Attack left town in 2003.
The team will be known as Albany NLL until the results of a fan naming contest are revealed in April.
This franchise was purchased by a group headed by Oliver Marti and includes three former owners of the Philadelphia Wings, Mike French, Brad Brewster and Ted Goldthorpe. The NLL approved sale of the New England Black Wolves to this investor group this week for the purpose of moving it to Albany.
“This is a bittersweet day for the league and our sport,” NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said in a release. “We want to first thank our colleagues at Mohegan Sun for all the positive work they have done building the franchise in New England. We are also very excited to welcome to the league an amazing ownership group with significant success and experience in both the financial investment industry and lacrosse led by Oliver Marti.”
George Manias, the former president and COO of the Albany Empire Arena Football League team, will oversee day-to-day operations of the organization and assemble a front office staff.
“The Capital Region has proven that, if done correctly, they will show up and support their teams,” Manias said in a release. “Our plan is to replicate what made organizations here successful in the past by a continuing commitment to entrench ourselves in the community, by putting on a great game day experience, and winning championships!”
“One of the biggest reasons we decided on Albany was because of our ability to hire George to lead our team,” CEO Marti said. “What George and his staff did here in the past allows us to hit the ground running and launch our team full steam ahead. The relationships that George and his team have built in the market should translate and help ensure our success for the long term. George’s history, energy and passion for the marketplace and league made Albany an easy decision for us.”
Other members of the Capital Region NLL ownership group include Brett Jefferson, who is on the Premier Lacrosse League board, US Lacrosse Foundation chairman of the board Sol Kumin and Russ Sheppard.
Kumin is well-known in Thoroughbred racing circles as a shareholder in many of the top racehorses in North America, including 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify and 2020 Horse of the Year Authentic.