TAMPA — Within minutes of a second successful Frozen Four in four seasons wrapping up here, Rob Higgins started work on bringing college hockey's big event back to Amalie Arena as soon as possible.
"WE WANT YOU BACK" said a well-timed billboard on Channelside Drive, unveiled late Saturday night after North Dakota beat Quinnipiac 5-1 to win its eighth national championship.
The announced attendance of 19,538 was the third-largest for a Frozen Four title game.
"We've received a lot of positive feedback — we're interested to hear from the student-athletes, coaches and fans, but early signs so far are pretty strong," said Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. "Our hats are off to all of our partners to make a once-in-a-lifetime event happen at a really high level twice."
Tampa hosted in 2012, and bids will be taken in the fall by the NCAA to host four championships from 2019-22. Tampa already is hosting the women's basketball Final Four in 2019, so Higgins said his focus is on bringing the Frozen Four back in 2020, 2021 or 2022.
"We're really focused on having a long-term relationship with the Frozen Four," he said.
THE FUTURE: Many of the biggest names in the Frozen Four are unknown to casual hockey fans but don't be surprised to see a few become NHL stars in a few years.
When the Frozen Four was in Tampa in 2012, few knew who Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau or Union's Shayne Gostisbehere were. Four years later, Gaudreau is sixth in the NHL in scoring with 30 goals for the Flames; Gostisbehere is a Calder Trophy candidate, given to the league's top rookie. He has 16 goals as a defenseman for the Flyers.
Who could quickly jump from this Frozen Four to NHL stardom? North Dakota's Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz have already been NHL first-round picks, Schmaltz to the Blackhawks in 2014 and Boeser to the Canucks in 2015.
Quinnipiac's Sam Anas is among several draft prospects for the Bobcats, and from the two teams eliminated Thursday, Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko, a Hobey Baker finalist, is a former Canucks second-round pick who could forego his senior year, and Denver forward Danton Heinen is a Bruins prospect.
WELCOME BACK: Former Lightning star Marty St. Louis, who played in the Frozen Four for Vermont in 1996, got a big cheer from the Tampa crowd as he walked out for the pregame ceremonial puck drop.
THIS AND THAT: After stopping in Tampa for the second time in four years, the Frozen Four goes to the United Center in Chicago for the first time in 2017, then the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., in 2018. … While much was made of North Dakota's prolific offense, its defense held 15 of its previous 16 opponents to two goals or fewer.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.