Could Pittsburgh be the host of a Frozen Four?
Tom McMillan, Penguins vice president of communications, posed the question to newly hired Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley in the owners suite at a Penguins game nearly 10 years ago.
A pipe dream, he calls it today.
"I don't know if we believed our own vision. But that was the first time we articulated it," McMillan said. "Then I remember the day we announced it here on the floor at Consol [Energy Center]. I was standing in the back with Derek and said, 'Do you believe this is happening?' "
The Frozen Four will make its Pittsburgh debut at Consol Energy Center Thursday and Saturday, capping a yearslong process to secure the city's first NCAA championship.
With the Penguins offering full support, Robert Morris announced an intention to bid in 2008, and formally submitted a bid in 2010.
"I think people will be fascinated by it. It's a level of hockey they just hadn't been exposed to. It's fast. It's competitive. It's a really exciting brand of hockey," McMillan said.
The NCAA makes a point to set the championship in new markets, including cities with NHL rinks that can put on a strong event.
Years ago it seemed a pipe dream because Consol Energy Center hadn't been built yet.
"The quest for a new arena took a decade. Mellon [Arena] was the oldest in the NHL and we knew we wouldn't get national level events," McMillan said.
As the process for a new building moved along, the idea became more realistic.
Penguins and Robert Morris personnel traveled to multiple Frozen Fours to see how the event works and to get ideas to be the host.
Marty Galosi, associate athletic director at Robert Morris, recalls being at the Frozen Four in Detroit in 2010 months after the Colonials' official bid. His nerves nearly got the best of him.
"I remember rumors flying around that there was some ridiculous number of cities bidding, like 22," Galosi said. "We were in the lobby of the host hotel and I thought, 'Oh no.' "
That turned out to be just a rumor.
NCAA officials were sold on the arena, the support from the Penguins and the city, and announced Pittsburgh would be the host in 2013.
It will be the first Frozen Four in Pennsylvania, and is followed by Philadelphia next year.
"The committee is always looking for an opportunity to take the hockey championship to a new area," said Kristin Fasbender, the NCAA's associate director of championships and alliances. "Pennsylvania had not hosted a championship before. Pittsburgh had a great bid, a brand-new building we know will do an outstanding job. It was just a great all-around package they committed to bring."
David Morehouse, Penguins CEO and president, said the franchise had been interested in being the host of national-level events, and mentioned a possible Frozen Four when pitching the new arena.
"One of the things we wanted to do with the new arena was use it for a vehicle to attract world-class events," Morehouse said. "There's a lot of internal excitement. It's a pretty big event. We've never hosted an NCAA final in any sport and think it's a good thing for us."
The organization has several members of the front office and players rooted in college hockey.
"This organization is a big believer in college hockey," McMillan said. "Many of our executives are products of the college system. The one downer is when you have the Frozen Four it means your team is on the road."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published April 10, 2013 4:00 AM