skip navigation

How St. Louis Became the Perfect Site for the ACHA National Championships

By Greg Bates, 03/14/24, 10:00AM MDT


After hosting the national championships in 2022, St. Louis is receiving rave reviews again this year.

The American Collegiate Hockey Association has been looking for a permanent home for its annual national championships for years.

When St. Louis hosted the ACHA National Championships in 2022, Craig Barnett, the ACHA’s executive director, felt he may have found the permanent site he’d been looking for. 

Two years later, the event is back in St. Louis and will be for years to come. 

Barnett said he loves what the Midwestern city offers for the student-athletes playing in the enormous event and the fans who travel to watch.

“This could be kind of like the Omaha of college baseball,” Barnett said. “You find that place, they know in advance, it’s a central location. St. Louis is engaged, and it’s a great hockey city.”

The ACHA — which oversees non-varsity collegiate ice hockey in the United States — consisted of 474 teams this season. That’s 11,000-12,000 student-athletes lacing up their skates and between 1,500-2,000 coaches.

The national championships, which started on March 7 and wraps up on the 17th, consists of five tournaments that run simultaneously for its Men’s Divisions 1, 2 and 3 and Women’s Divisions 1 and 2. 

Having all five divisions under one roof has always been an important goal for Barnett and the ACHA leadership, as it creates an extra buzz for each tournament.  

“They’re playing for a national championship, and you want to create a great atmosphere,” Barnett said. “The huge upside to doing it this way with all five divisions is that experience that you can provide to these student-athletes.”

Running the tournament is a massive undertaking. This year, 82 teams are participating with 117 total games being played.

The tournament field has expanded this year with Men’s Division 1 having 24 teams at nationals for the first time ever, which means more ice time is needed.

After the event each year, Barnett said it’s important to assess and reassess what the ACHA can do better. In a lot of previous host cities, the championships would be divided into two or three arenas. Getting all five divisions under one roof became a priority, which is something the ACHA can do in St. Louis. 

The city came onto the radar of the ACHA about four years ago when the Blues were building a practice facility featuring four NHL-sized ice sheets. The Centene Community Ice Center is also home to the Lindenwood University’s hockey programs in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

When St. Louis hosted its first national championships two years ago, it went off without a hitch. According to the St. Louis Sports Commission, the economic impact on the city for the event that year was $11 million. That started a great partnership between the St. Louis Sports Commission, the Blues and the ACHA

“St. Louis for us in the ACHA with 474 teams is a fairly central location,” Barnett said. “We have teams in 46 different states and two Canadian provinces, so to try and find a place is challenging. If you draw a 300-, 350-mile radius around St. Louis, we have about 70 percent of our membership in that area.”

Barnett said the 2022 tournament did well with ticket and merchandise sales. More importantly, it was a great experience for the student-athletes.

“It’s a great event,” Barnett said. “The whole focus is on these student-athletes and making sure they have a great experience here. St. Louis is a great place to do it.”

The ACHA has committed to having St. Louis host three of the next four years. The city is locked in for 2025, 2027 and 2028, with 2026 being an option year.

Barnett feels great knowing what the future holds for the ACHA’s postseason tournament with a stable home for years to come.

“From an operations standpoint, it means a lot,” Barnett said. “We know what we’re doing. The staff here in St. Louis, we create a local committee as well. They know us now; they know how it runs. We know the facility. We can focus and concentrate on the setup and so forth.”

Having a consistent host site also allows Barnett and his ACHA staffers to dedicate more of their time to making the tournament a great experience for the student-athletes.

“Hopefully, the student-athletes are going to remember this moving forward as they get older,” Barnett said. “We’re doing everything we can to make this memorable. Obviously, it’s our Stanley Cup. At the end of the day, it’s a great way to end the season with our student-athletes.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

More USA Hockey News