In a Friday morning shock to the system, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) announced that commissioner Josh Fenton will step down from his current role with the conference at the end of the 2021-2022 season to become the commissioner of the Summit League, the University of Denver’s main conference affiliation. Fenton oversaw the creation of the NCHC ahead of the 2013-2014 college hockey season and has been at the helm ever since, watching it win four straight national titles from 2016 to 2019, including Denver’s 2017 title.
“The National Collegiate Hockey Conference has meant the world to me and our family for now over 10 years. I will forever be grateful to the people across our member institutions, conference staff, and business partners for the opportunity to work alongside them in building one of the best college hockey conferences across the country,” Fenton said in the NCHC’s release. “Those relationships are what I will cherish the most. Our focus has never wavered, which has been a constant commitment to student success and experience. Ultimately, the success of the NCHC is a testament to the work performed by many people and it was my true honor to be a part of it.
“I am ecstatic for the opportunity with The Summit League and am eager to begin, but appreciative of the chance to continue leading the NCHC through the end of the college hockey season. I firmly believe the NCHC is well-positioned for sustained, elite national success long into the future.”
Under Fenton’s leadership, the NCHC quickly became the dominant conference in men’s college hockey as the conference has been represented in each and every Frozen Four by at least one team since its first season. He also was key in making the conference the first in the college ranks to use the 3-on-3 overtime format which has become a national mainstay and he operated the conference with a budget surplus in nearly every season, including 2020-2021 which is no small feat. But perhaps even more important, Fenton guided the conference through the pandemic-affected 2020-2021 season incredibly well. From hosting the Pod in Omaha for each team’s first ten games to adapting schedules on the fly and changing up the Frozen Faceoff conference tournament format and location when it became abundantly necessary, his leadership made what otherwise could have been a massive failure of a season into a resounding success.
The NCHC and all eight of its member institutions will certainly miss Fenton’s presence, though it is extremely well-positioned for his successor to pick up right where he left off and help sustain the NCHC’s on and off-ice success. Meanwhile, for joint NCHC/Summit League members Denver, North Dakota, and Omaha, Fenton is going nowhere as the Summit gains the kind of leader it has sorely needed for quite some time. It will be exciting to watch Fenton take what he’s learned and gained from his time with the NCHC and apply it to a conference that, quite frankly, has needed such a change for a number of years. Further, hopefully with Fenton in charge, Sanford Health’s ethically questionable influence begins to diminish and the conference can become less focused on the Dakotas and more inclusive of its entire regional footprint (yes, even Omaha) which stretches from Denver to Macomb and Grand Forks all the way down to Tulsa.
As for where this leaves the NCHC in terms of its search for a replacement, there will be no shortage of options, both internal and external, as this job is one of the most attractive in all of amateur hockey.
Fenton will remain in his current role until April 10th, the day after the men’s national championship in Boston, and assume the commissioner’s role with the Summit League on April 11th. As part of his transition, though, he will be a Special Consultant to the Summit League beginning on January 1, 2022.
Top photo of Josh Fenton at a Frozen Faceoff press conference: Clint Austin/Forum News Service