Thursday, October 29, 2009

WCHA Arenas

Being at the National Hockey Center on the campus of Saint Cloud State last weekend made me stop and think about the arenas in the conference, especially with the new DECC in Duluth being constructed as I write.

I have been to seven of the ten arenas and have watched hockey games in each of the arenas, but not always WCHA hockey. Of the three I have not been in, I have driven past one and the remaining two are just pictures and sounds in my head.

So here they are, all WCHA arenas compared based on their stats. I have included my observations of the arenas I have watched hockey in. Please feel free to add your own comments, especially about the arenas I still have to visit.

In alphabetical order by school:

Sullivan Arena; Alaska – Anchorage; Built 1983; Olympic size (200’ x 100’); Seats 6,206

One of the three I have not been to visit. In talking with people from the area, the citizens of Anchorage love their hockey and do support it. Do they still throw a King Salmon on the ice after the first goal?

World Arena; Colorado College; Built 1997; Olympic size; Seats 7,343

The World has good sight lines and plenty of seating. It has bare concrete upper walls, but the ceiling is high enough that it echoes excessively. I enjoyed the arena when I was there to watch a hockey game.

Magness Arena; Denver University; Built 2000; NHL size (200’ x 85’); Seats 6,026

Magness is the one that I have only driven by and it looks beautiful from the outside. It was an expensive built so I assume the inside was done right….but anything would be better than the HUGE rainbow on the end wall from their old arena.

MacInnes Student Ice Arena; Michigan Technological University; Built 1972; NHL size; Seats 4,200

One of the old and storied buildings left in the WCHA. It has the seats on the sides with just the wall on one end and a walkway on the other end. The walkway end is where the world famous Tech band sets up shop, right over the visiting goalie during the first and third period. The attendance isn’t always good, but the support from the community and the boisterous band makes it a fun place to watch hockey and a difficult place for visitors to play in, especially during Winter Carnival. This arena, band, and atmosphere in the arena, and the town, makes it my favorite road trip and favorite “away” arena.

Mariucci Arena; University of Minnesota – Twin Cities; Built 1993; Olympic size; Seats 10,000

A well used rink in the Twin Cities area by high school teams, junior teams, and the men’s Gopher team. It is a bowl type arena (concourses at the top and fans walk down to their seats) with an expansive size from concourse to concourse. Good sight lines from every seat with the opportunity to have standing room places all around the top of the seating. I wish that the seating could be steeper as sometimes the rink seems far away from your seat.

Verizon Wireless Center; Minnesota State University – Mankato; Built 1995; Olympic size; Seats 5,000

Name your wireless sponsor arena. This venue has had multiple name changes as the wireless company sponsor changes hands. A well planned arena with ample room for the fans and VIP suites. The size of the arena suits the capacity very well. MSU does have a band, be it small, but the singing of the “Ole, Ole, Ole” song gets to be annoying unless you are a n intoxicated MSU student. Do you have a school song? Let the band play it!

DECC Arena; University of Minnesota – Duluth; Built 1966; sub-NHL size (190’ x 85’); Seats 5,233

The oldest and smallest rink in the WCHA has to be one of the classics. Yes, I spent five great years at school there going to most hockey games, so this may not be the most objective analysis (Section 14 Row 4 for 3 years!). The layout of the arena is such that the seats above the rink have a 12-15 foot wall raising the front row off the ice. As a result, the seats have a steep angle making all seats in the upper part seem like you are right over the action. The seats go right up to the ceiling, which makes it very intimate, but not with an echo problem. The ceiling is tiled so the noise you hear at the arena or on the media coverage is the noise that is there. The band is good and splits time with the piped in music for a good energetic feeling. The school song is prevalent from the band along with “Heaven” (In Heaven There is no Beer”). I consider this my “home” rink and greatly enjoy watching games there. It will be a bittersweet move when the new DECC Arena is completed December 2010.

Ralph Englestad Arena; University of North Dakota; Built 2001; NHL sized; Seats 11,640

Xcel Energy Center junior, but fancier. The amount of natural stone that is used in this building is amazing, but then add all the carved Sioux logos and you have a truly beautiful apportioned layout. Sitting in the Ralph makes one realize the pride and dedication Sioux fans and alumni have to this program. I have seen a hockey game at the Ralph, but not a UND game. That must be a an experience to behold. Ralph Englestad Arena is the most ornate, beautiful, and user friendly WCHA arena I have been to.

National Hockey Center; Saint Cloud State University; Built 1989; Olympic size; Seats 5,763

Home to the Saint John’s Johnnies in addition to the Huskies, the National Hockey Center was built as Saint Cloud jumped to Division I and to house some of USA Hockey’s training and tourneys. This arena has seats on the side and was one of the first with VIP boxes that line one end of the arena. The construction is concrete and steel, period. It is like a box that ends up being an echo chamber. The overly loud music that is blared over the sound system is enough to give you a headache and force smart parents to put ear plugs on their children (saw it on two kids last weekend, honest). No school band makes it seem like junior hockey especially after SCSU goals when Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part II is played even though Glitter is a convicted (twice) child molester and the NFL has banned the original version at its games. Additionally, some professional and college teams in the US and Canada have discontinued using the song, but not SCSU.

Kohl Center; University of Wisconsin – Madison; Built 1998; sub-Olympic (200’ x 97’); Seats 15,237

The largest capacity arena in the WCHA that replaced the storied Dane County Coliseum. The third of the arenas I have yet to attend. As far as I hear, it is a great home ice advantage for the badgers who have rarely lost there in the past few years. It is so close, it should be the next “new to me” rink that I visit.

So what makes a good venue for college hockey? In short, an arena that is accessible (ticket wise), good sight lines, and a home school band to make the experience complete.

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