The University of North Dakota hockey team played their games in the “old” Ralph Engelstad Arena, a 6,067-seat multi-purpose arena, from 1972-2001. During this time in UND’s storied history, the university won five of their program’s seven NCAA titles (1980, 1982, 1987, 1997 and 2000).
The “old” Ralph Engelstad Arena also hosted the 1983 Division I NCAA ice hockey championship. UND enjoyed a huge home ice advantage and compiled an impressive (.693) winning percentage at the old Ralph Engelstad Arena.
After the 2001 season, the University of North Dakota moved into their current home, the new Ralph Engelstad Arena, located at the north end of the campus. In the new building, the University of North Dakota has had great success on the ice as well winning at a (.695) clip, but the team has yet to win another NCAA title. This has been a point of contention with a lot of UND hockey fans.
When UND hockey fans reminisce about the old Ralph Engelstad Arena, words like intimidating, loud, and great atmosphere come to mind. In my opinion, the old Ralph was one of the greatest momentum-building arenas in college hockey history.
This summer, the University of North Dakota is tearing down the old Ralph Engelstad Arena to make way for a new high-performance center. This new facility is going to be a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility that features a full-sized football field and indoor track.
As this historic building is being razed, many fans will look back at the old arena with fond memories. I touched base with some of the former UND and opposition players who had an opportunity to play in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena in order to get a feeling for what the building meant to these college hockey players.
For those that don’t know, all of UND’s coaching staff played college hockey at the University of North Dakota. Also, all three of UND’s current coaching staff played their collegiate hockey at the old Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Here’s what University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol (Alma Mater, UND 1989-92) had to say about playing in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena:
“The constant aura of Engelstad Arena is what stands out in my memory. Whether it was a Tuesday workday with no one except teammates in the arena or a Friday night rivalry game with a packed house of 6,000-plus, the building always brought a clear mind to the business at hand.”
This is what University of North Dakota assistant coach Dane Jackson (Alma Mater, UND 1988-1992) on playing in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“Some of my most vivid memories of the old Ralph were, strangely enough, of taking the ice for warm up,” Jackson said. “That was because of the packed and crazy student section that was filled with fired-up students who had poured into the building early. I always felt it was intimidating for our opponents because the one-half of the arena, the student section, was jammed for warm up. All of the students were wild with anticipation.
“It really set the tone for the early part of the game. Everyone involved had to be ready to play because of the palpable intensity in the building. I believe we won a lot of games in the old Ralph because of that home ice advantage. It was loud with that low ceiling and every hit and physical confrontation seemed to add to the noise level and feed the fire and passion. It was an intimidating building for sure.”
In addition, this is what University of North Dakota assistant coach Brad Berry (Alma Mater, UND 1983-86) had to say about playing in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“The Old Ralph was a very special place to play and coach in,” Berry said. I believe that venue gave all the players and fans that passed through its doors a feeling of great pride and a sense of being part of a strong culture and tradition. In one word – excellence.”
I asked my brother-in-law, former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey forward Andy Brink (Alma Mater, UMN 1992-96), and this is what he had to say about playing in the old Engelstad Arena.
“Engelstad [Arena] was special to me because I grew up a Sioux fan and loved going to the games as a fan growing up,” Brink said. “Then playing for the Gophers it had a much different feel. It was intimidating at first. The ice was really good and the rink seemed small. The rink seemed old even when I was playing (92-96). It was always fun to go play there because of the history of great teams at UND; you knew you were going to a building with tradition. But you were also very happy to leave and go home.”
Lastly, former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher forward Pat Micheletti (Alma Mater, UMN 1982-86) had this to say about playing in the old Engelstad Arena.
“The first time I played in the Ralph, it was for the WCHA Championship,” Micheletti said. “If we sweep them, we [Gophers] win. We had to sweep. If they [UND] split with us, they win. First time in- it was a crazy series – I am a freshman. In the old Ralph, the locker rooms were right below the [student] bleachers. They let the students in early and I think they got in free at the time with their card. It only sat about 5500 or 6,000, or something like that. I got scared to death when they let them in. It was my first game there. When I heard those people, it was like a stampede going over our locker room. It was like, what are we in for? We swept the series, by the way, which was great. But it was an intense, beautiful, atmosphere to play in.
“The one thing that I respected about North Dakota was the fact there was a lot of Minnesota and a lot of Canadian guys. But they played with an edge. They were out there to win. There was no hi, talk to you later. When you were on the ice, it was an intense as I ever played, ever. There was no bubby, buddy situation. But, you know half of those guys, guys like Jim Archibald, who was a teammate of mine later on in life, and James Patrick, and Gordon Sherven. You talk Scott Sandelin, who I grew up with. We hated each other when we were on the ice. But it was a healthy hatred.”
You can see that there are a lot of memories that are associated with the old Ralph Engelstad Arena and as the old arena is being torn down, part of hockey history is going down with the old Ralph.
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.