Minnesota is known as the State of Hockey, and seeing a game anywhere in the state quickly shows fans why Mariucci Arena, home to the Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s hockey team, has been a mecca for hockey fans ever since its opening in 1993. Located between downtown Minneapolis and the outer edges of St. Paul, it is easy to get to from either of the twin cities and suburbs. This 10,000-seat arena is always full, and rocking for their beloved Gophers. Mariucci also hosts various hockey tournaments each year which keeps the scheduling fresh and the fans interested from year to year.
The Golden Gopher hockey team has a rich tradition that started nearly 100 years ago. The Gophers have five national titles and 20 frozen four appearances on their resume. You are reminded of this history early and often once inside Mariucci. Although the University of Minnesota is the most well known team in the state, they have quite a few new and old rivalries with teams around the state and region. Most of the in-state games are heated and the fans are very spirited. With the Gophers leaving the WCHA and joining the Big Ten, new rivalries are forming while old ones are being placed to the side for now.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food selection at Mariucci Arena rivals that of any Division I college hockey facility in the country. Standard fare such as hot dogs, brats, and nachos are in the $3.50-$5 range and are available in different areas around the arena. Soda or bottled water is in the $3.50-$5.25 range.
Unlike TCF Bank Stadium, alcoholic beverages are not served inside Mariucci. Snacks such as mini-donuts, popcorn, ice cream, and candy are offered as well. The concession lines are packed between periods and before the game, but the lines move relatively quickly.
What really makes this venue unique is the specialty food offered at various locations. Famous Dave's BBQ, Domino's Pizza, Subway, Dino's Gyros, and Jax Café have booths here. These specialty restaurants have various offerings for those who are looking to have an actual meal instead of a snack. The Famous Dave's booth has chopped pork and chopped brisket for sale for $7. The obligatory BBQ sauces are nearby for these tasty dishes. The Jax Café offerings include prime rib sliders, chili, wild rice soup, and sloppy joe sandwiches. I tried the prime rib chili during a recent visit, and it was delicious. This booth has offerings from $6 to $9, but you get a great tasting dish.
There is one main entrance to Mariucci Arena and a big common area for fans to stay warm and wait for their friends or family to show up. There are two gates, one gate is for sections 1-12 and the other is for 13-24. The gate setup is an efficient way of getting fans to their seats quickly if they wish. Fans are reminded of the accomplishments and history or the Gophers hockey team as they enter the main entryway. Old hockey jerseys and memorabilia are proudly displayed as well as various trophies. Their five NCAA championship trophies are displayed in one case and is an impressive sight to see upon entering Mariucci.
Once inside the arena, there are plenty of displays and other reminders of Gopher hockey history. Team photos from each season in Gopher hockey line the outside walls of the concourse. There is also a set of banners celebrating the Gopher hockey players who have represented each US hockey team in the Olympics. Also, there is a gold medal in a display with some Herb Brooks memorabilia and other 1980 hockey items inside.
Walking the concourse is like stepping foot in a museum, lots to see at every turn. Some fans will get food or a program and hurry to their seat. However, the majority do the slow walk around the concourse to see all of the memorabilia displayed. Although there are lots of items to look at, most fans have to stand next to the photos or display cases to see them. Traffic flows pretty well around the arena.
Before the game, the Gopher pep band takes a few laps around the arena and plays the fight song to get the crowd excited. Fans all move out of the way and clap in unison as the band marches through. It is quite a sight to see for those who have not been to Mariucci yet. During the game, the band plays during breaks in the game. The PA system does play various songs during breaks as well, but the band is pretty active.
On the ice before the game, the University of Minnesota cheerleaders don ice skates and perform various figure skating routines. The Gophers mascot is prevalent as well and is seen on ice as much as he is in the crowd. There are various games to keep people interested during breaks and intermissions as well.
This 10,000-seat arena has a one seating bowl design. Due to this design, there are no nooks, crannies, or obstructions to worry about. Just pick your favorite viewing area and buy the ticket. For those not lucky enough to get regular seats, the standing room only areas in this arena are spacious and spread out. Beyond the last row of seats all around the arena are spots marked on the concrete for fans to stand. The game I attended was sold out and people were standing in every spot available on the concourse behind the seating bowl.
The University of Minnesota Campus is located in a neighborhood called "Dinkytown." The campus is split between the east bank of the Mississippi River and the west bank. The campus fits into the neighborhood so well that it is hard to tell when actually arriving until you see bigger classroom buildings and the stadiums.
Mariucci Arena is located in the sports complex that includes Ridder Arena, Baseline Tennis Center, TCF Bank Stadium, and Williams Arena. The open end of TCF Bank Stadium is a block away from the entrance to the arena and is perfect for photo opportunities.
This neighborhood has a college atmosphere with lots of campus buildings, housing, restaurants, and shops. There are plenty of food options around the arena including fast food, bars, and coffee/sandwich shops. These places can have an eclectic mix of people including college students studying, sports fans before a game, friends gathering, or students working on a class project. For sports fans who want to catch a game and drinks with friends before the game, there is a Buffalo Wild Wings located a block away from the main entrance.
Inscribed on the wall before entering the seating areas is the quote: "Through these gates walk the greatest fans in college hockey." While that may be debatable, it is hard to top the passion inside Mariucci. I have yet to see a game at Mariucci that was not sold out. The collective breath of fans hang on every missed shot, goal, or bad play.
The fans are very knowledgeable and are quick to try and coach from the stands. Power plays and penalty kills are the best times to hear the vast knowledge of the Gopher fans. Great defense, forechecking, and penalty kills are as appreciated as a breakaway goal or spectacular save. The good, bad, and ugly are discussed all around the arena. It is very easy to strike up a conversation with strangers in your seating area here.
The passion of the Gopher fans is evident before each game when the opposing teams lineup is announced. Various chants such as "who cares," "sucks," and other chants are directed at opponents. During the game, the obligatory goalie/sieve chants are heard as well as situational chants. For example, when the opponent gets back to full strength, the fans yell "that's debatable." When the Gophers get back to full strength, the crowd yells "always were, always will be." While fun to hear, these types of chants are pretty standard across most collegiate rinks around the country. The band and songs over the public address system can drown the students out at times.
The goal celebration here is one of the best in the business. All fans jump up in unison when the Gophers score followed by the playing of the Minnesota Rouser by the pep band. Once the song is finished, the crown spells out the letters M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A followed a few seconds later by the public address announcer adding a loud "RAH!" at the end of it.
Mariucci Arena is easily accessible from I-35W and I-94. Take the University Drive exit off of I-35W and head towards campus. The stadium complex is a mile away from the freeway. From I-94, follow the signs to the east bank campus of University of Minnesota. You will see the football stadium looming in the distance shortly after getting off the freeway.
Driving to the stadium is easy, however traffic could be heavy at times depending on other events going on before or during the games.
Parking is easy to come by for hockey games. There are plenty of parking garages around the arena and most will set you back around $10. For fans lucky enough, or who don't mind a walk, street parking can be had. Pay attention to the signs or meters. Free parking can be found, but some spots charge seven days a week and some only six days and the hours for those vary.
For fans of mass transit, there are quite a few bus lines that will take fans near the stadiums. Also, the new green line extension of the twin cities light rail system will open in June 2014. This will open up new opportunities for fans around the metro to reach campus easily.
Tickets for Gopher hockey games are hard to come by and can be pricey. Ticket availability is scarce, but the Gophers website will show you exactly what seats are open as well as standing room only availability. Tickets for less desirable opponents are typically $25-$50 while tickets for big name opponents can go for $40-$75 dollars. Getting a seat on the secondary market is tough and in most cases, more expensive due to the high demand for tickets. Try the school's website or ticket office first. For the money and the amount of history to see on the ice and around the arena, it is well worth the money spent. The food is top notch as well and fairly priced.
Mariucci Arena gets extra points for the passionate fan base, great food options, and the lack of any bad vantage points in the seating area. The amount of history in this place is astounding. Any arena with a lot of banners hanging makes it seem like a special place when walking to the seating area.
The interactive contests are fun as well and keep people on their toes. There are two main contests, the chuck a puck and a chance to ride a Zamboni. The chuck a puck contest allows fans to throw numbered pucks on the ice for a chance at prizes.
Another bonus point goes out to the pep band and PA announcer who are some of the best in the business. Another great extra for fans is the Olympic-sized ice vs the standard NHL size that most college rinks have. The wider and longer dimensions make for a faster game with less obstructions and better passing.
This arena is truly a must see if you are a hockey fan. Ticket prices are higher than most collegiate hockey arenas, but you get good value for what you pay for. It is nearly impossible to have a dull moment at Mariucci Arena. Fast and exciting action on the ice combined with a passionate fan base creates a thrilling fan experience. The amount of historical artifacts and pictures around the arena is another reason to go to Mariucci. Regardless of your rooting interest on the ice, you won't go home disappointed in this true hockey arena experience.
If the Xcel Energy Center is the Cathedral for hockey nuts in Minnesota, Mariucci Arena is the frat house. It’s not that it’s any louder or more rowdy; it’s just that there are more people that have been in college after seven years at Mariucci.
With a capacity of 10,000, significantly lower than its counterpart in St. Paul (18,000 plus standing room), Mariucci still feels cavernous when empty and has an electric energy come game time.
On a national scale, college hockey doesn’t hold a candle to football or basketball, but on Fourth Street there is no lack of passion for the game. Let it be known: there are many people that live and breathe Gopher hockey.
The Golden Gophers have outlasted the North Stars and both incarnations of the Fighting Saints in the great white north and the program, which began in the 1920s, did not become antiquated when the Wild came to town at the turn of the century.
When it comes to entertainment, the Wild are The Hangover or Anchorman, a popular mainstream film. The Gophers are more Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, a cult classic. Not everyone in Minnesota backs U of M hockey: North Dakota, Bemidji State and Minnesota-Duluth have a big-time rivalry up north, Minnesota State has a good following down south and St. Cloud has a love-‘em or hate-‘em appeal out west. However, for people without ties to any of those schools, the Gophers are typically the team of choice.
Erected in 1993, around the time that Norm Green took the North Stars to Dallas, Mariucci stands as a pillar of stability for hockey in Minnesota. The big show might be in neighboring St. Paul, but the Golden Gophers are a hot ticket in the State of Hockey nonetheless.
Tickets can be had on the secondary market for less than face value, at least early in the 2015-16 season when the Gophers are not that strong. As well, the game I attended was not sold out, despite being the opener in Big Ten play. Otherwise, this is a fantastic place, with so much history that you need to get there early to take it all in. The band walks around the concourse 23 minutes before puck drop, so don't miss that either. A great evening out.
1301 4th St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
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