The fabric of a collegiate atmosphere transitions to sports in the same way groups of young people embrace campus life. So when a quaint sports venue is blended with the traditions of a passionate hockey community, it makes for something special.
Since 1993, Mariucci Arena, named for John Mariucci, the “godfather of Minnesota hockey”, has served as the Gophers home rink and become something special. As you walk through the East gate, above your head reads, “Through these gates walk the greatest fans in college hockey” and it won’t take a visitor much time to see why.
Well behaved, but highly passionate, is the best way to describe Gopher hockey fans. While the fans make up a huge part of the experience make no mistake, the venue and the university add a great deal to creating a magnificent live hockey experience.
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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".
Unlike TCF Stadium where the football team plays, alcoholic beverages are not sold at Mariucci Arena. While credit and debit cards are accepted in many places in the arena, there are plenty of stands which only accept cash for payment.
One thing you must do is visit GO NUTS, just across from section 8 & 9. Greg and Mark Sullwold operate the stand, part of a local company known as Cindy's Cinnamon roasted Nuts. Cindy is their mother of Greg and Mark-not only are the candied almonds, cashews and pecans good, but you want to get there early to buy them. Make it your first stop and avoid the crowd. The overwhelming success of this stand is amazing. I know they have some special things on the to do list for flavors and promotions.
BBQ is also good and served at Famous Dave's across from sections 1 & 14. The Georgia Chopped Pork sandwich ($7) is excellent.
Coca Cola products are sold here. You can get a bottled soda for $4.75 or fountain soda in three sizes, $3.50, $5 and $6, the latter being a sturdy souvenir cup. Bottled water is $4.25 and hot cocoa and small coffee are $3.00, large coffee is $4.75.
Entrees are plentiful with a hot dog at $5, bratwurst at $6, nachos with cheese at $5.25, and nachos supreme at $7.
Snacks include a pretzel for $6.00, add a cup of cheese for another $1.50.Popcorn comes in two sizes, regular at $4.50 and bottomless at $6.50.
The single bowl design for a sports venue has long added uniqueness in viewing the playing surface. Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and the Los Angeles Coliseum and Rose Bowl in Southern California immediately come to mind but those are much larger structures, built to accommodate a football field, which is nearly three times the size of a hockey rink. For hockey, the one bowl design is perfect and Minnesota shows it off best.
Yes, the long walk from the top row, #24, down to the glass can be long. The walk back up is a bit more difficult, but the magic of the steep pitch and the sound, which seems to nestle itself in the bowl instead of rising, is quite special.
There is not one bad seat in the house. In never being more than 24 rows from the ice in a building that fills 10,000 fans (including standing room), you are immersed in the action. For special private seating, the Club Room is above sections 10-14 while suites are above sections 14-22.
If you are sitting at center ice, facing the benches with the penalty boxes closest to you, your seat is in section 19. To your right is section 18 and to your left is section 20. The benches are across the ice, the Gophers to the left in front of section 6 and the visitors to the right in front of section 8. Section 7 is across the ice on the red line.
For those who like to get close to where the players walk on and off the ice to and from the dressing rooms, players enter the bench area and ice at about the center of the bench, just inside the blue line. For the Gophers, it is near the higher number seats in section 6 (seats 12-14) and for the visitors, it is near the lower number seats in section 8 (seats 1-3).
The Gophers shoot twice at the goal in front of Section 13, which serves as the student section. There is a standing area behind every section, marked off with boundaries on the floor to make sure you stay in your place.
The pitch in the rows puts you right on top of the ice, feeling like you are very much a part of the match. Row length is never more than 14 seats wide, narrower in corner sections at the lower rows.
You will rarely find tickets available from the ticket office as all games sell out. The secondary market is the place to go.
As for the atmosphere, gates open 90 minutes before face-off. There are three entrances, but only one really matters. Enter on the east side which has that famous slogan above your head and tons of memorabilia in cases.
From there, it is escalators on both sides leading you to section 1. At the top, walk to your left and the sections are sequential, beginning at 2. Go to the right and at the top, sections begin at 24. Section 1 is in the middle.
The concourse is full of different history displays on both sides of overhead flat spaces. Don't miss the US Olympic display case at section 5 and see the notable players and teams in Gopher hockey history detailed in photos and memorabilia. Take the time to see everything as you walk around the rink, all of which keeps the ice fully visible from where you are walking and standing.
Another thing to be mindful off is the brass and pep band at the top of section 14, and boy are they good! Make sure you witness the entire group marching a lap around the concourse as everyone makes a path a little more than an hour before game time.
Pre-skate is about 45 minutes before puck drop and if you forget the band will provide a gentle reminder. Things really start getting revved up now. Be in your seats 15 minutes before the first puck-drop and watch the energy as both teams rush out onto the ice.
Then take a look at the Minnesota end of the ice. With all helmets neatly displayed along the top of the dasher boards one-by-one, the home team is introduced as each player stands along the goal line, filling space from side to side. Starters head to the blue line when announced, receiving a high five from Goldie, the team's skating mascot.
Mariucci Arena is right on campus where bus lines run alongside the building and light rail lines just south and within a fraction of a mile. Also just south of the arena, is a bevy of shops and places to eat along University Avenue and alongside streets intersecting this main thoroughfare. TCF football stadium is east and just across the street from the arena.
They are magnificent in every way. The build-up begins outside and if you are there on the day of a football game, across the street east of the arena at TCF stadium, it is an all-day affair. You can see maroon and gold for miles and miles on game day.
Absorb yourself in the atmosphere leading up to game time and make sure you are not shy about engaging folks. Once you let them know you come from other parts, you can be sure and be welcomed by gracious hosts.
The best way to take in the atmosphere and immerse yourself in Gopher fandom is to visit that student section which stretches from section 12 through 14 at the arena's east end. Sitting on each seat with extras nearby is "The Ice Sheet", a collection of chants to learn on one side with game preview and rosters on the other side.
The chants and cheers along with an engaged crowd make this a special place. There are no passive fans here as everyone is riveted to the action on the ice.
I always like an adventure when attending a game out of town and mass transit typically is the best and cheapest way to do it. If taking light rail, you need the green line and either the Stadium Village Station, which is near TCF Stadium or East Bank which is a little closer to the arena, but just a little further south than the first stop. Light rail is just $2.25 during rush hour (3AM - 6AM and 3PM - 630PM). Otherwise it is $1.75. Transfers are free. Day passes cost $5.
If you choose to drive and park, cost is $10, goes into effect 2 to 4 hours before the event's scheduled start time and typically includes the following lots: 4th street ramp, university Avenue ramp, Washington Avenue ramp, Lot 37, Gopher Lot and Victory Lot.
Plenty of restrooms and the concourses are just wide enough to provide ease in movement throughout the building.
Outside of the rivalry games which carry a big ticket, prices are very good and highly affordable. Even if you drive to the game and park, $10 is a fair price to pay. To witness a game here at $25 a ticket and affordable food prices, you can't go wrong here.
GAME PROGRAM - $2 gives you all you need to know, printed on heavy cardstock and unfolds for an easy to hold and read process, only available once the gates open near sections 2 and 24.
MERCHANDISE - good stuff, great variety and available at multiple locations along the upper ring concourse, including the team store outside sections 11-12. I was disappointed there were no game pucks for sale, but they have lots of variety of souvenir pucks and other apparel.
CHEERLEADERS & STUDENT BAND - the skating Gophers cheerleaders are quite good and offer a little more than your typical sideline cheerleaders as their skating prowess is on full display. And as for the band, they are good. They are so good that you will find yourself sometimes watching them when you should be watching the game. They have lots of personality. Both groups play a role in keeping the energy level high.
STANDING ROOM - while you might have a standing room ticket, you don't have a specific space, which is good if you like to move around and see the arena and the game from different perspectives. You do have a railing by which to lean against in front of you and to leave, you just back out and go your way. You might even be able to find the fan next to you willing to save your space while you visit the rest room or concession stand. That standing room is not multi-layered is a big plus here.
CHANT AND PREVIEW SHEET - There is peace of mind if you to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and be involved, like a choir book at church, just read and play along. Great stuff.
Get there to see a game, you will be talking about for weeks and months after your visit. Witnessing a game here is very special.
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.
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.
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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