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Official Review by Daryn Skjefte, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Driving in Grand Forks, ND does not usually entail traffic. That is, unless it’s a Friday or Saturday night during hockey season. The streets are busy and full of traffic, every single restaurant is packed, and the excitement buzz can be felt all around town. The Ralph Engelstad Arena was built in 2001, and opened its doors for the 2001-2002 season. The 400,000 square foot facility is absolutely stunning, and continues to wow hockey fans year after year.
The outside of the building is lit up with “Home of North Dakota Hockey,” the school’s past logo, and loud music. The entire north end of town becomes a hub of excitement.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Ralph offers a large variety of food items including your standard hot dog ($4.50), popcorn ($4.00), and soft pretzel ($4.00), all the way up to philly cheese steak sandwiches ($7.50). The arena carries Pepsi products and guests can pick between bottled soda ($4.00) and fountain ($3.00).
While the arena carries all of the usual staples, there are also a few different items that are not offered at other arenas. Red Pepper, a Grand Forks classic, has multiple stands spread throughout the concourse. The popular Mexican restaurant gives guests the opportunity to truly experience the Grand Forks culture. Other vendors include Subway, TCBY, Tim Hortons, and Little Caesars.
The Ralph, as it is referred to by locals, has a capacity of 11,643 and has sold out games throughout each season. Music gets the crowd going before they even enter the building. All of the concourses are wide and open with large windows, offering plenty of room for all of the fans. The floors throughout the building are constructed of granite and enriched with the beloved past mascot, the Fighting Sioux. Each and every individual seat is constructed of leather and cherry wood.
As if that was not enough, there are 48 full luxury suites, two mini suites, and two enormous club rooms featuring the longest freestanding bars in the state of North Dakota. The extreme attention to detail completes the feel of the arena; making each and every guest feel thrilled before the excitement of the game even begins.
While The Ralph does not have the best location in the history of hockey arenas, it is situated right off of the University of North Dakota campus. Located just over a mile off of interstate I-29, the arena location makes itself clear with the line of traffic. While the close to campus location is convenient for students, faculty, and staff, it can make for a challenge for other spectators. The Ralph is not within walking distance of any restaurants, bars, or hotels.
Even though there is not any food or hotel options directly next to The Ralph, the city of Grand Forks offers plenty of eatery/hotel options all within a four mile radius of the arena. The majority of fan frequented restaurants and bars do offer shuttles to and from the game. This is a unique option that gives fans the chance to get out and explore the town before the games, without having to worry about driving and parking. My personal recommendations for pre-game food would be Brick & Barley bar and restaurant, JL Beers, and Rhombus Guys Brewing Company.
The University of North Dakota hockey fans are a whole different level. While the student section is filled for each and every home game, it's the vast amount of other seats that are filled that simply takes your breath away. The arena seats 11,364, and there are not many nights where that number is not met or even exceeded. The word passionate does not do the fans justice. The amount of cohesive cheers/songs that almost every fan takes part in is simply incomparable.
Following their most recent season in which the University of North Dakota brought home the NCAA title, The Ralph feels more excitement and adrenaline than ever. People travel from near and far just to take a look inside the beautiful arena.
While the fans play an important role throughout the entire experience, they truly show their best when the home team scores. Fireworks erupt above the goal and Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis is blasted. All fans are up on their feet, dancing and cheering with one another. The sheer compassion and bond that these fans share is unlike anything I have witnessed.
The Ralph is just over a mile off of I-29, with four big parking lots and street parking. There are three different entrances that fans can enter in through, so that no one has to spend too much time out in the cold. Getting in and out of the parking lots can be a little time consuming, but no worse than a normal athletic event.
The parking lots that surround the building all offer $10 parking, which is pretty standard for college hockey games. While there is close parking offered, there is a lot of street parking available and busses that bring fans from restaurants and bars from all over Grand Forks.
Once you are inside the arena, the concourses are large and easy to pass through. There are four different bathrooms on both of the main and upper level, so guests rarely have to endure lines. All entry gates provide great access to seating, food, etc. but the absolute best gate to enter is the main door. The lobby itself is draped in history, tradition, and excitement. From there, you can see the open suite level, the Sioux Fan Shop, and the large amount of fans pouring into the venue.
Tickets for adults can run anywhere from $40-$100, but do not waiver depending on the game. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office inside The Ralph, by phone, or online.
While it is clear that tickets for games at The Ralph do run a little high, you do truly get what you pay for. The environment and excitement makes you feel like you are at a professional hockey game. Even if hockey isn't something the entire family enjoys, the games are a great form of entertainment that has a very high return on investment.
The concourses offer a lot of history and past successes. Ranging in past player's jerseys, Olympic team memorabilia, NCAA championship trophies, and much, much more. Some other fun fan favorites include the kid's fun area that has an inflatable structure, coloring, and photo ops; a live band; craft beer and specialty liquor stands; the Sioux Fan Shop; custom jerseys; and the two different full service club lounges that are open to the public.
In between periods, there are interactive on ice fan games, youth hockey matches, and on-ice laser shows. There is truly something for everyone at this incredible arena.
The Ralph Engelstad Arena is unlike anything else in college hockey. The extreme detail that goes into each and every aspect is vibrant and outstanding. The excitement can quite literally be felt from a mile away, and regardless of the turn-out of the game, you will have a good time. The arena is truly the best in college hockey for a number of reasons. This should definitely be a spot to see on everyone's bucket list.
Member Review by Elizabeth-E on Feb 18, 2013
Making its grand opening in October of 2001, the $104 million Ralph Engelstad Arena boasts one of the most premier venues in all of college hockey. UND alumnus and Las Vegas businessman Ralph Engelstad used hard work with the ultimate goal of building an arena for his former hockey team.
As one of the oldest Division I hockey programs in the United States, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks has never fallen short of excellence — and the Ralph is no exception.
The groundbreaking for the Arena that took place in November of 1999 held the 2,500 workers, mainly from North Dakota, to a tight deadline. While the Ralph played host to various famous musicians entertainers, the ultimate claim is the home of North Dakota hockey.
Member Review by @UofHockeyBlog on Jan 13, 2015
20%+ of this town goes to every game. What other city or town can claim that? The most beautiful arena you'll ever step into from the leather seats to the marble floors to the Bavarian almond smell. Did i mention they have a great hockey program too?
Member Review by athroughzed on Feb 09, 2015
As a UND student I might be a little biased here by saying this is the best arena in all of hockey. But the truth is, it really is. The energy provided by the student section is simply awe inspiring to anyone in the arena. Weather it's when the national anthem plays "...and the home of the" and the student section roars "SIOUX". Or our dancing to the Chelsea Dagger after a goal, it is electrifying. If you look all around the arena you will also see almost EVERYONE participates in the dance and the chants it is truly an experience.
Food is expensive but as in the official review it is well worth it. I'm partial to the bucket of nachos (yes I said BUCKET) during the warm-ups, if you've never tried Timbits from Tim Hortons Coffee there is a small concession in the arena, I highly recommend you try those little balls of sugary delight.
Neighborhood is where the official review got this place wrong. Grand Forks isn't even 15 minutes end to end. I'm confident that I could do at least a lap from downtown back to the Ralph even on game night. Plenty of bars provide most of the fun after the game (assuming you're not a student of course)
I've already covered that our fans are the best in college hockey maybe even hockey in general, students will literally set up tents at 10 AM on gameday and wait all day come hell or high water (or in Grand Forks case blustering wind and cold) just for glass seats in the student section.
There is so much to look at during your visit to the Ralph so I would recommend getting there early and you can just walk around at the museum like feel of past players, such as Zach Parise or Jonathan Toews, and see the jerseys from their Olympic runs.
If you're ever looking for a good night and even if you're not a fan of hockey the Ralph is one attraction (and maybe the only attraction) in Grand Forks that you must see. If you are a hockey fan then this is one arena you MUST visit.
Member Review by NateH1234 on Feb 12, 2015
This arena is the best arena in college hockey. Why the f@*$ isn't it number #1. It is the nicest and has the best energy. This is the true hockey experience. UND.
312 Kittson Ave
Grand Forks, ND 58201
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