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Official Review by Elizabeth Erickson, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
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.
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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".
Nearly endless possibilities of what to purchase allow fans to choose their favorite. The classic hot dog ($4) pairs well with a soft drink (Coke products) for $3.75. For those that desire something a level above, a foot-long corn dog is available for $5.50.
The Ralph offers baked potatoes ($5.50), peanuts ($4), in addition to a selection of beers ranging from Miller and Coors 16 oz. for $5, Honey Weiss for $7 or, 24 oz. bottles of Miller Lite, Coors or Coors Lite for $6.
TCBY and Dip 'n Dots are a few venue favorites, or fans can warm up with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee ($3). Also available are tacos in a bag, fresh-cut prime rib sandwiches and mini doughnuts. Those are just a few of the many options. Although the prices can be expensive, you will find quality food.
The atmosphere is like no other. Upon entering the main doors, fans will set foot on granite flooring that encompasses the entirety of the concourse area. Although the team can no longer be called the "Fighting Sioux", North Dakota's old nickname is evident throughout the hundreds of logos still weaved into the building itself. The team currently is known simply as "North Dakota" as a new nickname won't be chosen until 2015.
Fans can admire the many trophies or watch highlight reels on one of the four screens in the lobby. Many of the 300 TVs found in the facility are seen around the concourse, along with food vendors in every direction and the ever-present smell of roasted Bavarian almonds.
Fans enter into their specific section and find seats among the 11,643 cherry wood and upholstered leather seats that surround a sheet of ice. It's hard to get a bad seat in the Ralph, as each provides for a different experience. Pressed up against the glass or a bird's eye view of every play on the ice, wherever one views the game will be well worth it. The lower bowl is separated from the upper bowl by means of 48 luxury suits.
Suspended directly above center ice is a 30,000-pound jumbotron that reveals replays, shots on goal, penalty minutes, goals and fan entertainment. On one side of arena, hanging high from the rafters, seven national championship banners remind fans of the exquisite program's success while the 15 Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference banners lining the other side contribute to the accomplished hockey team.
Surrounded by the University of North Dakota campus and residential neighborhoods, typical entertainment is a scarcity near the Ralph. However, occasional restaurants nearby offer what many fans are looking for.
Located a fifteen minute drive downtown, Rhombus Guys provides the classic local pizza experience for those who want quality food as it is known for its excellent variety of toppings and unique atmosphere that fans will love.
For fans who desire the "true" Grand Forks experience, one of two Red Pepper locations will fulfill that need. Serving tacos, grinders, tostadas and much more, Red Pepper is a local favorite that includes low prices and quick service. An easy drive across 6th Avenue and down 42nd Street will bring fans to the new, contemporary establishment. The authentic Red Pepper, located east across University Avenue, resides in a residential area and inside the small building there are various wooden booths to choose from.
The fans could be considered some of the greatest fans in college hockey as their passion and energy for the team that plays before them rings strong throughout the arena. When starting lineups are announced, the loud cheers for each player reveal unquestionable support for the entire program. Fists are thrust high at the end of the Star Spangled banner as a collective "home of the SIOUX" roars over everything else. They don't sit down until the first whistle is blown and, in all four sections of upper bowl, students are on their feet for the whole game.
Despite sub-zero temperatures and howling North Dakota winds, brave students will line up outside the arena, hours before the puck drops, in order to claim their favorite seat. It's rare not to have a sell out crowd, and for high-rivaled games such as the Minnesota Golden Gophers, tickets will be sold for hundreds of dollars a piece. Dedicated fans will drive for hours to watch 60 minutes of hockey and not think twice about it.
Located a short drive off of exit 141 from Interstate 29, near the University of North Dakota campus, Ralph Engelstad Arena is easily found, as its massive presence is illuminated by its white spotlights that light up the sky and can be seen from afar.
For newcomers, parking can seem like a hassle. While season ticket holders have reserved spots in designated lots, those who do not can find parking in many other areas. Various organizations and businesses offer parking for around $5 or $10 nearby, along with occasional street parking at a distance. A better alternative is taking a free bus from a local restaurant or bar directly to the arena, which will provide transportation back after the game as well.
There are many entrances to the arena that are accessible for fans. When the doors first open an hour before game time, the lines are typically at their longest as fans have been awaiting the opening. However, they quickly diminish for a quick bag check and scan of a ticket.
The venue can be very busy before the game starts as fans scurry to purchase food and beverages before the game starts or listen to live entertainment in the concourse. Traffic also picks up between periods and can be more difficult to quickly navigate, though still very manageable. Ample restrooms throughout the concourse will typically yield longer lines during intermissions, but they go quick as the many stalls allow for efficiency.
Ticket prices will vary for each hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Ranging from $25 to $50, each opponent that North Dakota plays yields a different ticket price. With the energy and excitement at a higher level against rival teams, the occasional higher price is worth it. The experience inside the world class Ralph Engelstad Arena alone is worth what fans will be paying for it.
Although food can be expensive, eating before the game will save what money fans who are apprehensive with parting. In other cases, eating at a game is all part of the experience with the opportunity to eat or drink out of commemorative containers that can be saved and taken home.
Just inside the main entrance, the "Sioux Shop" provides an opportunity for fans to purchase memorabilia ranging from sweatshirts to a logo covered barbeque grill.
The tradition and history of the program that is evident through large photos, posters and trophies that are visible in nearly every inch of the concourse allow venue goers to see what became of the program and the achievements of North Dakota hockey.
Between each period, fans are entertained in a variety of ways including "chuck-a-puck" in which rubber hockey pucks can be purchased for $1 and thrown toward center ice for a chance at claiming a prize. Other activities include human bowling, laser light shows and special presentations.
Die hard hockey fans will realize the importance that #23 played in North Dakota. As Ralph Engelstad's jersey number, it was retired and hangs on a banner high in the arena, and also illuminates the ice before the starting lineups are announced.
"North Dakota nice" is an understatement. The staff at the Ralph go out of their way to assist whatever needs arise and make sure that each and every fan has the most enjoyable experience.
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312 Kittson Ave
Grand Forks, ND 58201
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