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  • Daryn Skjefte

Ralph Engelstad Arena – North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Photos by Daryn Skjefte, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43

Ralph Engelstad Arena

One Ralph Engelstad Arena Drive

Grand Forks, ND 58203

Year Opened: 2001

Capacity: 11,643


UND Hockey at Ralph Engelstad Arena

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 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.

Food & Beverage 4

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 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 allows guests to truly experience the Grand Forks culture. Other vendors include Subway, TCBY, Tim Hortons, and Little Caesars.

Atmosphere 5

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. 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 every guest feel thrilled before the excitement of the game even begins.

Neighborhood 3

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 are 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 recommendations for pre-game food would be Brick & Barley bar and restaurant, JL Beers, and Rhombus Guys Brewing Company.

Fans 5

The University of North Dakota hockey fans are on a whole different level. While the student section is filled for 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 number 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 are unlike anything I have witnessed.

Access 4

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 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 the main and upper levels, 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 a large number of fans pouring into the venue.

Return on Investment 5

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 make 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.

Extras 5

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.

Final Thoughts

The Ralph Engelstad Arena is unlike anything else in college hockey. The extreme detail that goes into 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 several reasons. This should be a spot to see on everyone’s bucket list.

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