First of all, thanks to the many readers of this website who influenced our planning,
and as a result the roadtrippers make a visit to the State of North Dakota to find a
venue with no parallel outside the major sports.
"The Ralph" was the vision of one alumni of UND to provide his school with the finest
hockey arena in the world. Ralph Engelstad was a goaltender for the Fightin' Sioux
back in the forties, who later amassed a huge fortune in Las Vegas through real estate
development and casino proprietorship.
Towards the end of the twentieth century he decided to use some of that fortune to
build an arena for his old school and by the fall of 2001, an opulent palace to hockey
opened up to the world as Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Getting to the Venue
REA sits just a few hundred yards east of exit 141 of I-29 in Grand Forks. Pass a few
shops and plazas on the road off the interstate and soon you'll see the large marquee
at the entry to the side street leading to the arena. The arena sits in an open area with
plenty of parking lots, some off campus eateries and bookstores, and the UND
Campus just a stones throw away.
Outside the venue
The exterior is a red brick facade with a neon "Ralph Engelstad Arena" marquee and a
large backlit team logo on all sides of the venue. The main entrance to the arena is on
the east side. Sitting a few yards in front, in the middle of a large public plaza, is an
imposing statue of renowned Sioux tribesman Sitting Bull riding horseback. It is the
first of many impressive points of interest to the building.
As you walk in, the first thing you notice is the floor. That's not concrete or tile folks,
that's marble tile imported from Italy. Take a look again, that's the team logo engraved
on the surface (also can be found at other entrances to the arena).
The main lobby has plenty to see - a life sized statue of Ralph himself, glass encased
memorabilia and huge photo murals from the school's storied history. The main
merchandise store is also here enclosed within kelly green colored iron gates. And a
few of Ralph's favorite quotes engraved on the walls, such as "the harder I work, the
luckier I get."
Two concourses - upper and lower for the two seating levels here. The lower one is
filled with photos, murals, and other depictions of North Dakota hockey. Shots of great
players who have worn the ND uniform and fans shivering outside the old Winter
Sports Auditorium are side by side here. Along each alcove to the seating bowl one
can find framed jerseys memorializing each major artist/event to come through here.
For example, for the rock group the Goo Goo Dolls, the jersey reads "Goo Goo Dolls",
the number "02" for the year they appeared, and a program and ticket stub also
included in the frame. Nicely done.
The upper concourse has the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame at one end zone, and
throughout the level there are framed photos of the finest players to play for the Sioux.
Ballpark dreck and much more to be found here. Great use of the Sioux name here as
there are stands called "Sioux-per Dogs" for basic dreck, and if hot cup of anything is
what you need, then try the "Sioux'ps" stand. Couple things worth mentioning are
"cheesecake on a stick" as well as the "exploding pig", pretty much a heaping pulled
Interesting tidbit, if you wish to be served adult libations and appear to be under 35
then you must register and get a wristband shortly after entering the building.
Again- be prepared to be impressed with this 11,400 seat bowl split into two levels.
Each and every seat is leather padded in green with cherrywood seatbacks. State of
the art LED board surrounds the balcony and more of the same technology is on the
video board that hangs above center ice. The Sioux logo is everywhere to be found
here, in the club balconies in the upper deck end zones and adorning the sidelines
above the arena's second deck.
48 suites ring the arena bowl between the upper and lower deck. And there are two
club areas, one behind each end zone. The Hall of Fame Club Lounge features a rare
organ, called the "Mortier Organ", that was imported from Europe and refurbished.
Seven NCAA Championship Banners and multiple WCHA Championship hang from
the rafters of this amazing building, and yet there is only one retired number here - the
#23 of......No not Michael Jordan! Ralph Engelstad himself.
Also hanging above the Green Mill Club Lounge are banners of each current NHL club
along with some that no longer exist- California Seals, Hartford Whalers, Cleveland
Hat Tricks, Assists, and Penalties....
Penalty - lots of historical photos and murals abound here, but us Sabres fans could
much do without the huge wall mural of ND alum Ed Belfour holding that tainted
Stanley Cup over his head.
Hat Trick - to the many fans who jammed our website email box and message board
full of suggestions to come to North Dakota and visit "The Ralph", it was well worth the
Assist - to the fabled, if not consistent USRT karma. The Fightin' Sioux defeated the
Minnesota State Mavericks by a 3-2 count.
Assist - At the end of the national anthem ND fans shout out "Sioux". .....and the
hooooooome of theeee SIOUX!!
Penalty - if we ever make it out here again, we'll try not to go in the middle of January.
This single digit fahrenheit stuff just doesn't cut it with us! Plus with the students on
winter break, we didn't get the feel of a real college hockey atmosphere on this night.
Special thanks go to Dan Benson of the Media Relations Department of the University
of North Dakota for the press passes, and to the message posters at
SiouxSports.com for throwing a few ideas out as to how to kill a day in Grand Forks.
The grinders at the Red Pepper were A+!
We'll be very blunt here, this arena is a palace! Amazingly opulent, and if this were an
NHL venue, it automatically makes the five star rating and challenges St. Paul and
Columbus for best hockey arena in the land. Ralph Engelstad had a vision to build the
finest hockey arena in the world and quite frankly, if there is a short list of arenas at the
top then this place needs to get a mention on it....no questions asked!
|Grand Forks, North Dakota