On Friday, November 2nd; I was able to take in a hockey game. However, this is something I hadn't experienced before, in that it was a college hockey game. Luckily for me, I planned a getaway around the University of North Dakota men's hockey team's schedule and decided to take in the weekend match-up between UND and Boston University.
Thankfully Jayson Hadju and his staff at the media office, I (along with the NHL History Girl, Jen Conway) was able to take in the game from the press box to get a bigger view of the scene...and what a scene.
Being in the Maryland area most my life, the college hockey scene was still blossoming, even though they were at a club level. They had some fanatical followers, but it was a very small sample size of people. The UND community embraces hockey as a life-blood and are very proud of the hockey stars they have groomed and have become champions after attending the school.
In my eternal ability and need to arrive to things early, Jen and I got to the rink about two hours before puck drop to get in and just have myself walk around Ralph Engelstad Arena, which is just impressive from the outside-- who knows what could be around each corner on the concourse. It had started snowing earlier in the day and created a nice slush by the time we trekked out to the arena. Even with the conditions, once we parked the car, we were greeted with throngs of UND student wrapping around The Ralph, braving the conditions in order to see UND take on Boston University in Grand Forks for the first time since 1996.
Once we got out of the cold and into The Ralph, it was just as marvelous as the people have said it was. There was plenty of stuff around the arena for alumnus who have played for UND in the past were honored and remembered in the halls and those who have won the Stanley Cup had a giant portraits hanging on the walls holding the Cup.
About halfway through the mini-concourse tour, the students came piling into the building since the section is general admission, which created for a hell of a stampede to get to the seats. Once we got around the concourse, we decided to make our way up to the press level and get situated in that aspect. The press boxes themselves are a little better than most NHL facilities I've been to, which added to the praise that the arena has gotten. Most of the arena interior is fantastic and top-notch with a bar for VIP members at each end of the rink-- adding a little class and comfortable nature to the setting.
The game itself was a hard-hitting affair with UND coming out on top 4-2 on the power of Connor Gaarder's hat trick and in spite of captain Andrew MacWilliam being ejected due to a shot to the head of BU's Ahti Oksanen (where Oksanen scored on the only shot of the five-minute PP).
More over, I was experiencing the student section, boosters, and hardcore UND fans that were chanting and singing along like it was a college basketball or European hockey game-- a very welcoming atmosphere and bringing everyone in the UND family into the game and getting lively....as in the video below.
Of course, UND is without a mascot until 2015, but that doesn't mean that the Fighting Sioux moniker and logo aren't around town. As the picture of the floor shows, the Sioux logo is still around the area and on the medallions on the seats. Even the fans shout, "SIOUX!!" when UND is introduced. While a name has yet to be thought about for UND, you can bet that people will be hard to forget the Sioux name.
As a first college hockey experience, it was a great one. It's something that will make me want to go back to it, as it seemed like something that could be an enjoy time for a weekend getaway and a cheaper alternative to whatever could be around. It's not the pros, but it's something that people could easily get into and start to follow a certain school-- for one reason or another. If you have the chance, leap at it and get to a game and soak it all in.