Best WCHA RinksShareThis
In order, my top three favourite college arena’s to play in. Really, they’re overall favourites too, because no pro environment can match having a live band, student sections, chants and all the goodies of a college game.
Of course, my home rink, Sullivan Arena, is my overall favourite, based on the memories we had there, the fans, and the fact that to this day, its the best ice surface I’ve ever stepped foot on. It’s like playing in fast forward it’s so hard and fast. So this is just road rinks. And just so you know, those of you who were in the student sections when I was playing, the “What’s-a-Sea-wolf clap-clap clap-clap-clap” chant isn’t original. ITS A MYTHICAL CREATURE OF THE SEA, DAMNIT!
3. University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Ralph Engelstad Arena
An arena with a serious ”NHL feel” to it. But man, when they fill their 12-13,000 seat arena, they make some damn good college-style noise. You know when you’re skating onto the big stage of Ralph Englestad Arena that there’s NHL scouts there, and that you’re going to have to defend Jonathan Toews, TJ Oshie, Zach Parise, and the two most dangerous players (seriously, the following two were tougher college players to defend than the previous three) Ryan Duncan (what, 5’5″, maybe?) and Brandon Bochenski (somewhere in the AHL?).
“The Ralph” as its affectionately known, stands out on the North Dakota horizon like a bird of paradise hanging out with penguins. In the midst of flat, cold winter sits this huge, sharp-looking brick building with logo’s everywhere. You get excited to play there. And why not? You only get to play there a couple times a year, at best.
2. University of Wisconsin Badgers, The Kohl Center
Narrowly, oh so narrowly, in second.
As a freshman on the 8th seeded team, we went into Wisconsin’s Kohl Center to play their 3rd seeded Badgers in a best of three and won.
The next year, we blew a two goal-third period lead in game three (and by “blew a lead”, I mean Joe Pavelski “took the game”) to narrowly miss upsetting them in playoffs again. But this building is amazing.
Seating somewhere around 15,000+ people, all of them in red, they make the visitors walk alongside the student section and band before and after each period, making for more than one fan-to-player altercation that I can remember. The entire powerplay, they chant something similar to Atlanta Braves fans. Our goalie’s helmet came off, they chanted “ugly goalie”. The ref fell, the chanted “ice is slippery”. They chant “sieve”. They count the goals off after every goal. “1! 2! 3! You just sucked! You just sucked! You just sucked!” Our goalie literally got the words “band geeks” painted on the back of his helmet just to get some silent retribution for the years of abuse he took there. Now, that’s a special environment.
And even though I missed when Heatley was there, doesn’t mean they didn’t have some great, hard-working players for us to deal with too – Adam Burrish, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and the like were the third line grinders that always ended up beating us while we were trying to shut down the ever-flashy Robbie Earl and the steady Joe Pavelski. Tom Gilbert running their PP was deadly. And Ryan Suter was the only college player to call me a “bender”. So I hate him too.
1. University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mariucci Arena
Ahh, the mystique of the Gophers. The history.
This is like going to play the Yankees. Everybody but Yankee fans hate the Yankees. It’s rarely a passive “meh, they’re whatever”. Minnesota loves their Gophers, and everybody else hates them. But you can’t take away from the fact that they’re the best in baseball (or in this case, college hockey), and similarly, they have the most tools and money at their disposal to be great. It’s why Mass-holes would rather hate the Yankees than like the Red Sox. And why it’s fun to go play them.
This place is number one for me strictly because its the best “college”-style environment. They have gold seats shaped in a big “M” in the midst of the maroon ones. I don’t think you’re allowed in the door without team colours on. And the surface is roughly the size of the moon, and you’re chasing around Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo, Alex Goligoski and Blake Wheeler. And Tomas Vanek. And Keith Ballard. And Eric Johnson. And about 93 guys in the AHL. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some huge names.
There’s just something about being there that you have to experience.
*UPDATE – Major amendment to my original post. When Minny scores, and the fans all do the “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A… Minnesota! Minnesota! GOooooooooOOOO Gophers!” chant, and it’s a big goal, there’s just no feeling like being on the other side of that. Instant momentum for the home team, no matter what happened prior. It’s amazing.
So there’s my top three:
The Kohl Center.