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Best WCHA Rinks



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

Yep, it's purty.

Yep, it's purty.

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

Let the record show that I hate #31, Nick Licari.

Let the record show that I hate #31, Nick Licari.

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

Banners tend to indicate success.

Banners tend to indicate success.

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 Ralph.

The Kohl Center.



36 Responses to “Best WCHA Rinks”
  1. Blake says:

    Great list. The WCHA definitely has some great arenas. I’ve only ever been to Mariucci and the Ralph, but from what I’ve seen Denver’s can get pretty out of control at times too.

    BTW…Did you mean Keith Ballard?

  2. Rudy says:

    YOST!!! You forgot about Yost.

  3. ms.conduct says:

    Naturally, I’ve never been to a college hockey game but I know I’d love it. Someday when I get up for a Wild game, I’m going to make sure to time it with a Gophers game. Do you have to sell a kidney to get a ticket to those things? Surely one of my Minnesotans, if I haven’t pissed them all off with my “Oh, get over it about Robbie Earl” Twitterfest, can hook me up. :)

  4. PVeltkamp says:

    I live very close to St. Lawrence and Clarkson, and although these places don’t compare with the schools in your list the atmosphere at college games is pretty awesome!! I have a buddy who plays for Brown we saw them at STL last year and this year we are likely going to Clarkson, we’ll see how the two arenas match up.

  5. number21 says:

    I just went and saw the Badger v. Anchorage on Saturday in Madison. That was my first time there. and I had a great time. It’s a great arena and it’s great that the student section is so into it. When I went to Michigan State the crowd was not nearly as exciting as the Badger crowd. Or maybe I pre-gamed too much to remember the crowds. I was physically at the game when Ryan Miller broke some school record, I just don’t remember the details.

    Oh and I told my buddy a Seawolf was an Orca. oops.

  6. number21 says:

    wow I think everything is just great. :|

  7. Frank says:

    I always thought a Seawolf was a wolf that mutated into an aquatic animal after the Valdez spill in 89…..thanks for the article, Justin. I would like to see the Seawolves play on the road at some point and it sounds like these are the places I need to go to first.

  8. AiH says:

    The National Hockey Center at St. Cloud State University deserves a nod.

  9. Will77 says:

    I think this piece needs a follow up article detailing just how amazing playing in or going to a college hockey game is. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the average NHL fan has any idea what they’re like. Live bands (and I don’t mean a 5-piece student rock band… we’re talking of dozens and dozens of people and horns and drums and….), chants and heckles nonstop and for EVERYTHING, I could go on. I remember actually being kinda bored for the first time ever going to an NHL game when I went to my first one after year one of college hockey.

  10. Maria says:

    so I have been to a few games at mariucci and honestly have yet to be too impressed. I’ve spent most of my college days at UMass-Amherst and to be completely honest games ive been to there have been head and shoulders above what i’ve seen in Mariucci! I was at the very first game of the season for the gophers…they were playing Denver who is legit and there weren’t that many fans there and there was really not that many cheers or anything like that. At UMass there are cheers for everything…guys going to the box? cheer! (for the other team you wave at them until they get in the box and then say “see ya a**hole!” hah) after every goal? cheer (sing that don don don hey! song and add a “You suck” after the hey! and then at the end say f*ck up go UMass!”) so again as i said i was disappointed with what ive seen at Mariucci so far…but ya you should experience a hockey east game some time…us east coasters can can pretttyyy creative!

  11. St. Cloud Gopher says:

    As a current student at SCSU, and a somtimes Husky Hockey writer for the student newspaper, the NHC does not deserve a nod.
    If it is a Gopher/UND/Kato game, then maybe. Otherwise, it can be a ghost town.
    Tickets are always available (unless it is the above teams), and outside of a select student section, everything else is pretty t(l)ame.
    In fact, as a Gopher/Yankee fan, I was put off by how little crap I took when I wore the Gold to my first SCSU/UM game there.
    But, coming from a campus that can’t get more than 18 students to stick around on a Fri.-Sun. it does not really surprise me.

  12. j says:

    I believe they pulled out “what’s a seawolf” at Wisconsin this weekend. Seems like most fans who think they are “pretty creative” would be surprised to hear “their” cheers at 75% of other college arenas. But there’s something special about 10,000+ fans doing a cheer in unison that can’t be beat. I’d pick the same 3 WCHA arenas as a fan.

  13. jtbourne says:

    Ahhh, I just got home. I get blog comments on my phone, and have been dying to comment on two things.

    One: “St. Clouds National Hockey Center deserves a shoutout”. No. No it doesn’t. I realize I was on the Seapups, not the Gophers, but those other buildings sold out and ABUSED us. No rink did less with more than the NHC. Like someone sucked the life outta the place with a vaccuum.

    Two: I forgot about the best part of Mariucci. I updated it above. The “MINNESOTA” chant. Every goal opponents scored in that rink should count as two (see: one of my mere four freshman year goals, Charlie Kronschnabel’s “OH WHAT A SHOT BY KRONSCHNABEL” goal, my game-tying breakaway goal on Kellen “Bourne owns me” Briggs in a 5-4 come from behind Seawolves win *tires self-pumped*, and Luke Beaverson’s overtime winner in game two of playoffs my senior year. Those now count as two. At least.)

  14. rm says:

    Justin, you need to rename your post to “3 best hockey rinks in the WCHA”. I know the WCHA conference schedule leaves only a few Non-conference games (and 4 of those are with Alaska-Fairbanks) so you probably didn’t “get out” much :) . The UAA website only goes back to 2006-07 (your senior year), and that year the ‘wolves didn’t play out of the WCHA or the state of Alaska.

    In your other 3 years at UAA, did you play any non-conference games east of the Mississippi?

    I’m biased, but there is a rink in the middle of central New York that can get pretty loud :) . And once a year Bright Arena (where Harvard plays) gets decked out in RED and becomes “Lynah East” when Cornell comes to town.

  15. jtbourne says:

    Semi-valid. I changed the title, cause your right, they aren’t the definitive best college rinks, they’re the best WCHA ones. What I CAN’T buy, is the ECAC. Those kids get a great education. But I just spilled a glass of water that’s deeper than that conference. (Not trying to start a conference war, but beyond the top two/three teams there… man).

  16. Officer Koharski says:

    Man you should get yourself to the Beanpot some time. I’m not even going to get into it, it’s just a great time. Go BU. Gordon and the Beanpot Trot (google if you haven’t seen it yet) can practice their freestyle skills over in the hall of shame.

  17. minnesotagirl71 says:

    BTW – the ever-flashy Robbie Earl scored two goals yesterday in his second game with the Wild.

  18. rm says:

    Talent-wise, yes, the WCHA and CCHA and HE are deeper, but several current NHLers have come the ECAC. Six of the 12 ECAC teams are IVY schools and those schools (and I believe Union) cannot offer athletic scholarships. The scholarships are based on financial need, which is probably favorable many Canadian hockey players. So the ECAC is not, for the most part, recruiting the same players as the schools in the other leagues.

    But if you are talking about atmosphere (and not top-to-bottom talent on the roster), then the ECAC does indeed have a few good rinks and teams (Lynah, Clarkson, Saint Lawrence), with GREAT bands and awesome fans in which to enjoy some college hockey.

  19. Jason says:

    JT, were you at the DECC in 2007 when there were HS hockey playoffs going on there Saturday afternoon? I remember a bunch of UAA players including Kronscnobel who my brother had a class with was in attendance sitting in the folding chairs on the glass. I’d like to know what you think of the DECC. That is one of my favorites, because of the gorgeous setting on Lake Superior and the skyway that connects it to downtown.

  20. tiggs says:

    If your ever looking for an intimate hockey experience, Merrimack College has a cool little rink. You can ALWAYS get a ticket to watch them play the top teams. Not so much of the rah rah stuff, but good hockey in a small environment.

  21. Josh Ciocco says:

    Best rinks to play in….1.) UNH 2.) UNH 3.) BU 4.) Maine 5.) Michigan…. Minny is a treat too, cant argue with them at 1- I really enjoyed that place. I felt like I was playing the russians with Minnesota chant- I swore if Vanek did the hail hitler motion the crowd would have followed…

    Best rivalries would be a good side topic to this- Im incredibly biased, but when i was at UNH the maine games were unreal…BU-BC is intense… Mich-MSU….NoDak-Minny….CC-DU….Anchorage-Fairbanks???? as program on the verge of making college hockey not fair anymore is notre dame once they get their new rink…

  22. Josh Ciocco says:

    Oh, and the person who posted Merrimack is a good rink needs to be banned from your website— Im not even being the least bit sarcastic when I say that Merrimacks rink is on par with…. Merrit….maybe worse….I nominate merriack for the worst rink in college hockey—in fact they should pay players to have to get dressed in the those locker rooms. Ever had to watch your coach take a crap? I have, because there are no bathroom doors in their rink!!!!

  23. WWPKD says:

    I think the Xcel Energy Center deserves a tip of the cap come WCHA Final Five time. When the planets align and things work out well and you get a good championship game, (UW/UM, UM/ND, ect.) that rink becomes an absolute circus. WCHA tournament hockey in ST. Paul on ST. Pattys day….COME ON. I knew there was a good reason i work and save my money every summer.

  24. Jimjamesak says:

    To answer Josh’s question about the UAA – UAF rivalry, I’d say UAA – UAF is one of the more intense rivalries in college hockey but I come from a biased perspective. The fans certainly get into it. It was kind of ho hum in Anchorage for a few years but it’s heated up lately at UAA because of UAF calling themselves “Alaska”. Yeah we didn’t like that. Nobody who’s gone to UAA likes the fact that while UAA has more students than UAF and UAS combined yet UAF gets the vast majority of funding and now they want their teams to be the “leading representative” of the name Alaska? Yeah fuck that, they’re UAF and you can’t spell failure without it.

    But it goes a little deeper in that Anchorage and Fairbanks have a long standing rivalry in everything and the two places just generally don’t like each other. This article pretty much sums it up better than me ( ).

    My favorite UAA – UAF moment involves Mr. Bourne here. First game of the series in Fairbanks in 2006-07. UAA hadn’t won the Governors Cup in 5 years and UAF had just started to call itself “Alaska”, so plenty of us were riled up. UAF leads 5-4 with a little over a minute and UAA calls a timeout. During the timeout a few UAF fans leave right in front of us and one looks at us and says “Haha better luck tomorrow night!”. Puck drops and UAA works it around for 45 seconds and Bourne takes a shot that’s saved and Jay Beagle scores on the rebound. Happy times.
    3:09 into the OT, Bourne gets a pass and skates into the zone and rips a shot past the UAF goalie. 6-5 UAA and they go on to win the Governors Cup that year. Still one of the best goals at UAA and gave Justin a free pass on just about anything from UAA fans.

  25. jtbourne says:

    The DECC is an awesome rink… for the home team (oh, and yes, I was there for the HS hockey). I did like playing there, the ice just seems so small, and the fans are right on top of you, so it seems like more of a hostile environment. My first WCHA game was against a Minny-Duluth squad that was so stacked it made me dizzy, and we lost something like 8-1, 8-2.

    XCEL energy center in Minny is one of the best rinks in the country. Very cool experience playing there.

    Josh – UNH has a dope rink, and the rivalry with Maine is crazy. UAA-UAF is intense too. You always get the feeling just from fan energy that it matters to them. What “jimjamesek” left off in his comment there is that I almost got disowned by my Dad after that OT winner – I fake-pulled a Sharpie out of my sock (TO reference) and fake-signed the blade of my stick. Haha.

  26. Marc says:

    To answer ms.conduct’s question, Gopher tickets are not a matter of actual human flesh selling but it’s close. The wait list for season tickets to Gopher games is over 20 years long. When your child is born, you put yourself on the list, if you’re lucky and you hold you kid back a grade or two, you can see a game while they are in college. Mariucci is decidedly the best college rink I’ve been in in many ways, but I’m torn as giving it the nod because of it’s design principles. There is arguing that the university wants to sell out EVERY game. They purposely designed it in a way that every seat is great. I’ve sat there 4th row and the last, it didn’t make that much difference, the view was great and you never felt far away. However that comes at a lack of capacity (the Kohl Center, with an ice sheet in, holds 15,550 people for reference). It keeps the place loud, and packed, but it means you do have to buy tickets at insane prices for most every game, the average or passing fan has very limited access to games unless they’re loaded.

  27. AiH says:

    Wow – I guess St Cloud State has really let themselves go since I was there. That’s disappointing to hear.

  28. jtbourne says:

    Marc – I can edit that comment if you want: I assume you know (and meant) that the Kohl Center holds 15,550 (and actually, i just googled – 15,237). Mariucci seats 10,000 – not too shabby for a college game.

  29. Marc says:

    bah! well damn me for believing the first number that showed, saw 9700 for Mariucci and 15,237 for the Kohl.

  30. Marc says:

    Regardless though it feels small, and I dare say it goes without saying that the face of college hockey in Minnesota could easily do with more seating. I love that the place is packed every game, I just think they could pack the place every game with another 1000 seats in the place.

  31. jtbourne says:

    No argument on that here.

  32. Anna S. says:

    I’m really partial to Lynah at Cornell since that’s where I went to school, and I can testify that the crowds there are vicious to visitors, but it’s a lot smaller than the 15k seat rinks in the midwest. Not sure how that would affect the overall noise in the building, since I’ve never been to a game in Wisconsin or Minnesota. Tickets were hard to come by, though (students would camp out on Wednesday to be at the front of the line for season tickets distributed on Saturday), and if you didn’t have season tickets it was pretty much body parts for the big games (Good luck finding tix to the Harvard game if you didn’t have season tickets, those things were rarer than unicorns).

  33. Dave says:

    i live in new england, and have only been to hockey east arenas. Mullins @ Umass-Amherst is def pretty rowdy, but I’d have to say the most fun and boisterous crowd was watching Northeastern’s Dog House @ Matthews Arena. Aside from the fact that the fans are literally on top of the sheet, the acoustics really amplify every sound. If i was a visiting opponent, it’d def be intimidating. I’d def like to visit the wcha arenas as well…

  34. Justin,
    I was always partial to the “I got a little Captain in Me” move after you scored. I guess I missed seeing you do the fake stick signing because I was busy eating my heart attack meds.

  35. jtbourne says:

    I gotta confess – the Captain Morgan pose after a Saturday night goal (as in, before a party) was a hijacked celebration. I saw Barrett Heisten do it at an Aces game and 100% ripped it off. I loved it that much.

  36. alaskahockeygirl says:

    Dammitall, we miss you!

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