Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Go to a North Dakota Hockey Game

Continuing my bid to do at least 1 of these for all 50 States, North Dakota has the hockey program at the University of North Dakota. On Friday and Saturday, February 3 and 4, they will host St. Cloud State University of Minnesota, before taking 2 weeks off. So this is as good a time as any to do theirs.

Before You Go. There are 2 things everyone seems to know about the State of North Dakota: It is flat (not entirely true), and it is cold (not always true). Both Friday and Saturday will have an afternoon high of about 20 degrees. Friday night will be in single digits. Saturday night will reach for zero and below. Bundle up!

Most of North Dakota, including Grand Forks, is in the Central Time Zone, 1 hour behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. Seating capacity is 11,643. You would think that this wouldn't be an issue, given North Dakota's low population. Except that, being the only real drawing card in the Dakotas aside from Mount Rushmore, UND leads the nation in per-game hockey attendance: 11,576, or 99.5 percent of capacity. (As you might guess, Wisconsin is 2nd and Minnesota is 3rd.) So getting tickets may be difficult.

If you can get tickets, they'll be $46 for adult tickets throughout the arena, and $30 for children age 12 and under.

Getting There. It's 1,518 miles from Times Square to the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Knowing this, your first inclination would be to fly. But you can't get a flight from any of the New York Tri-State Area airports, only to Fargo -- which is 80 miles south of Grand Forks. So that's out.

Amtrak does go to Grand Forks, but the schedule is a bit unfriendly. You would leave Penn Station on the Lake Shore Limited on Wednesday, February 1, at 3:40 PM Eastern Time, arrive at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Eastern Time on Thursday, then switch to the Empire Builder at 2:15 PM, arriving in Grand Forks at 4:41 AM on Friday. There are more boring places to be than in Grand Forks, North Dakota at 4:41 AM on a Friday, but none appreciably so. The trip back is the Empire Builder at 1:02 AM on Sunday, to Chicago at 3:55 PM, back to the Lake Shore Limited at 9:30 PM, and arriving at Penn Station at 6:23 PM Eastern Time on Monday.

It's $432 round-trip. The Amtrak station is at 5555 Demers Avenue, 4 miles west of downtown, but only 2 miles west of the UND campus. Alas, there's no direct bus service to either.

Greyhound may be better. You can leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 5:15 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday, and arrive in Grand Forks at 8:35 AM Central Time on Friday. It will be $404 round-trip, or $368 with advanced-purchase. The Greyhound station is at 450 Kittson Avenue, downtown, 2 miles east of campus.

Unfortunately, you'd have to change buses four times: In Cleveland in the middle of the night on Thursday, in Chicago in late morning on Thursday, in Minneapolis in prime time on Thursday, and have a 5-hour, 20-minute layover in Fargo in the middle of the night on Friday.

The only other option, and it's the same price, but limits you to the Saturday game instead of giving a choice of Friday or Saturday, is as follows: Leave Port Authority at 10:15 PM on Wednesday, have a nearly 6-hour layover in Chicago on Thursday (fine by me), then have another 6-hour layover in Minneapolis on Friday morning, before arriving in Grand Forks at 7:20 PM Central Time on Friday -- just a little too late to catch the Friday game's puck-drop.

If you want to drive, it's best to get someone to go with you, so you can trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it across Minnesota, over the Red River into North Dakota.

Just 3 miles into North Dakota, switch to Interstate 29 North, until Exit 141 for Grand Forks. Take U.S. Route 2 East to Ralph Engelstad Arena Drive. Drive half a mile south, and the arena will be ahead.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 hours and 15 minutes in Minnesota, and an hour and a half in North Dakota. That's 23 hours. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, outside Chicago, halfway across Wisconsin, and at each end of Minnesota, and accounting for traffic in New York, the Chicago suburbs and the Twin Cities, it should be no more than 29 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.

Once In the City. "Dakota" is a Native name meaning "friends" or "allies." North Dakota is home to about 750,000 people. About 250,000 of that, 1/3rd is at the eastern edge, in Cass (Fargo), Traill and Grand Forks Counties. Most of the 340 or so miles west of that is sparsely populated and, until you get to the western part (which is in the Mountain Time Zone, with the rest being on Central Time), very flat.
Downtown Fargo

The State capital, Bismarck, is about 250 miles southwest of Grand Forks, and 200 miles west of Fargo. The town of Rugby, in the north-central part of the State, about 150 miles west of Grand Forks, is the geographic center of the continent of North America. The State's largest newspapers are The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum of Fargo-MoorheadThe State sales tax is 5 percent.
The rather ordinary-looking State House, in Bismarck

Like much of the Midwestern United States, the area around the campus was first settled by the French, who named it Les Grande Fourches, after the confluence of the Red River and the Red Lake River.
Downtown Grand Forks

The town was settled in the 1740s, and incorporated as a city in 1870. It has a population of about 57,000. Counting its surrounding area, including East Grand Forks, Minnesota across the Red River, its metropolitan area has about 100,000, behind the 118,000 people in Fargo alone, which, along with Moorhead, Minnesota, is part of a metro area of 234,000.
ZIP Codes in North Dakota start with the digits 58, and the Area Code is 701. Address numbers go up as you get further west of the Red River. Demers Avenue divides street addresses into North and South. Like New York, Grand Forks/East Grand Forks has a Central Park, bracketing the Red River. It does not, however, have a highway "beltway." Cities Area Transit (CAT) runs buses for Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. A single ride is $1.50, and a 10-ride card is $13.
Going In. The Fighting Hawks of the University of North Dakota play at Ralph Engelstad Arena, which has an address of 1 Ralph Engelstad Arena Drive. It opened in 2001, with a seating capacity of 11,643, and a rink that runs north-to-south. Its exterior architecture has received plaudits from many people in the hockey world, including Wayne Gretzky, who called it "one of the most beautiful buildings we have in North America."
Engelstad, a native of nearby Thief River Falls, Minnesota, was a 1954 graduate of UND, and had been a goaltender on their hockey team. He got rich as a developer and operator of casino-hotels in Las Vegas and Biloxi, Mississippi. He had donated heavily to the school, and its former arena was renamed for him in 1988. He had donated toward the building of a new arena, which, while on campus, would be a building owned by him on land owned by him (and, after his death, his family).

But UND is one of the schools that has bowed to pressure and removed its former Native American mascot name, in their case the Fighting Sioux. Their jerseys, while green and white, had an "Indian head" logo similar to that of the Chicago Blackhawks.
But such things are very sensitive in both Dakotas, with their many Indian reservations. Midway during construction, as UND was considering changing the name, Engelstad -- then a 71-year-old white conservative billionaire, the kind of man who does not accept being told, "No, you can't have that" -- said he would withdraw his funding of the school if the teas were renamed in deference to political pressure. To further make his point, he had the Fighting Sioux logo placed all over the arena, including a large granite logo in the main concourse.

He died in 2002, but the controversy did not die with him. The NCAA then barred schools that use Native American imagery from hosting, or wearing such imagery in, postseason play. UND sued the NCAA, and got a temporary injunction allowing its teams to keep their mascot and uniforms. They pointed out that Florida State was not forced to drop the name Seminoles.
A joke suggestion. The pronunciation was the same.

The NCAA decided they could keep the name if they could get permission from both "Sioux nations" in their State. They only got one, and the name was given up in 2015, in exchange for the Fighting Hawks. The controversy hasn't completely gone away, with somebody suggesting that "HAWKS" stands for "How About We Keep Sioux?"
"The Ralph" has hosted NCAA Tournament hockey games, and the State high school finals, both boys' and girls'. In 2005, it hosted both the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships and the NCAA Men's Division II Basketball Championship. It has hosted Minnesota Wild exhibition games, and concerts, mostly country music.
An adjoining building, named the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center for Ralph's wife (also a UND graduate), opened in 2004, as the home of the school's basketball and volleyball teams. The Engelstad family has an agreement with the University: The school pays $1.00 a year for renting both "The Ralph" and "The Betty," and the family gets control and final say over them.
"The Betty" on the left, "The Ralph" on the right

The Fighting Hawks play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and in the Big Sky Conference in all other sports.

Food. According to the arena's website,

There are several concession stands in the building which offer a variety of choices from bacon cheeseburgers to chicken wraps. Other vendors in our building include Tim Horton's, Red Pepper, and Little Caesar's Pizza.

Team History Displays. A statue of the arena's namesake is in the main lobby on the east side. His family had it made, wanting everyone to know his place in the school's history. (His own historical knowledge was a bit skewed: Another controversy arose when it was discovered that he had a big collection of Nazi memorabilia, one that would have made Marge Schott think, "Whoa, too much!")

UND has won 8 National Championships in hockey, including being the current holders. They've won in 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000 and (the only one won since moving into the new REA) 2016. They've also reached 22 Frozen Fours, won 17 Conference Championships in the regular season, and won 11 Conference Tournaments. Their National Championship banners are green with white lettering, their Conference Championship banners white with green lettering.
The 8th banner, added since this photo,
has an ND monogram instead of an Indian head.

They don't retire uniform numbers. But they've sent many stars to the NHL, including Dennis Hextall (Bryan's son, Bryan Jr.'s brother and Ron's uncle), 1980 U.S. Olympian Dave Christian, James Patrick, Ed Belfour, Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, current Devil Travis Zajac, and former Devils Craig Ludwig, Mike Commodore, Brad Bombardir and Zach Parise (as well as his brother Jordan).

The Hobey Baker Award, hockey's answer to the Heisman Trophy, has been won by Tony Krkac in 1987 and Ryan Duncan in 2007, although the former didn't have much of an NHL career, and the latter has never even played in the NHL.

Stuff. The Sioux Shop (that name didn't change) is located at the north end of the arena. There is probably no college hockey team that sells a larger amount, or a wider variety, of team-related stuff than UND. has videos of some of their National Championship games, but no books in stock. The UND bookstore is across the street, and perhaps you can pick something up there. It may include Mike Bynum's 75 Years of Fighting Sioux Hockey History, but that only goes up to 2004.

During the Game. You do not need to fear for your safety at a University of North Dakota hockey game. Especially since you're just visiting, and not rooting for the opposition. Just don't say anything bad about ol' Ralph, and don't bring up the team name controversy, and you'll be all right.

Given said controversy, it's probably for the best that there's nobody in a mascot costume. Nor is there a regular National Anthem singer. Their connection to the Blackhawks, however unofficial, has led them to adopt the Chicago club's goal song, "Chelsea Dagger," as their own. They have 3 fight songs: "UND," "It's for You, North Dakota U," and "Stand Up and Cheer."

After the Game. Again, your safety should not be an issue. As for where to go to get a postgame meal, the immediate selection is not good. There's a Jimmy John's at 2855 10th Avenue N., but that's about it. You'll have to go back out to Route 2, where there's (from west to east) a Burger King, a Far East Buffet, Northside Cafe, Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza, Taco John's, and Slapshot Pizza & Fat Albert's Subs.

If your visit to Grand Forks is during the European soccer season, which we are now in, the local branch of the U.S. soccer team fan club, the American Outlaws, meets at Rhombus Guys, at 312 Kittson Avenue downtown. You should be able to find your favorite club on TV there.

Sidelights. North Dakota's sports history is... pretty much the UND hockey team, and that's about it. From 1947 to 1972, they played at the Winter Sports Building, which opened in 1936. Official seating capacity was 3,868, and during a full house, the body heat would raise the temperature about 20 degrees -- not necessarily a bad thing in the Dakotas.

John Mariucci, head coach at arch-rival Minnesota, called it "a potato barn," and the nickname of The Old Barn stuck. Ironically, Minnesota also calls Williams Arena -- still their basketball ground, and their hockey ground until moving into an arena named for Mariucci -- "The Barn."
UND won the 1959 and 1963 National Championships while playing there. But the threat of the NCAA demoting UND from Division I to Division II led them to build a new arena, and The Old Barn was demolished in 1978. The only mention I can find of its location is "on the southeast edge of campus beside the railroad tracks."

That would probably put it adjacent to Memorial Stadium, a 10,000-seat facility built in 1927, which the school still uses for track & field and for football practice. Officially, the address is 2nd Avenue North, bounded also by 26th Street, Campus Drive and Overpass-Columbia Road.  
Across 26th Street was the new Winter Sports Center, opening in 1972, and renamed the Ralph Engelstad Arena in 1988. It seated 6,067 people, and the Fighting Sioux won 5 National Championships there: 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997 and 2000. It also hosted the 1983 NCAA Frozen Four, won by Wisconsin.
UND hockey moved to the new arena in 2001, and the old one was demolished in 2013. It will be replaced by the UND Athletics High Performance Center, described by the University as "an indoor practice and competition facility."

In 2001, the same year that the new Ralph Engelstad Arena opened, UND moved its football into an indoor stadium, the Alerus Center. It seats 12,283 for football, but can be expanded to 21,000 for concerts. 1200 S. 42nd Street, at the southwestern edge of the campus, between 42nd and I-29.

There is a North Dakota State University (NDSU), in Fargo. The Bison are members of the Big 12 Conference for wrestling, the Missouri Valley Football Conference (as are the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University), and the Summit League for all other sports (again, as are USD and SDSU). They play football indoors at the 19,000-seat Fargodome, and basketball at the Bison Sports Arena, at 1800 and 1600 N. University Drive, respectively, across 17th Avenue from each other.

UPDATE: On October 6, 2017, Thrillist compiled a list of their Best College Football Stadiums, the top 19 percent of college football, 25 out of 129. The Fargodome came in at Number 23: "The ruckus has a tendency to extend beyond the doors."
There is only 1 professional baseball team in North Dakota: The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks are an independent team, and won Pennants in the Northern League in 1998, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2010. They now play in the 21st Century edition of the American Association. They play at Newman Outdoor Field, 1515 15th Avenue North in Fargo, and includes a museum for Maury Wills, who coached and broadcast for them.

Also honored with a museum in Fargo is the city's favorite son, Roger Maris. The local American Legion Post wanted to honor him, and contacted him for his permission in 1984. Knowing he was dying, Roger had 2 requests: That it be free of charge, and "put where people can see it." In other words, he didn't want people going out of their way just to see him.

The Roger Maris Museum was established at the West Acres Regional Shopping Center, at 3902 13th Avenue South, about 4 miles southwest of downtown. It's in the Sears wing of the mall, near its eastern end. It contains several artifacts relating to his life and career, including one of his Most Valuable Player wards, and some seats from the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium.

Roger Maris is buried in Fargo, at Holy Cross Cemetery, on Aquarius Drive, a few miles down University Drive from the NDSU athletic facilities.

The Minnesota teams dominate pro sports fandom in North Dakota. Even in the Western part of the State, very far from the Twin Cities, no baseball team really makes any inroads on the Twins, nor any football team on the Vikings, nor any hockey team on the Wild. The exception is the NBA: The Timberwolves only started in 1989 (the Wild did so in 2000, but inherited people who'd rooted for the North Stars from 1967 to 1993), and so the Lakers remain more popular west of Fargo and Grand Forks. 

There is a professional soccer team in North Dakota. Dakota Fusion FC play in Fargo, at Sid Cichy Stadium, at Bishop Shanley High School -- alma mater of Maris, former Texas Rangers pitcher Rick Helling, and Connor McGovern, who just finished his rookie season as a guard for the Denver Broncos. 5600 25th Street South.

A State only since November 2, 1889 -- it was admitted as the 39th State, and South Dakota as the 40th State, on the same day -- North Dakota's history is misleading. Most of its history is in its Native American period. As a result, most of the historic sites in the State are former Army forts, which recreate life among the Natives and the settlers.

In Grand Forks, the North Dakota Museum of Art is a short walk from The Ralph, at 261 Centennial Drive. Fargo has The Fargo Air Museum, at 1609 19th Avenue N.; and The Plains Art Museum, at 704 1st Avenue N.

Neither Elvis Presley nor the Beatles ever gave a concert in North Dakota. There has never been a President from either of the Dakotas, but Theodore Roosevelt ran a ranch there in the 1880s. Its land is now part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in North Billings. But that's in the western part of the State, 383 miles southwest of The Ralph -- closer to that other Dakota site connected with TR, Mount Rushmore (263 miles), and closer still to the Montana State Line, 30 miles.

The tallest building in Grand Forks is the Canad Inns Destination Center, a hotel with a casino and a water park, just 126 feet high. 1000 S. 42nd Street. The tallest building in the entire State is the State Capitol, at 600 E. Boulevard Avenue in Bismarck, 242 feet. (The only other State whose State House is its tallest building is West Virginia.)

The only TV shows ever set in North Dakota are Blood & Oil, a briefly-airing nighttime soap on ABC in 2015; and the currently-running FX series Fargo, based on the Coen Brothers film of the same title (and which, like the film, spills over into Minnesota and South Dakota). Aside from Fargo the film, the best-known movie set in North Dakota is Leprechaun. So, not much to go on.


A University of North Dakota hockey game may be the biggest, or at least the most interesting, thing happening in the Peace Garden State. But there just might be enough other things there for visitors to enjoy themselves.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Correction, the first Hobey award winner was Tony Hrkac. He played 758 games in the NHL and won the Stanley Cub in 1999 with the Dallas Stars. Not too shabby.

I suggest you get to the rink early enough to walk around all of the concourses and look at all of the historical photographs of past great players. Also, I hope you aren't looking for fast food after the game. There are plenty of excellent places to eat in downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks including the Rhombus Guys restaurant mentioned in your article.

I would also dispute that you can't fly from NYC to Grand Forks. I just flew to NYC and ran the marathon there in 2015. Grand Forks and Fargo connect to the Twin Cities, Chicago and Denver to all major airlines.

I hope you enjoy yourself at the games and feel free to connect up with me and we will take you out to eat somewhere before one of the games!!