Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gopher Week Questions: How Long Will it Take for Amsoil Arena to Become a Hockey Arena?

Amsoil Arena sure is purdy
In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: When will we get Amsoil rocking like the old DECC?

Alright, I'll admit it: I miss the DECC. I'd rather be playing the Gophers at that cramped, crumbling, old-smelling structure than at modern, state-of-the-art Amsoil Arena.

When there was a big game, especially a big game against the Gophers, you could feel it at the DECC. It was more crowded, louder, hotter, stinkier, and the student section brought the vitriol up a notch. The proverbial buzz was in the air.

I have not felt any of that big-game buzz at the Amsoil yet. None. The crowd at the North Dakota opener was embarrassingly (but perhaps understandably) distracted and quiet. And everyone streamed for the exits with about five minutes left in the 5-0 blowout. The US-U18 game was an exhibition, and the fans treated it as such. I thought things would at least show promise at the Badger series, but alas, there was nothing. After four games most fans still seem to be more interested in chowing down a foot-long porketta while reading Sam Cook quotes off the wall than engaging in the game.

Of course this was all expected. Early on in the season, I read Brad Elliott Schlossman in the Grand Forks Herald on the lack of buzz in Bemidji's new arena, and how it related to the opening of the Ralph. His story made too much sense for Amsoil the Attraction to be anything but inevitable.

"Multiple people I talked to tonight couldn’t believe how quiet it was in [Bemidji's new Sanford Center]. The atmosphere was a little unimpressive, especially considering how nuts The Glas could get. So, the story….

When Ralph Engelstad Arena opened in 2001, the Sioux coaches used to take recruits around the building. Many times, the recruit would not say a word. The coaches would look at each other like, “Is he not liking this?” Eventually, the coaches learned that the kids were just so in awe of the building, there wasn’t anything to say. In a way, it was like that with the fans as well.
Ralph Engelstad Arena was a novelty. It was a sight to see. It was a place to be. And it was not nearly the atmosphere of the old building.
Dave Hakstol can point to a weekend when Denver came in for a first-round playoff series in 2003. UND needed to win it, or else the Sioux were not going to make the NCAA tournament. The Sioux lost the first game, then won back-to-back games in OT. The building went wild that weekend as UND rallied for the last two wins. And Hakstol said, “That weekend, it became a hockey arena again.”
Since then, UND’s record in The Ralph is incredible. It is once again a big home-ice advantage.
I thought of that story tonight when leaving the Sanford Center. Tonight, the Sanford Center was a novelty. It was a sight to see. It was the place to be. It was not a hockey arena. Will the Sanford Center capture some of the old Glas Fieldhouse magic in the series finale? Or will it take a while like it did with The Ralph? We’ll find out."

Yes, we did steal part of the DECC's crumbling, asbestos-laden
ceiling tile after the last game.

The DECC's familiarity was its home-ice advantage. Everyone knew where to go, what to do and when to do it, what to say and how to say it. There weren't any non-game surprises, and so we as fans could focus our energy on the game; on creating the Bulldog's home-ice advantage.

Now at Amsoil everything is different: the concessions are better, the concourse is open, the walk to the curling club is shorter, the JumboTron has instant replay and KissCam, there's a gift shop and more interesting stuff on the walls to look at than the Tweed Art Museum. The students, the band, the press box, and Dick Stewart are all in different spots. Everything is different and everything is more. It's cool, but when will our collective attention turn back to the action on the ice?

UMD took a risk when they decided to move into Amsoil halfway through the season. What if it takes a full season for Amsoil to become a hockey rink, instead of a shiny attraction? That risk is amplified this year because the Bulldogs happen to have the deepest, most talented team to come along in at least a decade.

We need to start the transformation this weekend. All of the students are back from break, there have been ample events showcasing Amsoil the attraction, and it's the Gophers for Stalock's sake. Maybe the arena won't rock like it did after the Gopher's sweep in 03-04, but we can sure as hell try.

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