The NHL is tossing around ideas for possible ways to finish out the 2019-20 season.
According to a report by NHL insider Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, one of those ideas is to play remaining regular season and playoff games at neutral sites with one of them being Ralph Engelstad Arena.
According to Friedman's report: "Several sites would be necessary, but Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., makes sense. Host of the 2005 World Junior Championships, the 2016 World Under-18s and the NCAA’s Fighting Hawks, it is an impressive facility that is definitely more suitable than many other available non-NHL options in the United States."
The report says nothing is imminent, but the arena and low population density would make it an attractive option. Fans would not be allowed at the games.
There's little doubt that Ralph Engelstad Arena and general manager Jody Hodgson would pull out all the stops to try to make it happen.
The Ralph and Hodgson have excelled at putting on big events from the World Juniors to the World Under-18 tournament to the World Curling Championship to running UND's wildly popular destination hockey games.
Before the college hockey season was called off due to the coronavirus outbreak, Hodgson prepped The Ralph for the possibility of hosting a first-round National Collegiate Hockey Conference series with as many safety precautions as possible. Sanitation stations were installed throughout the venue, including the locker rooms and the press box.
Ralph Engelstad Arena has never hosted a regular-season or playoff NHL game, but it has played host to preseason NHL games.
In 2002, the Wild played against the Atlanta Thrashers in The Ralph. In 2003, the Wild played against the St. Louis Blues. In 2005, the Wild played the Florida Panthers in a preseason game.
In 2008, the Wild also held part of its training camp in The Ralph due to the Xcel Energy Center needing work after hosting the Republican National Convention.
There are several amenities that would make The Ralph attractive to the NHL.
It has eight NHL-ready dressing rooms with separate coaches’ rooms, so it could house many teams at once. It has a second ice sheet, which would allow teams to practice or hold morning skates.
The Ralph is NHL broadcast ready with a plug-and-play network of cabling for TV cameras throughout the venue and a $1 million HD control room installed last summer. Every UND home games is televised by either Midco Sports Network or CBS Sports Network. The Ralph’s year-old LED lighting system is TV friendly and meets NHL standards. TSN broadcast all three world championship events from The Ralph.
Ralph Engelstad Arena has bus access directly to ice level, so it would be easy to minimize or restrict player/coach access from the outside world.
The Ralph has its own full-time kitchen staff. It is experienced with sports nutrition as it provides meals daily to UND student-athletes. The NHL teams would be able to eat on site. The Ralph is equipped to do everything from pre-game meals to post-game meals, which would help limit player exposure to the outside world.
The Ralph installed a new dasher board system three summers ago consistent with the NHL’s standards to improve player safety, featuring seamless acrylic shielding, glass flex, check flex and rounded shielding at each player’s bench location.
The Ralph is equipped with a dehumidification system, so summer games would not present an issue in terms of being able to provide the optimal ice and playing conditions inside the venue, regardless of the temperature or humidity outside. The arena traditionally hosts camps during the summer.
Ralph Engelstad Arena proved during the 2005 World Juniors it was capable of handling large media events. Not only does the World Junior Championship always bring a lot of media, the 2005 event may have been the largest ever, because it came during the NHL lockout. So, virtually every media outlet sent writers to Grand Forks.
In 2005, arena officials turned the adjacent practice rink -- which is connected to the main arena -- into a massive media room to accommodate the international media crowd. There's also a basketball/volleyball arena attached, which could be used to house media.
The NHL has been on hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak since March 11. Officials have been hoping for a late-summer return, but it will depend on circumstances.