Things to know about Grand Forks, Ralph Engelstad Arena and the possibility of NHL games in North Dakota
NHL fans woke up Monday morning to news from Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman that the NHL has discussed the possibility of hosting regular-season and playoff games in North Dakota.
This is, of course, if things become safe enough to hold sporting events without fans later this summer.
The NHL has reportedly tossed around the idea of holding games in sites with low-population density -- and Grand Forks makes sense for a lot of reasons .
For NHL fans who may be unfamiliar with North Dakota, here are 25 things to know about the place and its deep ties to the NHL:
1. Ralph Engelstad Arena is widely considered the nicest non-NHL arena in North America.
It hosts the University of North Dakota hockey team. Built in 2001, it seats 11,643 (during the 2019-20 season, no North American-based hockey team outside of the NHL drew more fans per game than UND). Each seat is leather with cherrywood armrests. The concourse floors are granite. It has an NHL-style scoreboard, which it installed last summer.
It also has eight NHL-ready locker rooms with separate coaches’ locker rooms and two ice sheets under one roof. So, if the NHL is looking at the possibility of having multiple games on the same day in the same arena, including morning skates and team practices, The Ralph is equipped to handle multiple teams at the same time.
2. Upon visiting his alma mater in November 2017, former UND player and current Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise said UND's locker room was the best he's seen : "It's better than every NHL locker room. You know what I mean? It's ridiculous."
3. It has held large-scale events before: the 2005 World Junior Championship, the 2008 World Men's Curling Championship and the 2016 World Under-18 Championship are among them.
It hosted a University of Kansas men's basketball game in 2002 (KU finished that regular season ranked No. 1 nationally with Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich and Wayne Simien) and an exhibition tennis match between Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi in 2004, when both were ranked in the world top 10.
4. Numerous current NHL players spent their college careers in Grand Forks playing for UND.
That includes Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher of the Vancouver Canucks, Parise of the Minnesota Wild, Jonathan Toews and Drake Caggiula of the Chicago Blackhawks, T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders, Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils, Nick Schmaltz of the Arizona Coyotes, Rocco Grimaldi of the Nashville Predators, Tyson Jost of the Colorado Avalanche, Carter Rowney of the Anaheim Ducks, Derek Forbort of the Calgary Flames, Tucker Poolman of the Winnipeg Jets, Christian Wolanin of the Ottawa Senators and Aaron Dell of the San Jose Sharks.
Former UND players Paul LaDue (Los Angeles Kings), Luke Johnson (Minnesota Wild), Rhett Gardner (Dallas Stars), Austin Poganski (St. Louis Blues) and Zane McIntyre (Vancouver Canucks) also dressed in the NHL this season.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Dave Hakstol was UND's head coach for 11 years from 2004-15. The Leafs haven't won a playoff series since 2004. But Hakstol was 11-0 in playoff series in The Ralph and 24-5 in overall playoff games in the building, including winning the 2006 West Regional to earn a trip to the Frozen Four.
6. Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett played college hockey at North Dakota. Although he never played or coached in Ralph Engelstad Arena, he has stopped by during the summertime to visit with the coaching staff.
7. It's not just NHL players and coaches who have come through. So have several others who hold NHL positions. Mark Chipman, the chairman of the Winnipeg Jets ownership group, earned two degrees at UND. His daughter, Annie, played for the UND women's team.
Calgary Flames assistant general manager Brad Pascall played at UND, as did Arizona Coyotes video coach Steve Peters, Coyotes skill development coordinator Jeff Ulmer, Minnesota Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir, Vancouver Canucks senior director of player development Ryan Johnson, New York Rangers director of pro scouting Kevin Maxwell and Philadelphia Flyers player development coach Brett Hextall.
Flyers equipment manager Andy Rannells held the same role at UND and Dallas Stars strength coach Brad Jellis also graduated from UND.
8. Grand Forks is where the Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby rivalry started. Their first-ever head-to-head meeting was in Ralph Engelstad Arena in January 2005 at the World Junior Championship gold-medal game. Crosby and Canada won 6-1. Ovechkin left the game early because of a shoulder injury and did not have a point.
Crosby has won three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, going through Ovechkin's Washington Capitals each time. Ovechkin has one Stanley Cup, going through Crosby's Penguins to win it.
Crosby's teammate in Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin, was on Ovechkin's Russian team that year.
9. Speaking of the 2005 World Juniors, arguably the greatest junior hockey team ever assembled played in Ralph Engelstad Arena that year.
Canada's roster featured: Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Andrew Ladd, Brent Seabrook and Patrice Bergeron. They were presented their gold medals by Wayne Gretzky.
10. Speaking of Crosby, he almost played college hockey at UND. He took an unofficial visit to campus while he was at Shattuck-St. Mary's and recently said on a podcast that if he played college hockey instead of Canadian major juniors, he would have picked UND .
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. There's a big difference between hosting an NHL preseason game and an NHL regular-season or playoff game. But Ralph Engelstad Arena has hosted three Minnesota Wild preseason games. It also hosted part of the Wild's 2008 training camp, because Minnesota's regular home of the Xcel Energy Center was still undergoing renovations after hosting the Republican National Convention that summer.
18. Every NHL team has at least one player who has played in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
19. The Stanley Cup has been to town several times. Besides making appearances for events like the World Juniors, four winners opted to spend their day with the Cup in town: goalie Ed Belfour after winning it with the Dallas Stars in 1999, defenseman Mike Commodore after winning it with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, defenseman Matt Greene after winning it with the Kings in 2014 and scout Tony Gasparini in 2014 as well.
20. Hockey Night in Grand Forks? It sounds strange, but it wouldn't be an unfamiliar for Sportsnet, which sent a crew to town to produce a documentary on Brock Boeser a few years ago.
21. You may recall watching Jocelyne Lamoureux's dazzling shootout move to give the U.S. an Olympic gold medal during the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Lamoureux learned that move in Ralph Engelstad Arena, where she worked with UND women's hockey assistant coach Peter Elander.
Leading up to the 2018 Games, Lamoureux trained alongside her twin sister, Monique, who scored the game-tying goal late in the third period against the Canadians. They continue to train in Grand Forks and in the arena.
There won't be shootouts in playoff games, but there could be in regular-season games.
22. There are roughly 2,400 hotel rooms in Grand Forks, which would make it easy to find accommodations for teams. Nearly all of them are within a five-minute drive of Ralph Engelstad Arena.
23. Grand Forks International Airport can easily handle charter flights coming in and out. The UND men's hockey team charters flights to its road games. The airport is used to being busy as it houses UND's famed aviation program.
24. Altru Hospital is located less than a mile from the arena for any medical needs or emergencies.
25. Ralph Engelstad Arena is used to handling multiple games per day. During North Dakota high school state hockey weekend, four consecutive games are played on the ice sheet.