Wednesday, September 5, 2007

WCHA Arena No. 4 – National Hockey Center

About six weeks ago, the WCHA Blog kicked off its list of which WCHA arenas are the best. I'm basing my list off of three criteria (Arena, Atmosphere, and Crowd). For a detailed list of what these three items mean to me, click here and scroll down a bit.

Here is a list of the arenas that I've already covered:

10. Sullivan Arena - Anchorage, AK
9. John MacInnes Student Ice Arena – Houghton, MI
8. Alltel Center – Mankato, MN
7. World Arena – Colorado Springs, CO
6. Magness Arena – Denver, CO
5. DECC – Duluth, MN

This week, its arena No. 4: The National Hockey Center which is home to the St. Cloud State Huskies.


Just going off the arena alone, the National Hockey Center doesn’t bring much to the table when you compare it to other WCHA arenas. It’s known as the ‘Concrete Center’ to many fans around the league because (duh) there’s a whole lot of concrete to be seen inside and outside the arena. They have done an okay job in recent years of finding ways to cover it up on the interior, but it’s still prevalent.

The seating arrangement is similar to that of the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, as a vast majority of the seats are located on the sides of the arena. There are a few seats behind the nets on each end, but they are far from ideal from a viewing perspective.

Last year, the university added chair-backs to several seats in the upper-level that were previously just standard benches. While in theory this addition was a good things, the black plastic seats are at too sharp of an angle and makes for an uncomfortable viewing position. And on top of that, most seats in the arena are packed very close together, so there’s not much elbow-room if it’s a packed house.

However, the sightlines in the arena are very good. Most of the lower bowl is reserved for season ticket holders, but I’ve personally sat all over the upper bowl and have had a great viewing experience every time.

Standing room tickets are offered at the National Hockey Center and in my opinion they offer the best sightlines in the rink. The only problem is that for Gopher games – which is when I’m usually there – you cannot leave your spot or else someone will take it. So you’re kind of tied to one spot for the night, and obviously standing for over two hours isn’t an ideal setup, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having to suck it up and view the game from this area.

The gift shop is located in one of the corners of the concourse, and is okay but nothing special.


I’ll admit that for this category I’m very jaded because, like I said, most of the games I’ve been to in St. Cloud have been when Minnesota was playing, which really makes the atmosphere great.

I prefer a more collegiate atmosphere, but for some reason I love the feeling in the building when the Gophers take on the Huskies. It’s always packed, and it’s a very big deal to SCSU when Minnesota comes to town. When they turn off the lights and pipe in whatever “arena rock” song they choose to play that night, it’s tough as a fan not to get pretty excited.

They don’t have a school band, which is unfortunate, but even if they did have one, it would be a complete 180 from the atmosphere they have worked to create over the last several years. I suppose if you’re not going to be like Minnesota or Wisconsin and feature a traditional college setting with a band, fight songs, etc., you might as well do the 80s rock / light show bit to it’s fullest, and St. Cloud does it well. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not is of course a personal choice.


Even for non-Gopher games at the National Hockey Center, the crowds have been good in recent years. SCSU is still at the point in its program’s history where if they don’t have a good team, attendance will dip. However, if Bob Motzko’s first two years are any indication, they’ll be a contender in the WCHA for years to come.

The student section is always into the game, but they have been known to cross the line over the years. Specifically, there have been a handful of times where in-arena handouts – light-up fans, for example – have been thrown onto the ice at the opposing team, specifically the Gophers. Say what you want about the Minnesota, but there’s no excuse to throw things – especially small plastic fans with several small parts that could break apart – onto the ice.


As I said, I’m sure this rating is inflated by the games / opponents I’ve seen at the National Hockey Center. The arena itself is one of the worst in the league, but of my dozen or so trips there, I can never think back on a time where the building wasn’t wired, the fans were not into it, and/or I didn’t have a good view of the action.

Overall Grade: B