Thursday, October 15, 2009

Can You Smell It?!

The MOST anticipated weekend of the year is here! Not only is this the first conference hockey game of the year, nor does it matter that it is taking place on home ice. What does matter is the opponent, the Golden Gophers of Minnesota are scurrying their way north to face the Fighting Sioux in what I anticipate to be a battle among all battles of the year.

North Dakota is notorious for having a slow start, and having 10 freshmen on the team with 3 seniors leading the pack, pure determination will help them win this series. On the other side of the river, Minnesota has always come out with a bang. Unlike long-distance running; however, the Gophers always look exhausted by the end of the season and into post-season. This is the two team’s 247th time of meeting each other, the longest in college hockey rivalries, with the Sioux holding a .489 record all-time record against the Gophers (124-130-12).

The difference this year is the timing. Being it’s the fourth and fifth game for the Sioux, and the second for the Gophers, the outcome is totally unpredictable! The Sioux are undefeated so far, facing Manitoba in exhibition play and sweeping the series last weekend against Hockey East member Merrimack. (Side note: Merrimack contends with Boston College and Boston University in conference play; not the easiest of contenders to knock off for post-season action). The Sioux freshmen have stepped up and already started making their mark in the sport, going as far as earning WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for Mike Cichy. 5 of the 6 freshmen who dressed for the Merrimack series have recorded their first career point (defenseman Andrew MacWilliam holds a +2).

The other fun storyline to follow is the friends/foes on the different lines. Check out Brad Schlossman’s article following Joe Gleason and Danny Kristo’s ties to the Gopher team. In a nutshell, Gleason played for Edina with Minnesota’s Zach Budish; Kristo played with stand-out Jordan Schroeder for the U-18 team. It will be interesting to see if any gloves drop between these four.

With the upcoming series, the events world is all a bustle making sure the arena is ready to go; and as long as the beer lines don’t tap out and the students lining up outside don’t break into our offices, we should be OK. And no, I don’t have extra tickets. Sorry folks! If you are coming, remember your WHITE SHIRTS as it is white-out weekend! Specialty rivalry shirts are available at the Sioux Shop for $12.00 & $16.00.

See YOU at the Ralph - Let’s Go Sioux!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

And So It Begins!

Holy crap, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost October! The past three weeks have definitely flown by as the sports season is in full swing.

In Volleyball, the ladies are under direction of new head coach Ashley Hardee and are proving they are Division I worthy as they remain undefeated in the Great West Conference. They have had three matches at home so far this season, with two sweeps and latest going to four games. The ladies look strong, determined, and they sure are fun to watch!

There are still 7 home series left, so stop on down to the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, pick up a $2.00 hot dog and $3.00 16 oz. “adult beverage” and cheer on the Sioux Volleyball team and they spike their way through the competition.

October brings hockey season, my favorite if you couldn’t tell already. I completed my first fantasy hockey draft of the year and was successful in getting the coveted UND alums; Parise, Toews, Oshie, Zajac, Stafford, Commodore, Green, Blake. It’s the only method to my madness when I’m matched up against a bunch of guys from Ontario and one hockey reporter from Germany. A girls got to do what a girls got to do! I did pick up some Minnesota boys as well; Keith Ballard and Jamie Langenbrunner, just to balance it out. My second fantasy draft is tonight - just in time for the NHL season to kick off tomorrow!  I may have to try for the same roster...mmm...we'll see.

Speaking of hockey, my hockey itch (no…not jock itch) was satisfied last weekend as the Sioux women’s team opened up their season facing Manitoba at home. They won 3-1 Friday night against the Bison, but fell short by one goal in Saturday’s match-up (3-2). The ladies look fast, strong and ready to compete with the rest of the WCHA. It’ll be fun to watch them evolve even more throughout the year.

Their biggest competitors will no longer be facing them this year, more-so they’ll be joining next year! Monique and Jocelyn Lamoureux have opted out of their time with Minnesota and signed with the Sioux this summer. They will take this year as their red-shirt year while they compete for spots on the US Olympic team. Keep an eye on those girls as they hope to compete against the best in the world this winter and bring that determination and skill to the Sioux next season.

Hockey, hockey, hockey! Sunday marks the Men’s first game, an exhibition game against Manitoba. As previously reported on, this will also be the public farewell to Denny Gunderson, notable Zamboni driver for the Fighting Sioux for the past 40+ years. I read over the script presenting his honor and got tears in my eyes. It may be a rough Sunday for me!

As promised though, this isn’t just a hockey blog. It’s Beyond the Ice in that it pertains to other things going on in the building. On Monday night, we had a banquet for 210 people from Universities around the United States. Not presidents, nor coaches, but facility managers. The 2009 CAPPA Convention was held in Grand Forks, ND. CAPPA – Central Association of Physical Plant Administrators – the people in charge of making sure you’re building is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Note…they are not responsible for hot flashes.

The guests were guided through the facility and “introduced” to the world of ice. It’s amazing to see the reaction on people’s faces when they walk by the Zamboni…it’s like the white elephant in the room. However, given many of these people are from the southern states (Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana); there is a good chance that many of their schools don’t have hockey teams. There were numerous stops and stares; one lady even had to get in the driver’s seat and take a picture. I’m sure that will be the talk of her next family gathering!

It’s easy to say their tours through our building’s infrastructure was well-liked as well as their guided tours throughout the rest of the arena. I heard numerous comments about the NHL wall; the wall near the men’s locker room that represents UND’s draft history, Stanley Cup team members, as well as each team that UND players have been a part of. Welcome to the north folks where hockey is prominent; I hope you have great words of wisdom to bring back to your schools. It sure was a pleasure hosting you for the evening!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Boys are Back in Town

The college kids have moved back in their dorms and apartments thus creating a “rush hour” between the hours of 3 and 6. You have to look both ways multiple times before turning, because there could be a scholar crossing the street that meets your blind spot. Campus rules; pedestrians always have the right-a-way, whether they look or not!

There has been more traffic in the arena as well. Our employee gym hours are now graced by student athletes from time to time. And if you notice some distant thumping and back beat while walking on the north end of the building, you’ll realize that the team is beneath you in the gym doing their strength training, getting out of “summer mode” and preparing for the upcoming season.

Just off a successful weekend where the Ralph hosted Sioux Fan Fest; a chance for the general public to meet the members of the 2009-10 Men’s and Women’s hockey teams as well as Head Coaches Dave Hakstol and Brian Idalski. This event also showcased both teams’ new jerseys. The women’s team has three different jerseys including a retro-style green sweater with script “North Dakota” across the chest. The men’s team, also donning new jerseys, this year will include “Reebok” on the neckline as they are the new suppliers of jerseys and other equipment for the men’s team. While the main look of the jerseys is similar to those of the past Nike ones, the noticeable change is the horizontal stripe across the bottom in lieu of the diagonal ones from years past.

In its introductory year, Sioux Fan Fest was a fun event for the fans and student athletes alike. Autograph, photo, and Q&A stations were set-up to give the fans, both young and old, a treat to whet their appetite in anticipation of the upcoming season. Following a successful ’08-’09 year, the WCHA McNaughton Cup was also on display to give fans another photo opportunity. Sioux Hockey radio play-by-play announcer Tim Hennessey served as MC to the Q&A sessions where the most entertaining sessions were targeted toward the children. Imagine a 5-year old with a hockey grin trying to say the word “thistle”.

The next preparatory step for the upcoming season is getting the ice ready for the team. With the first game just over two weeks away (exhibition vs. Manitoba, October 4th), the REA Maintenance crew will take two days to lay the initial layers of ice, paint lines and the logo and then top off the artwork with an inch of ice. What seems so thin, especially when it only takes an hour in Mid-January to produce this on the doors of your car, this can be one of the most important factors in maintaining good skating conditions.
As the weather finally starts to cooperate, I can’t be more excited about the mid-grade temps in my office. I have the ice out my door and the sun out my window. Fellow hockey fans please join in saying HOCKEY SEASON IS UPON US!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Grand Opening of the Hockey Academy!

The doors were open for the public to come see what was once off-limits to most. The Hockey Academy at Ralph Engelstad Arena is ready to present itself to the hockey folk of Grand Forks and surrounding areas!

Nestled into the ice level, just a few lunges away from where “the big boys” play, The Hockey Academy lies. Complete with synthetic ice, shooting stations, power skating, and skating treadmill, the Skills Center is the area to enhance your hockey skill. Next door, in the 10,000 square foot weight room, Athletic Trainer Mark Poolman teaches the strength and conditioning portion with state of the art, hockey specific machines. The professional expertise of Director Brad Berry and Assistant Director Erik Fabian, both having partaken in the UND program, are at the helm in the Skills Center and on the ice to mentor the youth that will be the future face of college hockey.
The Grand Forks youth and parents collected downstairs, lining up to try out the synthetic ice. The shooting stations were definitely a hot commodity as a constant thunk could be heard from pucks being shot. Former UND players were also on hand to demonstrate the treadmill which is lined with another sheet of synthetic ice to enable the participating to work on stick handling and shooting skills.

The Hockey Academy is the first of its kind in Grand Forks, with its closest competition in Fargo. While many high school athletes have already been training with Berry throughout the summer, the regimen that Berry and Fabian have worked out will enable hockey players of all ages to get on the ice and in the Skills Center to amp up their game. Everything from team ice time to individual treadmill sessions, the Hockey Academy will enhance the hockey skill.
Erik Fabian demonstrates the treadmill while taking passes from a Hockey Academy student.
For more information on The Hockey Academy, contact Brad Berry at 701-777-6557.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The End of an Era

August 14 will no longer hold irrelevance in the world of Fighting Sioux Hockey. It will now be remembered to most as the day Denny Gunderson pushed the pedal to the metal; flooding a fresh layer of hot water amid the used ice one last time.

After 45 years with the University of North Dakota and 42 years driving the Zamboni, Denny has decided to hang his keys and take in this season, his first as a spectator, as well as a retiree. “He’s as synonymous with the men’s hockey program as anyone in town” stated REA’s General Manager Jody Hodgson. And this is more than true.

I grew up going to hockey games with my dad, three memories stick in my mind: getting Nibs and popcorn at EVERY game; my knowledge of each player and their numbers, announcing the starting line-up along with then PA Announcer, Scott Hennen; and Denny Gunderson driving the Zamboni. While I was finishing up my college career, I was able to complete my internship with the Ralph in the marketing department. Back then, our offices were on ice level, so I would run into Denny and the rest of the crew often; coffee breaks and quick quips back and forth would gain me some of the respect from the maintenance crew. From that point on, I was lucky enough to know “the Zamboni driver”.

I left for a couple years, to get a feel for the “big city living” following my graduation, but have since returned to the team and the building that I so dearly love. I was more than elated when, upon my return, Denny was one of the first guys to give me a hug and say “welcome back!”

For a guy that has worked through 3 different arenas, six head coaches, 5 national titles, he is still as down to earth as one could be. His Nordic accent, and welcoming smile will be missed, but he is not gone forever. He will be honored in true fashion at UND’s opening exhibition game against Manitoba. One question: will he don the tuxedo and top-hat as he has done for every State High School Championship game? You’ll just have to show up and find out for yourself!

I’m not the only one who shares my admiration and will dearly miss the presence of Denny this season. The Grand Forks Herald had an article in Friday’s edition and their online the comments kept adding up. Anywhere from Grand Forks to Greenville, SC to Longmont, CO; fans of the Fighting Sioux’s quintessential Zamboni driver voiced their happiness about his tenure and retirement.

Walking back to the zamboni hole with Denny on Friday afternoon, he told me of a little boy in Providence, Rhode Island for the NCAA Frozen Four who had stopped in his tracks, pointed and said “You’re the Zamboni driver!” Denny will walk away with plenty more of these stories; as well as a legend to the fans of Fighting Sioux hockey, probably even as wide-spread as the rest of college hockey.

Thanks Denny for 45 great years to UND! You will truly be missed by Fighting Sioux fans, young and old!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer = Wedding Season

Hockey camps have finished for the summer. The ice is out and there is refurbishing going on in the bowl which takes that out of commission for the month. What else is there to keep the business up and running? Weddings of course!

The lobby at Ralph Engelstad Arena boasts pictures of championship teams, trophies of note like the Hobey Baker award won by Ryan Duncan and Tony Hkrkac, and shows timelines of the different accolades. As “manish” as this may sound, the floors are imported granite, the walls are a warm brick, the pillars are lit through elegant sconces and the dance floor is graced with four TV screens congratulating the happy couple.

Just about every weekend this summer there has been a reception held in the front lobby of the arena. Unless you have graced The Ralph yourself, you would think this would be an awkward place to hold a wedding reception. Though, for the devoted hockey fans in the area, this is the perfect place to show their guests a good time.

All interests aside, receptions here are just another wedding reception. Standing post near the bar surveying the crowd, there are a lot of interesting stories one hears from the guests. A notable experience was during the notorious bouquet toss. The bride and her single followers were on the dance floor. Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was bumping through the portable speakers and the single ladies themselves were pushing each other out of the way vying for the elusive flowers to land in their hands. The tradition, of course, is to be the next couple to take the plunge.

Meanwhile, at the bar, the “single men” were grabbing a new cold brew, talking about that night’s baseball game that they were missing. With the trade deadline looming, their conversation morphed into who the Twins should get so they could get above .500 for the second half of the season in hopes of making the playoffs again. Baseball talks seize when there is a shriek in the background; the guys look and one rolls his eyes.

“Damn Dave – your girl caught it!” She jumps in excitement with her right hand high above her head, showing off her prize. Dave and company quickly finish their beers and grab another as to say good-bye to the good life. They learn that the end is near; the end of their single-hood and “good old days”. The beginning of adulthood as a plus one is in the near future. Maybe, if they get their way, they can celebrate in the same fashion. After their big walk down the aisle, they can celebrate with family and friends at the same place. The Ralph boasts more than University of North Dakota hockey, it also helps those lucky couple celebrate the first step of couple-dom!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Mike Commodore, the Fort Saskatchewan, AB, native, was drafted 42nd overall to the New Jersey Devils in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. By then, he had two seasons in at North Dakota, tallying up 5 goals, 8 assists and 228 penalty minutes for the Sioux. He turned pro after helping the Sioux win the 2000 NCAA Frozen Four, defeating Boston College 4-2.

“We won a national title my last year, that was probably real similar to winning the Stanley Cup; not as big but real similar. I just had a great time at the University. The three years I spent there was the time of my life. I had a really good time in Grand Forks and had a good time with the people I met there.”

Commodore won the Stanley Cup in 2006 while setting a fashion statement of sorts at the same time. The crowd in red afro wigs and white bathrobes seemed to be more of a sight for a spa rather than a hockey rink in Raleigh, North Carolina, but that is exactly what you would’ve seen if you were in attendance for the Stanley Cup finals at RBC Center. Commodore, the 6’4” defenseman now with Columbus was just as notorious on the ice while suited with the Sioux.

“I thought it may be popular because of my time at UND, it was pretty popular with the students there. I figured the opportunity may be there, but I didn’t think it would take off like that.”

Asked if he would consider bringing back the post-season garb; “I don’t know about the robe, I don’t know what I will do with that. The hair for sure and the crocs for sure; I still have the same pair. I’ll think of something. I try to think of something new each year.”

As all young players grow up, they have the idols they look up to. It’s the point in time in their career when they begin to play with those idols that things sink in. “My first games were with the New Jersey Devils and I was playing with Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer; there some Hall of Famers in that group. For the first little while you are a little star-stuck your first trip around the league. But once the game starts, you have to get over it because they’re not going to take it easy on you because you’re new. It’s a dream to be able to compete and stand among them, but you can’t be star-stricken for too long.”

Commodore is likely to be the one recognized now by the younger players and fans for his creative antics. A stand-up guy now with his 5th professional team, Commodore takes pride in his time at UND as well as his time in the league. Like in college, he sticks to the same routine before a game, and takes the mentality of a top-defenseman to the ice. In his first year of a three-year deal with Columbus, we can hope to see more of the Commodore play-off garb in the future.

Interviewed 10-28-2008
Photo courtesy

One on One with Drew Stafford

Welcome Sioux Hockey fans!! Have you ever wondered what happens when the Sioux leave school to start their professional career? Well, here is my chance to get inside their heads, ask them hockey questions, some non-hockey questions, and bring those interviews to you eager readers! First one in the line-up is Buffalo Sabres forward, Drew Stafford.

Drew Stafford, the 22 year old Shattuck-St. Mary’s product played at UND for three years before joining the Buffalo Sabres who drafted him 13th overall in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut in November 2006, scoring his first goal in his first game against the New York Rangers and eventually making it to post-season that same year. While he doesn’t have any notable milestones yet in his career, he credits just making the league a huge accomplishment.

“I think making the team is a big step. Last year was my first full season on the team so that was an accomplishment in itself. The first year I made it to the playoffs so we did pretty well.”

The Sabres, one of the up and coming young teams in the league join the likes of the Blackhawks, Blues, and Devils in showcasing their young talent. The connection with all of these teams is the core of this young talent is UND players whom Stafford played with and still keeps in contact with.

The young energy in the locker room is just that, as our interview is often playfully interrupted with tape balls being thrown, small whoots in response to questions, but the main distraction is when a teammate puts on a familiar song to Stafford. “It’s one of my songs. In my spare time between training and all that stuff; I take a couple of days off and fire off a couple songs with Jord and a couple other buddies doing it with me”.

Jordan Parise, band-mate and former teammate, is playing overseas in Austria, making practice a little tough during the season. They are working on a demo with a couple of songs now, hoping for a full album next summer. Stafford recognizes this is his off-season hobby so things are on hold now. From what I’ve heard, these guys have some talent off the ice too. Look for them in the music stores and on-line in the future!

The Milwaukee, WI native was excited to get back into the Midwest. Stafford was sure he would have plenty of family and friends watching him while he played against the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks in late October, both being in close proximity. His teammate, Thomas Vanek, played at Minnesota during the same time Stafford was at UND. As Minnesota and Wisconsin two of his favorite college opponents to play, he has the utmost respect and admiration for Vanek now as his teammate. “I’m happy for him; he’s off to a great start. I’m fortunate to play with him. The past few years when the Gophers play the Sioux, we go and watch the games and we’re laughing about it”.

While he misses the college atmosphere and the student section going wild, Stafford embraces the professional play of the National Hockey League. “You gotta have fun with it, it’s your job. But you have to learn how to be professional about a few things. Those are things I’ve been learning over the past few years”.

Interviewed 10-28-2008
Photo courtesy

We Got the Cup, Now What?!

The 2008-2009 sports season has come and gone. While my beloved Fighting Sioux Hockey team won the McNaughton Cup (the trophy given to the team with the best regular-season record) in a nail-biting-last-game-of-the-season, they faced tough competition in the post-season that withheld them from taking the voyage out to Washington D.C. to play in the NCAA Frozen Four (their first time not present in 5 years). The good news is that all of the juniors will be returning to lead the team next year, and those 8 graduating seniors have almost all found their professional team in which they will take their next jump in life.

A new venture that we’re starting at the arena is an elite hockey academy. The Hockey Academy is being spearhead by former UND Assistant Coach (and former AHL Manitoba Moose Head Coach), Brad Berry with the assisting in the program by former professional player and UND alumnus Erik Fabian.

The Hockey Academy will train the local hockey athletes beyond that of what their high school may be able to do. Watching the transformation in the room downstairs; from a store room to the new home of a hockey treadmill and synthetic ice complete with shooting stations, was quite unbelievable. Officially starting in a couple of weeks but there have already been some students already taking advantage of some of the training. For more information on the Hockey Academy, check out their website.

The arena quiets down a lot after the school year finishes up. The 2:00 ice practice is no longer; the Friday night anticipation of the weekend’s game has dissolved. The sun is shining both when you get to work in the morning AND leave for the day. In a time of off-season prepping and rejuvenation, it sometimes leaves the office with a much-needed time of relaxation. Finding a department with its entire staff in the office for the week is almost unheard of; family vacations, weekend rendezvous, or even just wasting a day to enjoy the day to yourself. On one hand, it’s kind of like our Zen; on the other hand, it’s the calm before the storm.

It is always fun to see which of the student athletes stick around for the summer to further their training and take part in UND’s Hockey Camp. Sometimes, this could be trouble (like running into some of the guys “after hours”) or it just brings you back to reality; they’re just another person, as are you. No one is invincible; you only work for each other despite the lack of face-to-face contact. It’s not as much of a deal to “know” the hockey players for the sake of name-dropping. I’m older than many of them by at least 5 years; but knowing who they truly are, their life stories, their dreams and hopes for the future; that in itself is what I take pride in.

With that, expect to see some stories of former Sioux players in the future and how they have made a name for themselves in the professional world; whether that is hockey or business.

Sugarland Meets the Land of Sugar Beets!

My first concert has come and gone; and it went off without too many snags! Being in the post of Event Manager for 5 months now, I have tackled the Sioux games (hockey and basketball); midget tournaments (ages 14-16, not the height-challenged people) and now, concerts.

The planning stages for concerts differ from the previously mentioned events; an example would be the rider. The rider is the production/artists way of telling each venue what it needs and wants in relation to stage set-up, speaker positions, manpower, locker room set-ups, etc. It is their “Bible” that each venue must follow; even if we don’t agree with it.

While many have heard horror stories of these so-called riders; J-Lo only wants white; white carpet, white flowers, white linens, etc. Ozzy Osborne can’t have anything green in sight (this would provide our venue with a HUGE headache!)*. I can say, however, that Sugarland was AWESOME! The only request that could have been a problem was their organic shopping list; and this is only because Grand Forks does not have a Whole Foods. The “pick a little, take a little” game was played around town at different grocery stores, but the deed was accomplished.

The concert that Sugarland put on was absolutely amazing! On the working side, it seemed to be a night-mare with a “controlled release”, the artists walking through the crowd to sing in the stairwell; the artists climbing into big balls that replicated that of a gerbil’s work-out plan. From the guests point of view; however, it was non-stop entertainment. From the second they took the stage with the spotlights shooting from the stage up to capture the silhouette of svelte Jennifer Nettles, to Kristian Bush’s fedora and banjo outfit.

All in all, from this Rock 'n Roll lover, the country duo surely has made me a fan of theirs…all the way down to their hit “It Happens”: the little ditty about taking life as it comes and never fretting the bad incidences.

The 30 hour work day was quite a drain, and the rest of the weekend will be non-stop as well. In 5 hours, I have to be back to unlock doors for the aforementioned midget hockey tournament, with a basketball tournament and March of Dimes taking place later in the afternoon. I have just one thing to say… “Pssht, it happens”!

*These are not hard-based facts; just hearsay.
Photo courtesy of Shawna Noel Photography

Monday, April 13, 2009


In my past experience, I have found that I should not be let out alone. However, being the independent "city girl" that I am, I find myself making new friends which lead to interesting stories. This first post, albeit concise, is my attempt to share my life stories; maybe a little fabricated to make up for some of the lost memories due to alcohol intake.

I have recently returned home from a week-long "work trip" in Washington DC which will entail a couple of posts a litte later. I return to work this morning to solidify plans for a concert on Thursday; a hockey tournament, basketball tournament and March of Dimes walk throughout the weekend. Stories following each event will also be posted as the events come and pass.

Stay tuned all!