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!