Reflecting on the old ‘Ralph’


Brian Johnson

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Reflecting on the old ‘Ralph’

The opening of the new Ralph Engelstad Arena on Oct. 5, 2001, was a celebration.

The new home of UND Hockey was, and still is by most, considered the greatest college hockey arena in the world. The new "Ralph" ? $100-plus million stunner ? replaced the old Ralph Engelstad Arena, which is being demolished to eventually make way for a new indoor athletics complex. Check out the demolition process at UNDsports.com.

The old Ralph, a building with a vibrant history, was a benchmark in hockey arenas after its completion and far ahead of its predecessor, the UND Winter Sports Building.

The Winter Sports Building's nickname ? the "Barn" ? was not a stretch by any imagination. Built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1936 for $46,000, The Barn was a glorified Quonset that offered fans little respite from the often harsh weather conditions outside. The white haze of chilly breath from players and fans alike was a familiar site inside the unheated structure. Coats and hats rarely came off, and if they did, only briefly.

A more 'fan-friendly' home

The process to construct a more fan-friendly arena began in the late 1960's. University and community leaders raised nearly $2 million in funding, which included:

  • $800,000 in student bonds
  • $500,000 from the Edmond A. Hughes Estate
  • $240,000 from Alumni across the nation and special funds
  • $460,000 from a local fund drive led by UND alumnus, John O'Keefe

The 87,000-square-foot "Winter Sport Center," as it was first dubbed, opened its doors Nov. 10, 1972. The modern, heated facility offered fans protection from the outdoor elements and contemporary comforts as they cheered UND to a 5-4 win over Colorado College in the first game held there.

Development continued on the building in 1983 with the addition of a $750,000 foyer. The arena grew to be 100,816 square feet with 5,700 seats available. UND Hockey continued to grow with the arena, becoming one of the most respected programs in Division I NCAA hockey.

In 1988, the Winter Sports Center was renamed after Ralph Engelstad, a 1954 UND graduate and goalie from Thief River Falls, Minn., after he pledged more than $5 million to his alma mater's hockey program. A successful businessman and Las Vegas casino owner, Engelstad would eventually give UND its single-largest donation for the construction of its current hockey home ? the new Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Old Ralph's legacy

UND defeated the University of Manitoba 4-1 in the last game played in the old Ralph on Sept. 28, 2001.

Some facts about the 29-year tenure of the old Ralph and the teams that called it home include:

  • 593 games played
  • 400-171-22 record (.69 percent)
  • 5 national titles
  • 7 league titles
  • 21 First Team All-Americans
  • 24 NCAA All-Tournament Team members
  • 16 WCHA All-Tournament Team members
  • 5 NCAA tournament MVPs
  • 5 WCHA Player of the Year awards
  • 6 WCHA Coach of the Year awards
  • 3 National Coach of the Year Awards (Spencer Penrose Award)
  • 2 WCHA tournament MVPs
  • 2 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year awards
  • 2 WCHA Rookie of the Year awards
  • 2 WCHA Freshman of the Year awards
  • 17 National Team members
  • 23 National Juniors

The magnetic legacy of that old arena was as endearing to UND's opponents as it was to the fans. In a 1999 WCHA directed survey, seven of 10 league captains listed the old Ralph as either their favorite arena to play in or the toughest setting for a visiting team.

Brian Johnson

University and Public Affairs writer

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