Hockey, tennis coaches revel in new building

Brian Hall

Currently on a recruiting trip to the East Coast, Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson is boasting the newest weapon in her arsenal – The Ridder Arena, the nation’s only collegiate hockey arena built exclusively for women.

The University’s new facility, slated to open for the 2002-03 season, also houses the Gophers men’s and women’s tennis programs.

“The first couple of years it was more of a concept,” Halldorson said. Two years ago, Halldorson’s team won the AWCHA Division I national championship. “Now it’s a reality. Having our own game facility sets us apart from any other women’s college program in the country. It shows the type of leadership our school and our department have in terms of women’s hockey.”

The facility, behind Mariucci Arena on Fourth Street, costs $13.9 million and consists of a 200×85-foot hockey rink, 10 indoor and 12 outdoor tennis courts, and a weight room for women’s athletics.

Four of the tennis courts will be built on Fifth Street across from the main facility.

The hockey arena is named in honor of donors Robert and Kathleen Ridder. It will have a seating capacity of 3,400, including a 210-seat club room and four suites with 20 seats each.

The Ridders donated over $750,000 to the facility. Other funding received includes $10 million in appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature, donations from over 100 contributors and $45,000 from the Wilson’s Way campaign, a fund-raising effort led by Minnesota track and field coach Gary Wilson.

The women’s hockey program averaged 1,417 people per game over the last three years, leading the nation in attendance each year.

“It still feels more empty than full in a big facility like Mariucci though,” Halldorson said. “Our goal is to create an environment which is a great experience for both the fans and the athletes.”

The new building will also aid in recruiting top tennis talent to the University.

The tennis facility will seat 480 people and will end a continuing search for practice and home match courts. A media relations spokesperson said naming rights for the tennis courts have not been determined.

Currently, the teams travel to various courts as far away as Burnsville to practice. The Gophers play home matches at the 98th Street Racquet Club.

“It is going to be tremendous,” Minnesota men’s coach David Geatz said. “We won’t have to drive an hour to practice. We can schedule matches when we want to play them, not whenever they give us courts.”

The 10 indoor and 12 outdoor courts also satisfy the requirements for hosting the Big Ten tennis championships. Geatz’s teams won four conference titles between 1992-95 but were never able to host a championship.

Having suffered from facility-related issues in the past, three Minnesota athletic programs see the new building as 165,762 square feet of heaven.

“It is going to be a first-class facility,” Geatz said. “It will compare with anything. They didn’t just stick a pig up there, put an earring on it, and call it a facility. They wanted to build a facility for both women’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis that would stand the test of time.”

 

Brian Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]