Duluth hockey stadium debated

Kristin Gustafson

Future game locations for Duluth men’s hockey games continue to be bantered about, this time in the form of letters between the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s chancellor.
In Morrill Hall, 150 miles south of the city hosting the hockey-facility controversy, the Board of Regents met Thursday to strategize where the men’s team should play in the future.
For the next five years, University of Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey will play at the downtown Duluth facility, its home for 33 years. In November, regents extended the team’s stay with a lease that had been tabled because of board concern over the inadequacies of the agreement and the facilities.
And now, regents wondered whether they hit another snag. At Thursday’s meeting, regents’ Facilities Committee members questioned the delay caused by the letters and voiced concerns that DECC officials are trying to influence University policy.
But Duluth Chancellor Kathryn Martin said the delay was not intentional, rather a matter of institutional decision-making processes.
“We won’t involve them in setting our priorities,” Martin said. “We’re going to involve them in meeting our priorities.”
The University wants a facility that would meet the competitive needs of Duluth’s Division I men’s and women’s hockey.
The rink is too small — smaller than other Olympic-size or NHL-size rinks in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. And it doesn’t have the finances to gut surrounding buildings so it could expand.
It is also the oldest rink in the WCHA, perhaps the only facility more than five years old, Duluth Vice Chancellor Gregory Fox said.
The Bulldogs also must compete with tractor pulls and business conferences because the DECC is a multipurpose facility that hosts conventions and other entertainment events.
All these factors have hurt the Bulldogs’ ability to compete at Division I-level competition.
And competing at this level is good for Duluth, said Regent David Metzen.
“Unless we can get an answer to this and come up with a plan that we can really be competitive to stay in the WCHA, that’s the bottom line,” he said.
Metzen said he understands the importance of Bulldogs’ hockey to downtown Duluth businesses and how difficult it is to raise funding for building improvements.
But he said updated facilities are needed.
Metzen proposed three options for the Bulldogs.
Assuming the $10 million Bulldog Sports Center is built, Metzen said it might be expanded to include men’s games. Currently, the sports center would house women’s hockey games and practices as well as men’s hockey practices. But because the center is ranked 10th on the University’s list of 10 capital requests, the Legislature might ax the Bulldog Sports Center from the budget request.
Another option, though one Metzen said is unlikely, is for the DECC to expand.
A third option, which would keep men’s hockey downtown and ensure competitive conditions, would be for a new complex to be built in partnership with downtown Duluth.
Sean Dillon, a student regent representative, said students would benefit the most from Metzen’s first option.
Dillon said players would “love to be on campus,” and the campus would love to have the games closer.
The recent success of Duluth women’s hockey is an excellent example of the success possible with University support.
“We are first in the WCHA. We are 12-0. We are fifth in the nation,” Martin said. “Without your support, we wouldn’t be a Division I women’s ice-hockey sport.”
She said the men’s team will keep trying to sort out an acceptable process to resolve the issue with the DECC board. But she said Metzen’s belief that the DECC facility will not meet the Bulldogs’ needs will most likely prove true.
Regents will revisit the issue in February.

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected]