Mariucci hosted hoops, not hockey, 10 times over break

The MSHSL paid to use the arena for the girls’ state basketball tourney.

Nate Gotlieb

The University of Minnesota’s premier hockey facility turned into a basketball arena for two days last week.

Mariucci Arena hosted 10 Minnesota State High School League girls’ basketball state tournament games after a hockey tournament and potential Gophers basketball games forced the MSHSL to consider different venues.

“We played as much as we could at Williams Arena,” said Kevin Merkle, an associate director for the MSHSL, “but in order to make it work, we had to also use Mariucci.”

The MSHSL traditionally uses the Target Center and Williams Arena for its basketball state tournament games. The league needed another venue this year because the National Collegiate Hockey Conference booked the Target Center for its Frozen Faceoff and the Gophers reserved Williams Arena for potential NIT games.

The MSHSL used Mariucci Arena for basketball games in 2008. Merkle said those games gave the league confidence the venue would work again this year.

Mariucci/Ridder Arena Facilities Director Craig Flor said the MSHSL paid to rent a basketball court from the Xcel Energy Center and said installing the court before and uninstalling it took about 4 ½ hours.

“All the teams loved the atmosphere, and the court was just fine,” he said. “We had a lot of positive comments.”

Flor said the University made money from the 10-game slate but didn’t know the exact amount.

Merkle said the MSHSL is planning on using Mariucci Arena for the girls’ tournament for the next four seasons.

“I don’t think we’d necessarily want to play our championship games there,” he said, “but for, like, first-round games like we did last week, it seems to work out really quite well.”

Fergus Falls coach Brad Strand said playing at Mariucci Arena was a good experience for his team and its fans. Strand’s team won its quarterfinal game against Kasson-Mantorville on Wednesday.

“I can’t say anything negative about it,” he said about the game being hosted at Mariucci Arena. “They put [the band] right on the floor, under the basket, tightened it up a little bit, making it feel like a basketball event.”