Women’s hockey opens new arena Saturday

Ridder Arena is the first facility of its kind built exclusively for a women’s collegiate hockey program

by Brett Angel

Minnesota women’s hockey players stepped onto the recently laid ice at Ridder Arena on Tuesday afternoon and took their first few laps around the rink. A quiet enthusiasm could be felt in their presence between the freshly-painted concrete walls of the new facility.

Game day was still more than three days away, but it was clear there was more going on here than just another practice. Every player donning a maroon and gold jersey knew the significance of the moment, and if they didn’t, their coach made sure to remind them.

On Monday, head coach Laura Halldorson took a moment to address her team before Gopher players moved into the locker room of their new 58,000-square foot home.

“Before we left I said, ‘Just realize how historic this is, that we are actually going to what will be the future home of our program for years to come and you guys get to be a part of it,’ ” Halldorson said.

The newly constructed Ridder Arena is the first facility of its kind built exclusively for a women’s collegiate hockey program.

It will officially open its doors Saturday afternoon when Minnesota hosts St. Cloud State in the second game of the teams’ weekend series at 4:05 p.m. The Gophers travel to the National Hockey Center for the first game of the series Friday night.

“I can’t wait, it’s going to be great,” senior captain Ronda Curtin said of the team’s first game in their new home. “It hasn’t even

settled in yet that we’re out there on our own rink.”

The facility was designed to give the women’s hockey team and their fans a more intimate environment.

The rink is smaller than the Olympic-sized ice sheet next door at Mariucci Arena, and the building has a seating capacity of 3,400 people – approximately a third the capacity of Mariucci.

“I think it will be a more exciting game; our fans will be right up close to the action. It’s going to have a whole different feel,” Halldorson said.

In addition to the hockey arena, the $20 million building also houses the men’s and women’s tennis teams. The Baseline Tennis Facility houses 10 indoor tennis courts and a dozen more outside. There is also a weight room and players’ lounge for athletes in both sports.

The state Legislature contributed $10 million to the project and an additional $3.1 million was gathered through fund-raising. Bob and Kathleen Ridder donated the most substantial gift of $750,000. The University paid the remaining $7 million.

Supporters of the new facility, including men’s hockey head coach Don Lucia, argue that the additional rink will provide both hockey teams with the flexibility of practicing on different size rinks to better prepare for certain opponents.

In a recent letter promoting the arena’s grand opening, newly appointed athletics director Joel Maturi said the facility is “an example of the commitment the University has made to women’s sports.”

Still, some question exactly how much women’s athletics, and in particular the women’s hockey team, will benefit from the new building.

St. Cloud State women’s hockey coach Jason Lesteberg believes the former situation of housing both the men’s and women’s teams in the same building can actually be more beneficial.

“I think the continuity developed between the programs is very positive for the athletes,” Lesteberg said. “It’s a step forward for the University of Minnesota, but not necessarily for women’s hockey.”

Halldorson disagrees.

“Anyone who had seen us play in Mariucci who now comes to Ridder Arena will have no doubt the difference and the impact this rink will have for our sport,” Halldorson said. “It’s going to be a much better atmosphere.”

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]