U gets $7 million to build arena

by Matthew Cross

In about two years, Mariucci Arena will have a brand new baby sister sitting just west of it. The facility will be home to women’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s tennis.
The arena is not even in the blueprint stage yet, but the men’s and women’s athletics departments are hoping to solidify a plan soon and begin building the facility during the next construction season.
Women’s athletics director Chris Voelz said the current plan is to have an average rink in terms of size and aesthetic appeal.
“We want a capacity for a good crowd,” Voelz said. “It doesn’t have to be spartan, but it doesn’t have to be decadent either.”
Last fall, the University asked for $10 million from the state to build a new facility to house women’s ice hockey as part of the Amateur Sports Commission’s annual legislative bill. The commission placed the University’s request under consideration with the budget request of the Mighty Ducks organization, which was already part of the commission’s bill.
Voelz said the University is simply a lucky beneficiary of the Mighty Ducks’ plan to support women’s ice hockey in Minnesota.
Through the ASC, which is the same vehicle the University used to build the Aquatic Center and Bierman Track and Field Stadium, the University was given $7 million.
Vice President for Student Development and Athletics McKinley Boston’s strong working relationship with Gov. Arne Carlson proved helpful in getting the money. However, the new facility is projected to cost between $12 and $15 million, which means the men’s and women’s athletics departments will have to raise as much as $8 million to complete the project.
Men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart, who has fund-raising experience which includes the planning to build Mariucci and the renovation of Williams Arena, said the University should not have a problem finding donors.
He said the money will come from private investors and will have nothing to do with the current University budget.
“It’s important to note that this didn’t replace anything on the University’s docket,” Dienhart said. “The money came through to us because of a particular sport, not a particular institution.
“The state has given significant dollars over the last two (legislative) sessions to promote women’s ice hockey. They’ve taken the initiative to provide a boost to gender equity.”
The new rink will be a positive investment for both athletics departments in many ways, Voelz and Dienhart said. They said the arena will provide for the following:
ù Support of women’s athletics
The primary goal of the new arena will be to generate money and increase support for the women’s athletics department — particularly in women’s hockey.
The Mighty Ducks are an organization working to “continue the philosophy that there is something special about hockey in Minnesota,” Dienhart said. Its primary agenda is to support the growth of women’s hockey.
Voelz said four years ago there were only 10 women’s hockey teams in Minnesota. Now, there are 62, and by the time the new arena is built, there will be about 100.
The popularity of women’s hockey means ice time is at a premium and the University plans to capitalize on that by renting the facility to high school teams, giving the women’s athletics department some publicity.
ù Help men’s hockey team
The Gophers men’s hockey team has an Olympic size ice sheet (200 feet by 100 feet) at Mariucci and gears its style of play to the open qualities of its rink.
In college hockey, the size of the ice sheet is not standard and home rinks of WCHA teams like North Dakota and Northern Michigan have smaller (200-by-85) rinks. Minnesota typically has a tough time playing well in the smaller rinks.
For instance, the Gophers are 4-11-7 at Northern Michigan, North Dakota and Colorado College over the last four years. In each of those years, Minnesota had teams good enough to advance to at least the NCAA Regional Finals and twice to the NCAA final four.
The new rink, which will be a smaller size, can be used by the men’s team to practice when it is preparing to play an opponent at a smaller rink.
Gophers assistant coach Mike Guentzel said that will provide an invaluable advantage for Minnesota.
“It’s going to help us in our transition game a little bit, which has affected us at times,” Guentzel said. “We’ll be able to concentrate our game better.”
Dienhart said the men’s athletics department was concerned about Mariucci continuing to be as good a facility as it can be. He said the new rink will allow Mariucci to keep pace with the top college hockey arenas.
“This is a biased opinion, but we maybe have the best college competition facility in the country,” Dienhart said. “Mariucci has to be as good as it is and this will ensure it can stay that way.”
ù Recruiting
Without a coach and without a team, recruiting players out of high school for women’s hockey is difficult right now.
Voelz has temporarily assumed the role of trying to attract players to the University but has lost out to schools which have already built successful programs.
For instance, Voelz talked with Minnesota phenom Winny Brodt, who was one of the most sought-after women’s hockey players in the country. Voelz was able to offer Brodt everything the University had to give but could not show a facility, a team, or a coach — vital areas to a student athlete.
The new rink will give the University some leverage in attracting top Minnesota players out of high school. It will also help the men’s team in recruiting.
Voelz said she is going to hire a coach in October and that person will be expected to recruit all next year.
Even without a solid program, Voelz insists that Gophers women’s hockey will be an instant success.
“We are going to be good; and we’re going to be good fast,” she said.
ù Incentive to move forward
The new arena has also quickened planning in other areas concerning the women’s hockey team.
A task force will meet Thursday to discuss season tickets and merchandising, among other things.

Notes: Dienhart said the renovation of Siebert Field, the Gophers baseball team’s home stadium, is still in the planning stages. He said the new hockey rink has no bearing on that project and that the stadium will likely remain as it is for a while.
“We still have to approach donors, but we are not in a position to announce anything yet,” Dienhart said. “But I am quite confident, given our program’s success in the past, that we will find sufficient interest to do something significant to Siebert.”